There are 13 individual tests designed to evaluate the strength and fitness of the draft hopefuls, designed and administered by Dr. Norm Gledhill, a professor of kinesiology at York University in Toronto. This is the 16th year Gledhill has tested the athletes at the Toronto-based Combine. Each test is held at a separate station under the watchful eyes of several dozen of Gledhill's employees and graduate students from the York University Human Performance Lab.
Owen Sound Attack teammates Steve Shipley, the No. 43-ranked North American skater, and Joey Hishon, the 55th-ranked North American skater, have heard all about the strenuous testing, especially the VO2 Max and Wingate bike tests that have made numerous players vomit. They say knowledge is a powerful weapon that has allowed them to prepare for it.
"I've heard a lot," Hishon said. "Some guys that played on my team, Garret Wilson and Scott Stajcer, have been through it and they told me all year how tough it is. I prepared from the end of the season until now, so I feel that I'm ready. I'll be very confident.
"Off-ice training is very important and so is being healthy. I had some injuries this year that I had to take care of. Now that everything is 100 percent, I've been in the gym as much as I can. I'm ready to go."
Running, jumping and weightlifting all help, but there's no substitute for having your feet taped to the bike pedals, a tube placed in your mouth, and people yelling at you to persevere while you're pedaling until you nearly pass out.
"I did the VO2 and the Wingate test here in Toronto that my agent Paul Capizzano set up," said Hishon, who interviewed with 23 teams. "They're both very hard tests. I think it will benefit me that I've done them already. I'd be a lot more nervous going into the fitness test if I hadn't done it. Now that I know what everything is about, I want to do well with all the NHL scouts and general managers watching. That's something that you've got to block out and do your thing."
"You do the practice Wingate test, the practice VO2, just to make sure you're prepared," Shipley said. "You know what it's going to be like going into the tests so it's nothing new for you."
Shipley admitted the presence of the NHL scouts and executives is something that you can't prepare for.
"It's different than at home as opposed to here, when you've got 100 sets of eyes on you," he said. "It'll be different but that's something you want to try and block out, go out and work hard and put your best effort forward."
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defense Brock Beukeboom, ranked 41st, is the son of former NHL defenseman Jeff Beukeboom and is no stranger to hard work. He also prepared by doing the VO2 and Wingate test before he got to the Combine.
"I did it last summer. It was challenging, but I think I'm ready for it again and hopefully get better results," Beukeboom said. "Wingate was obviously really tough, but the VO2 Max is just a bike ride to exhaustion. It's challenging, but once it's all said and done, you walk out of that room with your head held high.
"It's hard testing. Guys get a little intimidated. But if you put your mind to it, and believe in yourself -- and I feel I'm pretty confident -- it'll be a piece of cake. That being said, it takes months of training for everybody. Should be a challenge."
Like death, Combine testing respects no man's status. Tyler Seguin will be one of the first two picks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, but he joined the bucket brigade after his first Wingate and VO2 tests.
"Last summer, I did the whole test for fun with my agency," Seguin said. "I ended up throwing up after the VO2. It's very difficult but should be fun. You try to stay positive.
"I talked to guys who did it last year and talked to guys who did it for practice. They said the bike tests are pretty hard. You have casual stuff, like bench press, push-ups, sit-ups, which you've done before. But the bikes are going to be quite tough."
For all the work the athletes do to prepare, it appears the tests are only a small part of the overall picture. Hockey ability and character rank higher in the evaluations. Detroit Red Wings Assistant General Manager Jim Nill said that some players have risen and some have fallen in his evaluations, but that happens more as a result of an interview than in the physical testing.
Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant GM Tom Kurvers said while he's interested in watching how players conduct themselves during the tests, he's really waiting for the results to be published so that he can mine the data with his staff members.
"I think you're trying to take a snapshot of them at the moment, and then (you look at) your history of scouting reports," Kurvers said. "Most teams bring in their expertise in the field, their strength and conditioning coaches and medical staff to look at the results. We can look at them, but the real data needs to be combed through by the experts."
But even the cold, hard numbers have to be run through a filter comprised of various bits of knowledge that the team has about the player.
"I think you have to go to the data because some of these kids played last weekend, and some of them have been off for 2 months. Some of them have the means to have a personal trainer design a program that's perfectly suited and some are working out at the local gym," Kurvers said. "They're young men. They're on different paces to get to the same goal.
"You see the difference in the background of some of these guys. You try to measure all those things. This is more info that helps guide your selection. The effort is usually there. You have to factor in injures. There's a lot to add into the mix. Overall, you include it. It's important. It's going to make a difference for these guys in their careers if they're on the right path."
Pittsburgh Penguins General Manager Ray Shero was in his first year as a team executive, with the Ottawa Senators in 1993, when Chris Pronger had a poor Combine. Now he's one of the best defenseman in the game.
"They had the bench press, he couldn’t lift anything, he couldn't get it up once," Shero said. "These kids, keeping in mind they're going to grow into themselves, where they are now, I think you're just looking at where they are, if they have room to grow, work ethic, etc. It's another way to see them in a competitive environment and see how they do. It's not the be-all, end-all for us. There might be some red flags. It's part of the process, not the end-all.
"I'll have our staff give me some ideas. Our strength coach will be in for those. If there are any red flags as far as a guy quitting, it's information. You have an ability to observe guys and at the same time the game's played on ice, and this is part of the evaluation process for us."