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Hockey, science meet at Discovery Science Center

by Eric Stephens
Science and hockey.

Sir Isaac Newton surely didn't see his three laws of motion used to explain the breakdown of a slap shot, but if the renowned physicist were alive today, he might appreciate his concepts being used in an innovative manner.

On Thursday, approximately 100 fourth-graders from Hoover Elementary School in Santa Ana, Calif., were the first to witness many aspects of the sport taught through the prism of science and technology in a new interactive exhibit jointly created by the Anaheim Ducks and the Discovery Science Center.

Located just four miles from Honda Center, the Ducks' home arena, the Discovery Science Center converted 3,000 feet of space on the second floor into "The Science of Hockey", the largest visual and aural hands-on educational showcase of its kind dedicated to hockey in the United States.

The $2.5 million project was largely funded by club owners Henry and Susan Samueli, both well-known for their philanthropy, through their own foundation and the Anaheim Ducks Foundation.

"From the Samuelis point of view, the goal was to promote science and technology," Ducks Chief Executive Officer Michael Schulman said. "That's first and foremost. There'll be some benefits for the club because it'll introduce hockey to some people here. But our primary mission is to encourage kids to get into science, math and technology."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean will attend an exclusive premiere of the exhibit Saturday. The grand opening will take place April 2.

"In many ways, the magic of hockey lies in the mastery of the math and science that are so much a part of our game," Bettman said in a statement. "We are delighted the Discovery Science Center has used hockey to demonstrate science and math in an educational and entertaining way."

The Science of Hockey is for the kids and that became clear when the invited fourth-graders from Hoover raced up the stairs, all adorned in new Ducks caps as star players Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Jean-Sebastien Giguere awaited their arrival.

A group of nine- and 10-year-olds took turns in one display suiting up in goaltending equipment to stop a virtual likeness of Perry, the Ducks' leading goal scorer, trying to shoot pucks past them into the net. Another group, in a nearby display, tried to flick pucks past a virtual Giguere.

There was much more to offer. Children could simulate the feeling of skating on ice with Getzlaf, answer a set of math-related questions in a real penalty box to keep the other team from scoring, test their reaction time to vibration, sound or light or, through the use of a pulley system, learn how the material used in uniforms can affect a player's speed, comfort level and performance.
"Virtual Jiggy is better than real Jiggy, I think. That guy's pretty good in net there. They did a really job with him. Jiggy's been shooting on him, trying to get some tips." -- Ryan Getzlaf
If that wasn't enough, visitors can also watch videos on how various hockey equipment is made, create their own uniform on a virtual player, sit on a life-sized replica of a Zamboni or become a play-by-play broadcaster in their own booth.

The exhibit quickly earned rave reviews.

"I think it looks great," said Giguere, the Ducks' longtime goalie, as he furiously signed autographs. "It really makes you learn about hockey and it lets you get a feel for the game. What is it to be a hockey player, what it is to be a goalie, what it is to be a shooter against the goalie and stuff like that. Obviously it's a learning center so kids do get to learn.

"There're a lot of good things. You know kids are going to come here. Especially if they love hockey, they're going to love this. It's a great place to learn about the sport and learn about the players."

The project took nearly two years to complete. Leslie Perovich, the center's vice president of marketing, said The Science of Hockey mirrors the existing exhibits in the facility where "you can touch and play with everything the minute you walk in that door."

The fully interactive exhibit, she said, emphasizes learning, but allows kids to have fun while doing so.

"That's what people don't realize," Perovich said. "It's about angles. It's about math. It's about friction. It's about force. That's science.

"When you have it in a book, it's not that interesting. But when you hear it and you see it, you're like, 'That's Newton's third law. I get it now. I get moving mass or what kinetic energy is. I think that's the best part."

Perry said the showcase gave him a new appreciation for his sport.

"It's fun to see and fun to learn," he said. "You're learning about the game you've played your whole life. As a kid growing up, I never had any of this. It's just great to be here and see all the different stuff."

Timothy Calderon said he was excited when he knew that some of the Anaheim players would attend and was one of many to get cherished autographs before trying his hand at being a goalie.

Abisael Alvarez did the same and called it the best part of the exhibit.

"I was thinking, 'Man, this was easy,'" said the 10-year-old, before acknowledging that he faced shots on the rookie skill level. Of watching Giguere play, he said, "If I was playing in the NHL, I'd probably miss them because it's hard."

At times, it was difficult to tell who enjoyed the exhibition more.
As kids darted from display to display, Getzlaf naturally took a lot of enjoyment in trying to score on the virtual Giguere while Perry enjoyed putting on the netminding equipment to block shots delivered by his likeness.

"Virtual Jiggy is better than real Jiggy, I think," Getzlaf cracked. "That guy's pretty good in net there. They did a really job with him. Jiggy's been shooting on him, trying to get some tips."

Said Giguere:  "I know my weaknesses so that was easy. I scored five goals out of five."

A side benefit is the Ducks hope it will introduce the team to a new generation and, in the long term, tap into a potential addition to their growing fan base.

Since buying the club in 2005, Henry and Susan Samueli have sought to grow the sport in Southern California. The club currently owns and operates rinks in Anaheim, Corona and Huntington Beach and relocated its ECHL franchise to Bakersfield from Augusta, Ga.

"It's great for the Ducks because, hopefully, it'll get more people excited about what they're doing," Perovich said. "Hopefully it'll encourage people to go to the games.

"We're not a traditional hockey market. It's Southern California and the fact that they've been a Stanley Cup champion is huge. That we can build something and help build that fan base for not only the Ducks but all the NHL is fabulous."

The Ducks and Hoover Elementary have an association as the school has been part of many that attend the club's annual First Flight field trip to Honda Center, which routinely draws over 10,000 students to participate in a real team practice and shootout competition.

Judging by the response by the Hoover students on Thursday, The Science of Hockey figures to add to the Discovery Science Center's appeal as a popular field-trip destination.

"This has been such an awesome experience for our students," said Lorri Oliver, a fourth-grade teacher at Hoover. "They'll be back. It's awesome. And a great location for it. It couldn't be better."

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