TORONTO – Once he completed his fitness testing and came out to speak to the media before taking a plane back home, a prospect was asked, “What was your favorite part of the Combine?”
The player didn’t hesitate before answering “Right now,” with a wry grin.
That sentiment was certainly echoed by the other 101 best draft-eligible prospects in the world in attendance at the NHL Scouting Combine, which wrapped up today. It’s been a long process filled with interviews and fitness tests for the players in attendance, but it’s finally over.
It’s interesting because each prospect arrives at the Combine fully knowing what’s in store – the fitness testing isn’t a secret and they’ve usually been told what the interviews may be like from friends who have been through them before. But actually going through it is a different story as it’s a grueling experience, both mentally and physically.
But despite all of that, it’s something that the players will look back on as a part of the whole fantastic experience of being drafted and getting that much closer to their dreams of playing in the National Hockey League.
“Obviously this was pretty cool here,” Whitehall native John Gibson said, who is the No. 1-ranked North American goaltender by NHL Central Scouting. “It was hard, but it was something that I’ll never forget. It’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life. It was fun, but it was also pretty hard at the same time.”
The prospects began converging on Toronto, Ont., on Monday, with the event itself kicking off on Tuesday.
The first three days were set aside for the interview portion, which were conducted at the prospects’ hotel – the Westin Bristol Place – near the Toronto Airport. Representatives from all 30 NHL teams were in attendance and could talk to as many of the players as they wanted. Some prospects talked to every single team while others spoke to less.
Once the interview portion of the Combine concluded on Thursday, the fitness testing took place on Friday and Saturday and was open to the media. For the first time in the history of the event, that aspect of the Combine was held at a separate facility from where the interview portion took place – the Toronto Congress Centre.
To the delight of PittsburghPenguins.com, highly-ranked Pittsburgh-area prospect J.T. Miller agreed to keep a running blog of his Combine experience.
It ended up working out that Miller blogged for the Penguins during the first three days of the Combine, all of which were set aside for interviews. He provided some valuable firsthand insight into the process.
|J.T. Miller's interview schedule for the first day of the Combine. |
When the prospects arrived on the first night, each one was given an overall schedule of what they’d be doing during the week, with their interview schedules broken down within that.
Miller, for example, talked to 26 of the 30 NHL teams in attendance – which means he had to squeeze 26 20-minute interviews into three days.
The first day (Tuesday) was the most intense for Miller, who had 11 interviews scheduled. His first one (with Calgary) was at 9:20 a.m. and he went all the way until 7:40 p.m., with his longest break in-between meetings lasting 55 minutes and his shortest break lasting a mere five minutes.
“It's been a very tiring day so far … I'm exhausted,” Miller blogged at the end.
“It was a little mentally draining, but it was a good experience overall getting to meet with the teams,” said Gibsonia native Brandon Saad, ranked No. 19 on Central Scouting’s list of North American skaters.
The prospects agreed that the bulk of the interviews were similar.
“The teams ask background information about my family, what kind of player I am, what my weaknesses are, what my strengths are and where I see myself in the draft or with an NHL team or a college team. Stuff like that,” Miller blogged.REVISIT J.T. MILLER'S BLOG FROM THE 2011 NHL SCOUTING COMBINE:
Once the prospects were done using their brains in the interviews, it was time to put their bodies to work for the fitness tests.
The players were broken up into 13 groups. Eight groups of eight went on Friday while four groups of eight and one group of five went on Saturday.
|The fitness testing stations at the Combine. |
The groups worked their way down a wall of different stations. The tests included:
- Body Fat (Skinfold Measurement)
- Grip Strength
- Push/Pull Strength
- Vertical Jump
- Standing Long Jump
- Bench Press
- Trunk Flexion
- Equilibrium Test
- Jump Training Mat
Once they finished those, they moved to the back wall, where the two infamous bike tests were set up – the Wingate Ergometer Test, which is geared to see how much energy a player uses during a 30-second shift, and the VO2 Max Test, which measures a player’s endurance.
“If you've got somebody who is killing a penalty or someone who is trying to score a goal and you've got them on the ice for 30 seconds, what this tells us is what they have left at the end of 30 seconds," Dr. Norm Gledhill, Director of Human Performance Lab at York University, who supervises the fitness testing, told NHL.com about the Wingate Ergometer Test.
He then told NHL.com this about the VO2 Max Test:
“If the anaerobic (Wingate) is a shift, the VO2 max is a game. If they go into overtime what do they have left? The higher the aerobic fitness, the better fitness over the duration of the game.”
|The bike test setup at the Combine. |
Coming into it, the players knew what to expect from the bike tests. Saad and Upper St. Clair native Vince Trocheck, also in attendance at the Combine, said they had been preparing ever since their season ended.
“We know the workouts and everything that’s going to come workout-wise,” Trocheck said in early May. “Me and Brandon are preparing for that off the ice and during a lot of the exercises we know we’re going to have to do there.”
But it’s still offsetting to do the tests in front of so many people.
“I had no idea that was going to happen,” said Rocco Grimaldi, a teammate of Miller and Gibson at the U.S. National Team Development Program, who was in the first group to test on Friday.
“I thought it was just pretty much the guys and the people running it, but then I walked in and there was everybody and their mother here. I was like, ‘Oh, alright, sweet. Let’s get started.’”