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Skate into the lab for your puck fix

Jay Ingram slows down the game to show what's really going on

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It probably says more than enough about the state of NHL labour relations that the biggest hockey star on TV this weekend is Jay Ingram.

Ingram, in case you've forgotten about him, is the former host of Discovery Channel's signature magazine series Daily Planet. He's 67, small, relatively slow and -- no disrespect intended -- kind of a science nerd. He could probably be a finalist for the title of Canadian Guy Who Reminds Us Least of Sidney Crosby.

But this Sunday, Ingram is the go-to guy for anybody in desperate need of a puck fix. And his new Discovery special, Scoring With Science: Hockey Revealed (which airs Sunday at 6 p.m.), is filled to capacity with pretty cool hockey-science stuff.

Our national pastime, as Ingram rightly points out, is all about speed -- fast-skating players, blink-of-an-eye slapshots and wrist shots, and lightning-quick goalie reflexes. "To really see what's going on, you need to slow it down," he offers.

And then, as the camera cuts to the host in a hockey-rink dressing room, tying his skates and buckling on his helmet, Ingram laughs, "Did someone say slow? I can do SLOW."

As he heads out to the ice surface, he reveals that it's been a while since he last strapped on the blades: "Some guys go back to the ice after months; this is decades."

Fortunately, once he hits the rink, he has a lot of help as he seeks to understand the science of the game. Along with goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (who, when this was filmed, was still a Maple Leaf), defenceman Jake Gardiner and forward Matt Frattin, Ingram gets support from Alain Hacher, a University of Moncton physicist, author (The Physics of Hockey) and beer-league goalie.

With the assistance of two camera crews -- one shooting video at the standard 30 frames per second, the other using super slow-motion equipment that shoots 1,000 frames per second -- Ingram and his makeshift team examine what makes a slapshot so fast, how composite sticks create stored energy that launches pucks so fast that goalies can't see them, and why a wrist shot can be even more problematic for the guys in pads than a slapshot.

Along the way, Scoring With Science also explains how goalies react -- the first cue is sound, followed by sight -- and why the popular butterfly style might be the most efficient way to block pucks (it has to do with the relative movement speeds of legs vs. arms).

Later, Ingram visits a laboratory at McGill University where researchers study the physiology of a hockey shot to determine which physical movements are most crucial to its accuracy, and drops in on another sports clinic where the host tries his luck on a skating treadmill used to improve players' speed and endurance (let's just say it's fortunate that the apparatus includes a safety harness).

That's a whole lot of information, but the Discovery special isn't done yet. Ingram stops by the Bauer skate factory to assess the latest in lightweight blade technology (there's a lot of top-secrecy there, as it turns out), watches as the Edmonton Oilers' "analytics" team studies data to see if there's a better strategy for NHL tie-breaking shootouts and, finally, makes a stop at retired NHLer Gary Roberts' elite training facility, where some of the league's best players spend their off-seasons getting stronger and faster.

For anyone interested in what makes great players great, it's beyond impressive. Roberts, who resurrected his own career by making extreme lifestyle and fitness changes, is considered the guru of hockey conditioning, and the players who seek his services are true believers in his system.

"I always came into camp confident in my ability and in my skill set on the ice," says 60-goal scorer Steven Stamkos. "The year after I trained with Gary, I came in with confidence physically. I knew I was going to win the battles in the corner; I was stronger (and) my skating was better."

It's hard work. But it's also science. And in this lockout-strangled season, it's more NHL-calibre hockey than you're going to see anywhere else. Twitter: @BradOswald


Scoring With Science: Hockey Revealed

Hosted by Jay Ingram

Sunday at 6 p.m.


4 1/2 stars out of 5

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2012 G3

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