If Isaac Newton spent more time in the locker room and less time in the laboratory, it may be a different world we live in today.
Lucky for us, old Ike put science ahead of skating, giving us a better understanding of the physical world and how it works.
Still, given his understanding of mathematics, physics and the laws of motion, Newton probably would have been a great skater with a dynamite shot.
The question is, can today’s hockey players take the principles of Newton’s laws of motion and apply them to their own game to make them a better player. Laura Stamm believes they can.
Stamm traded in the classroom for the hockey rink after her children were born, and has never looked back. One of the foremost authorities on power skating, Stamm still applies many of the same principles she drew on the blackboard to teach players of all ages and skill levels how to become better skaters. Only now she finds her students to be more eager to soak in the knowledge.
“Everything that I talk about in skating has to do with angles, angulations and centrifugal force. It all conforms to the laws of physics,” says Stamm, who has written several books on the subject of power skating.
“I often talk physics to the high school age kids when I teach them because they understand it. ‘How do you go forward? You have to push back. Why? Because every action has an equal and opposite reaction.’ ”
That’s Newton’s Third Law of Motion in action on the ice.
Science and mathematics are vital parts of our daily lives. Nowhere is that more evident than at the rink. From the ice we skate on, to the equipment we use, to the techniques we use to propel ourselves or the puck around the rink, science and math are everywhere in the sport of ice hockey.
So, can the same stuff that makes you yawn in class help you become a better hockey player? Joe Bertagna thinks so. A goaltender growing up in Arlington, Mass., Bertagna played his college hockey at Harvard University in the 1970s, one of the top academic institutions in the country, with a pretty good hockey team to boot.
“At one time I thought life was divided into work and play. Work were the things you didn’t want to do and play were the things that you wanted to do. As a career I’ve combined work and play so what I do for work is play,” says Bertagna, now commissioner of Hockey East.
“I think as a student you can do the same thing. If you don’t look at it as work and look at it as what can I get out of this or how can I apply it to what I want to do when I’m not in the classroom, it makes the day go by quicker and makes your life more complete.”
When it comes to being a good skater, understanding physics and the underlying mechanics can help coaches and players improve their skating technique.
“It’s easy to say to a kid, ‘why do you think you have to swing your arms forward and backward instead of side to side?’ The harder you throw your free arm back, the harder it’s going to throw your motion forward,” says Stamm. “When I explain it that way, then they get it. They know that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.”
There’s Newton’s Third Law popping up again at the rink.
Stamm talks about the angle of the body, the angle of the skate blade, the angle of the knee bend.
“When I talk about crossovers, they understand why you have to counter-lean your upper body to your lower body, otherwise you’ll fall. It’s all physics,” says Stamm.
“They totally understand it. Making them do it correctly is another thing.”
Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion is credited with inventing it in the 1950s; Bobby Hull popularized it in the 1960s; and Al Iafrate took it to new heights in the 1990s. We’re talking about the slapshot, the most feared weapon in a sniper’s arsenal.
Do you know what gives your slapshot that extra oomph? If you did, you might be able to improve the speed of your shot.
A good slapshot is mostly technique that comes from the power brought on by weight transfer. The weight of a player transfers from his legs up through his core, up to his shoulders, down his arms and into the stick in his hands.
Using the proper technique, a player hits the ice just behind the puck, which causes the stick to bow. When it comes into contact with the puck, the energy stored in the bowed stick is released into the puck. The overall motion of the shooter combined with the stick snapping back into place releases energy into the puck. A slight snap of the wrists at the end of the motion allows the puck to spin, which allows the puck to sail through the air in a stable trajectory, helping the shot’s accuracy.
It’s all part of Newton’s First Law of Motion.
“Any object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”
Bertagna has been coaching goalies for 36 years. He knows there is more to stopping pucks than quick reflexes. Any discussion he has with a goaltender, from a youth hockey player to an Olympian, always touches on angles.
“People think goalies are crazy, and I would joke that it’s more of an art than a science, but I would say that there is a lot of science to what we do,” he says.
“In all the teaching we do, with goalies of all ages, the most important thing about being a goalie is being in the right place at the right time, and under control. So you have to teach kids how to get some place, where that right place is. And that’s where you get into the study of angles.”
Why do the best goalies in the world make stopping a speeding puck look so easy? In large part it’s due to playing the angles and basically cutting down the area that the shooter has to put the puck. By moving out away from the net, the goalie decreases the size of the window a shooter has to shoot at.
There’s math and science in all aspects of hockey. The key is to understand the concepts and come up with a scouting report that puts them on your side.
That’s why Stamm is convinced that you can reach kids by talking their language, and what better way to do that than by using science and math to help them become better hockey players?
“That’s a great way to make them learn because this is something that they want to learn,” she says. “If you can do that you’re really doing them a service. It might even carry over to outside of the rink.”