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Some NHL players have reservations about wearable technology

Kevan Miller is in his fifth season in the NHL.
Kevan Miller is in his fifth season in the NHL. Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

The baseline fitness tests Kevan Miller takes every summer are not fancy.

Broad jump. High jump. Bench presses at 75 percent of the defenseman’s weight. Three rotations in each direction of jumping in and out of a hex bar. Sprints in a three-cone L-Drill. Grip strength. Pullups.

Miller’s trainer clocks how quickly he runs some of his drills. He counts how many reps Miller performs on others. At the end of each summer, Miller takes the tests again to gauge his progress.

“Stopwatch. Old school,” Miller said. “It’s all by-hand stuff.”

So it’s something of a curiosity that Miller and his teammates return to an organization that is exploring sports science and all its technology. Like most teams, the Bruins are trying to incorporate modern training methods, including wearables, to monitor player health and improve performance.


During practices and morning skates, like they did during training camp, Miller and his teammates regularly wear heart rate monitors. The devices are from Firstbeat Sports, a Finnish company that aims to improve individual and team performance by tracking heart rates, interpreting the data, and customizing player workloads.

The Bruins are in their second season of wearing devices from Catapult. They track, among other variables, skating speed and stride inefficiencies to improve recovery and reduce injuries.

The logical next step would be for players to use wearables during games. It would expand the information teams gather to the critical moments that require most study.

The NHLPA, however, has not given its blessing for in-game use of wearables. Some of its members are not sure it would be a good idea. For in-game wearables to be approved in the next collective bargaining agreement, the NHL may have to cede perks to the players, whether it’s a reduction in escrow or Olympic participation.

“I feel that might be a slippery slope,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of guys here, their resting heart rates at three minutes, even if they haven’t had any coffee or anything, is just higher than others. So how do you calculate that compared to another guy? If you have a guy that’s going out there, he’s got a heart rate monitor on, and the screen shows up, the fans are like, ‘Oh, he’s not working hard. Or he’s working too hard like crazy. Why is he through the roof at 200 [beats per minute] and this guy’s at 120?’ It’s different per person. It’d be a weird kind of thing. I know it’s probably heading toward that direction to try and collect more data on players. But I don’t really know that it’s better.”


Miller’s reluctance reflects the infancy of biometrics in the NHL. Some players worry that amplified workload and injury data would put their careers at risk if it convinced general managers to sign healthier peers. Other players believe better data would grant them longevity by incorporating more rest into their schedules.

The field is new enough that among players, there is not consensus but caution. It’s not unlike concerns with consumer privacy, be it regarding health, purchasing practices, or online browsing habits.

Meanwhile, other pro sports are full on with integrating biometrics. High-end European soccer clubs have multiperson departments dedicated to sports science and player tracking. NFL players are fitted with Catapult wearables during games.

Even casual athletes are into gadgets, be they Fitbits, Apple Watches, or power meters. They are becoming part of our workouts.


In the NHL, delivering data has become expected of players. After practice on Oct. 18, in which they wore their Firstbeat monitors, the Bruins returned to the dressing room and rested for three minutes. Their resting heart rates would help the team determine how quickly they recovered.

But based on informal feedback, some players have reservations about the dive into sports science.

Zdeno Chara is as much of a fitness enthusiast as Miller. The 40-year-old would most likely benefit from greater intelligence on workloads and recovery. But like Miller, Chara is old school.

“Right now, it gets to the point where it’s too much. Too much data,” Chara said. “People are focusing so much on little things. I understand they want to explore or find out what it does. But it’s almost like they’re getting caught up in the little simple purpose of training, which was always there. In training, you do this, you do this, and you do that. Now, it’s like, ‘OK, your right leg is 5 percent stronger than your left. So let’s work on the right. Your left arm is less flexible than your right.’ We are meant to be that way. You write with only one hand. You don’t go all of a sudden, ‘Now you have to write with your other hand.’ Usually that’s what the case is. One side of the body or one arm is stronger than the other. That’s just a natural thing. You can’t be expecting players and athletes to be absolutely perfect: ‘Hey, we want you to be exactly balanced, right and left.’ I think it’s just too much. Everybody tries to track everything. They get caught up in stats and numbers. It just gets overwhelming.”


Even younger players, who are likely to be more inclined toward technology, are not going gaga over gadgets.

Torey Krug, 26 years old: “If I feel good and they’re telling me I don’t feel good, who are you going to believe? And if I don’t feel good and they’re telling me, ‘Well, all your signs are showing that you’re fine,’ then there’s an issue there. You’ve got to develop trust between the people that are running the technology. You’ve got to develop trust with the technology to make sure it’s working correctly. But ultimately at the end of the day, when it comes down to getting ready for a game, I don’t worry, ‘How do I feel? How am I doing this?’ I’m just making sure I’m prepared properly.”

Brandon Carlo, 20 years old: “I trained here most of the summer, so the biggest thing we had was the heart rate monitor. We started monitoring stuff based on that. I still think there’s so much that goes into it. Every guy’s different, body composition and all of that. It doesn’t exactly show the exact same result for each person. So I feel like with a lot of that technology, I feel the same way about it where each guy’s different. Based on their work ethic and how they manage themselves during the summer, it’s more based off that than the technology stuff.”


According to Catapult, only eight NHL teams recorded fewer than 150 man-games lost to injury in 2016-17. All eight made the playoffs.

Teams are chasing the holy grail of injury prevention and optimal recovery by studying biometrics. Players may still need convincing.


US and Canada set to square off

The US defeated Canada in the gold-medal game at the world championship in March.
The US defeated Canada in the gold-medal game at the world championship in March.Jason Kryk/The Canadian Press via AP

Amanda Pelkey cannot wait. The native of Montpelier, Vt., has two homecomings in her short-term future.

On Sunday, Pelkey and her American teammates will square off against Team Canada in Quebec City, where she regularly played in youth hockey tournaments in the summer. Two days later, the rivals will have a rematch at Boston University’s Agganis Arena, just down the street from Warrior Ice Arena, where Pelkey played last year as a member of the Boston Pride.

“I have a huge smile on my face just thinking about it right now,” said Pelkey from Wesley Chapel, Fla., where Team USA has been based since August in preparation for the 2018 Olympics. “It’s going to be absolutely amazing. Playing Canada in Quebec City is where I want to be. Then playing in Boston, which has been my home the last three years. It’s close enough to Vermont that I’ll have support coming for the game. It’s the best of both worlds the next couple games.”

There is only so long Pelkey and her teammates can train or play against boys’ junior teams and Division 2 and 3 college clubs. In heavy metal games, such as at the Olympics and World Championships, it often comes down to the Americans and Canadians.

This process will start in Quebec City with the first of six pre-Olympic clashes between the North American neighbors.

“We’ve been waiting for this tour to begin,” said the 24-year-old forward and ex-University of Vermont standout. “Not that we’re rushing this process. But it’s definitely exciting to get on the road and face an opponent we’ve been wanting to face for the last month or two. A lot of us are excited. But we don’t want to get too high or too low for the games.”

The Americans do not want to play their best cards now. The point of the process is to peak in February.

Yet part of the challenge is not to waste the team-building momentum the Americans generated with their milestone twin victories last year: their overtime gold medal win over Canada at Worlds and their triumph in their chase for gender equality.

Pelkey, her teammates, and women downstream planned to sit out the tournament or decline invitations because of low wages and unsatisfactory support from USA Hockey. The boycott was scrubbed when the sides agreed to a four-year deal that includes higher stipends, travel upgrades, insurance provisions, and performance bonuses.

“The outcome of all this is a huge picture,” Pelkey said. “As a team, it couldn’t have brought us any tighter than we are now. From that World Championship game, getting the result we wanted for USA Hockey in the gold medal game, we’ve been on an upswing together as a group on and off the ice. It’s been a really good start to our journey.”


2003 draft class is feeling its age

So far, 2017-18 has not been kind to some of the flagship members of the generational Class of 2003.

Marc-Andre Fleury, the first overall pick, is sidelined with a concussion. Zach Parise has yet to pull on his jersey because of a suspected injured back, one he reinjured during practice on Oct. 16. Ryan Kesler’s return date is unknown following offseason hip surgery. Brian Boyle has yet to play because of chronic myeloid leukemia. Ryan Getzlaf and Patrick Eaves are missing from Anaheim’s lineup because of lower-body injuries. Jeff Carter is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to close a wound to his leg that was opened by Jeff Petry’s errant skate blade.

Second-round bargains Patrice Bergeron (lower body) and David Backes (diverticulitis) missed the first five games of the season. Ex-Bruin Loui Eriksson is out with a sprained knee.

The hits continue in lower rounds. Clarke MacArthur (third round) was not cleared by Ottawa doctors to play this season. Ex-Bruin Lee Stempniak (fifth) has yet to play because of back and hip ailments.

One of the exceptions has been Dustin Brown. The No. 13 pick in 2003, who scored 36 points last season, has enjoyed a revival under first-year Kings coach John Stephens. Brown, a regular resident of Darryl Sutter’s doghouse, had four goals and three assists through his first six games while averaging 19:44 of ice time. Brown averaged only 16:00 per game last season.

The point is that one of the league’s biggest bumper crops ever is showing its age. They are entering the segments of their careers when aches linger and illnesses flare up.

The class seemed ageless because of its prodigiousness and the depth of its talent. But they are now operating in a league that is less friendly to age than ever.

Kucherov providing bargain punch

Nikita Kucherov had eight goals and five assists in his first eight games this season.
Nikita Kucherov had eight goals and five assists in his first eight games this season.Chris O'Meara/AP

Few players started the season as flammable as Nikita Kucherov. The Lightning wing pumped in goals in each of his first seven games. Kucherov is providing Tampa Bay plenty of value, given that he’s in the second season of a three-year, $14.3 million second contract. Last October, Kucherov had little choice but to accept Steve Yzerman’s bridge deal, considering the money the GM had to hand over to Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman while budgeting for future raises for Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. Kucherov’s $4,766,667 annual paycheck is still generous. But it will be peanuts compared with the whopper the 24-year-old can ask for on his next deal, when he’ll have arbitration rights.

Cap maneuvering in Minnesota

A string of bad luck in Minnesota has required GM Chuck Fletcher to perform regular roster tweaking to remain cap compliant and exercise long-term injured reserve. The Wild started without Parise. The hobbled list grew following injuries to East Weymouth’s Charlie Coyle (broken leg), Nino Niederreiter (ankle sprain), Marcus Foligno (facial fracture), and Mikael Granlund (groin). The Wild were tight against the cap before the injuries. To maximize use of the long-term injury exception with Coyle, Fletcher has had to shuttle players, including ex-Bruin Landon Ferraro, between Minnesota and Iowa, the organization’s AHL affiliate. Ferraro, Luke Kunin, and Zack Mitchell have been the regulars being promoted for games. But Fletcher has returned them to the minors during off days to accrue cap savings. It’s left the Wild shorthanded in practice. Assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, last seen in the NHL in 2003-04, has turned in his whistle for equipment to serve as an extra forward in practice. “It’s different,” coach Bruce Boudreau told Minnesota reporters. “You have to dig back into the archives for when I did this on a regular basis in the ’90s. But if you can get an hour of a good skate and get something out of them with the lesser numbers, it’s amazing how much better shape you can get into.”

Stuart bidding for Olympics

Ex-Bruin Mark Stuart, bought out by Winnipeg this summer, is pushing for Olympic consideration. Stuart is one of 29 Americans who will participate in the Deutschland Cup against Germany, Slovakia, and Russia from Nov. 10-12. The stay-at-home defenseman is currently playing for Germany’s Adler Mannheim after failing to latch on with the Blackhawks via a professional tryout agreement. Mannheim was the former employer of Providence coach Jay Leach, who served as an assistant for the German club under ex-Bruins assistant Geoff Ward. Other Yanks with local ties competing in the tournament: Mark Arcobello (Yale), Sean Backman (Yale), Matt Gilroy (Boston University), Brian Gionta (Boston College), Ryan Gunderson (Vermont), Broc Little (Yale), Mike Lundin (Maine), Brian O’Neill (Yale), Dylan Reese (Harvard), and Brighton’s Noah Welch (Harvard). All four ex-Bulldogs were teammates in New Haven under Keith Allain, the Worcester native who will be an assistant to Tony Granato.

Loose pucks

The Penguins recalled ex-Bruin Zach Trotman from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Thursday. Trotman is looking for traction after a down year in Los Angeles’s system. The right-shot defenseman once projected to be a dependable depth defender. But the 27-year-old is reaching a stage where Europe could be his future destination if he doesn’t make the most of his NHL opportunity . . . The Kings have high expectations of Adrian Kempe, who scored a hat trick in a 5-1 win over Montreal on Wednesday. The clever 21-year-old wing was up for 25 games last season, scoring two goals and four assists. The No. 29 pick from 2014 looks like he’s ready to stick up top . . . Consider this an early request for Toronto’s Cup parade to include a fly-by of St. Lawrence Market. The hall full of eateries will keep Leafs revelers well fed.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.