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Digging Into the Science of Hockey at the Winter Classic

It takes a lot more to be a professional hockey player than athletic ability. It takes focus, hard work — and knowledge of math and science. 

That’s the idea behind Future Goals-Hockey Scholar, a new program launched by the NHL, its 30 teams, and the NHL Players Association. Future Goals-Hockey Scholar is an online course designed to teach 5th-7th graders about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts by applying them to hockey. The program is available for free to teachers and schools across North America.

The program is a fun way to learn because it builds off things kids are already doing on computers, like playing games. Throughout the course, students work with a team coach, equipment manager, ice technician, and other NHL representatives to learn concepts and apply them to 12 specific hockey related tasks. Participants earn a trophy after each round, and they work toward winning the virtual Stanley Cup. It takes about three hours to complete the course. But don’t worry — it doesn’t need to be finished all at once. 

I took the course and was surprised to see how much I could learn about something as simple as dropping the puck for a face-off. From this simple lesson, I learned about kinetic and potential energy. I also learned to measure the area of an ice rink and paint it using different geometric shapes. It was interesting to dive into the properties of liquids, solids, and gases by thinking about the temperature of the ice. Even more exciting and fun was calculating the speed of the players and thinking about angles when making passes and goals.

In the end, I learned a lot about the laws of motion and forces. And then I got to see those topics applied in real life as the NHL prepared for the 2016 Winter Classic in Boston.

At Gillette Stadium, while the Boston Bruins and Montreal Candadiens practiced for the annual outdoor game, I caught up with Bruins’ defenseman Adam McQuaid when he got off the ice. He described ways in which math and science affect his game.

“Even simple things like angles are important,” McQuaid said. “Knowing them can help us make more accurate passes of the boards or find the fastest way to block a player from getting the puck.”

One thing you take away from the Future Goals-Hockey Scholar program is that there are a lot more positions on an NHL than player. Besides being an athlete, pros fill roles like coaches, equipment managers, and, ice technicians. All of these jobs require knowledge of STEM concepts, too. 

At Gillette, NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations Dan Craig — also known as the ice rink guru — walked me through how he and his team get the rink ready for an outdoor game.

Craig has been with the NHL since 1997. But he has worked on ice rinks since he was 15 years old. Now he oversees and monitors all 30 NHL indoor rinks. For the Winter Classic, Craig and his crew worked hard to transform Gillette Stadium into a full-scale ice rink on a field typically used for football. 

The biggest challenge is working with the weather. In Boston, recent conditions went from unusually high, spring-like temperatures to more winter-like snow and sleet conditions. Craig is constantly working and problem solving. He explained how he uses a mobile refrigeration trailer to remove heat from the ice and maintain a temperature of 22 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Craig studied facilities engineering to prepare for his job. But, he said, “I wish I had taken chemistry and physics in school because I had to learn it later.” 

After taking the Future Goals-Hockey Scholar course and talking with McQuaid and Craig about their NHL careers, it’s clear to me that math and science are all around us — and most certainly in sports.

Check out the Future Goals website for more information on the course!

Photos: Maxwell Surprenant (Winter Classic), NHL/Future Goals (screenshots)

2016 winter classic stem
2016 winter classic stem
2016 winter classic stem