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Canadian Hockey Group Scouts Out RFID's Ability to Measure Athletic Skills

The Northern Ontario Hockey Association is exploring the use of passive tags to collect data regarding the performance of teenage players during team tryouts and practice sessions.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 06, 2015

The Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA), a Canadian minor- and junior-level ice hockey governing body, is considering the adoption of an RFID-based solution called NEXT Testing, for use by all coaches and teams throughout the association. NOHA, which selects and manages teams of players from the region in multiple age levels—known as Team NOHA—employed NEXT Testing in November 2014 at its Team NOHA trials.

NEXT Testing, provided by HockeyTech, an Ontario technology company owned by Florida-based Siegel Enterprises, was used to collect test results from competing athletes to judge who could play on Team NOHA for the 2014-2015 season. In the future, provided that NOHA adopts the technology, it would be used for that annual testing at all age levels, but also by team coaches and players to assess their strengths and weaknesses on the ice. This, says Jason Marchand, NOHA's executive director, will help players to improve their skills.

A hockey player taps his wristband against the NEXT Testing reader before entering the rink.
During the Team NOHA tryouts in November, those 38 athletes wore RFID tags to link them to data about their performance during the association's North Bay Battalion Development Weekend. The NEXT Testing automated system, which also employs RFID infrared (IR) sensors, evaluated each player's agility and speed, and presented the results to the team in an XML file. Based on those results, NOHA selected two goalies, six defense and 11 forward players.

There are approximately 50 NOHA "minor midget" hockey clubs throughout Ontario, and a select few of the players in those clubs could go on to become part of Team NOHA at the ages of 15 through 18. Being a member of Team NOHA—thereby playing against other NOHA teams, as well as those from other regions—can lead to being recruited by National Hockey League (NHL) professional teams if an individual's performance is impressive enough. But first, minor midget team members must qualify for Team NOHA by completing some testing.

So in November, 38 members of the teams (all born in 1999) were tested during the North Bay Battalion Development Weekend, all vying to be one of 19 players chosen to play hockey for Team NOHA. Their selection was based on their speed and skill on the ice, as determined by the results of 14 tests. Assuming the association approves the system's adoption in May—something that Marchand expects will happen—all 50 NOHA-sanctioned minor midget teams will begin using the technology to test all of their own players, as well as evaluate their performance.

Typically, a NOHA representative uses a stopwatch to gauge a skater's speed, with results manually written down on paper, according to Ian Mosher, HockeyTech's head of player testing. The NEXT Testing service for measuring athletic performance was developed in 2006 by a group of entrepreneurs in Madison, Wisc., with an interest in hockey and how technology could be used for testing procedures. The company, also called NEXT Testing, was purchased by HockeyTech in September 2013 and moved to Ontario. NEXT Texting is one of multiple technology-based products or services that HockeyTech sells.

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