The NHL’s LA Kings were recently annointed 2012 Stanley Cup champions after a long, long season.
On the surface, ice hockey could not be more different from triathlon. It’s a single sport, it’s on ice, it’s a team sport, the physical contact defines the sport, it’s sprint-based, etc, etc.
Apart from the fact sometimes the open water can feel as cold as ice, none of those features apply to triathlon! However, I started debating whether NHL players would make good triathletes. They might lack the swimming skills and be heavy for an endurance sport but they would definitely bring important and well-developed skills to triathlon.
1) Endurance & recovery powers – they play a crazy number of games in the regular season and then follow that up with the Stanley Cup playoffs – which last two months! To be able to play at a professional level a number of times per week requires serious endurance and the ability to recover quickly. This is analogous to triathlon pros racing the ITU circuit across multiple time zones, and amateur athletes like ourselves who put in multiple intense training sessions each week across three different sports.
2) Strength – and in particular leg strength. Being able to sprint down the ice at top speeds requires immense leg strength, similar to a 100m sprinter. As a very weak cyclist, I would love an ice hockey player’s power to propel me up hills! Similarly, being able to turn on a dime requires the great core strength triathletes need in each discipline – power in the swim, posture on the bike and sustaining the run.
3) Controlled aggression – in an obviously very physical sport, hockey players must be extremely aggressive, but must not lose their cool. In triathlon, you need to resist the temptation to punch and kick other swimmers who get too close to you in the water! In the bike and run, you have to control your tempo and not attack those hills, or set off from transitions too fast. Both sports are all about competing hard and fast but remaining cool and in control throughout.
4) Skill acquisition & co-ordination – sharp turns, changes in direction, skating while watching a 100mph puck are all great skills that need to be honed. For the swim, you need to manage every single part of your body – hand entry, head position, your core, legs, feet, toes, eyes, etc! You need to be vigilant on the bike and be able to react quickly, and get your foot strike just right on the run while pumping your arms and relaxing your shoulders.
In both sports, fine-tuning your skills to the nth degree and subconsciously coordinating multiple body parts are vital.
5) Determination – you have to commit in hockey to chasing down the puck, with scant regard to your physical well-being. Likewise in triathlon, you have to put all safety fears aside while being pummeled in the swim, racing downhill on the bike and pushing through pain barriers during those painful last miles on the run. When the pain gets too much and your body starts creaking you have to push on through and race for that finish line. Determination is key to remaining tough mentally and beating that clock.
On first glance the two sports could not be more different, but I bet any NHL player would quickly develop triathlon skills and relentlessly hunt us down in a race!