Which players have great Hockey IQ?
Skill. Speed. Strength. Size.
All of these factors help to make a good hockey player. The stereotypical player is a massive guy who can check like a freight train, is missing teeth from the fights that he’s been in on (and off) the ice and knows how to handle a stick. While these physical attributes help, there’s another side to the game of hockey that’s often overlooked – the mental game. To succeed in professional hockey being a big guy who can skate isn’t enough these day, players have to be smart and know how to read the ice with a glance. The best players are hockey tacticians, who can see a play unfold three or four seconds into the future.
Here at EA SPORTS we’ve spent more time working on our new Hockey I.Q. system, the artificial intelligence (AI) that guides the computer controlled players in NHL 13, this year than in the past three years combined. Our virtual players are now smarter than they have ever been, so we’re taking a look at some NHL stars who inspired our Hockey I.Q.
Name: Wayne Gretzky
Team: Retired (Formerly: Oilers, Kings, Blues, Rangers)
The phrase “skate where the puck's going, not where it's been” might not have been coined by Wayne Gretzky, but it was certainly made famous by him. The stories of young Wayne playing on the backyard rink his father built are legendary. It was in those early practice sessions that his father reinforced the principals that would make Gretzky one of the smartest players out there. Universally acclaimed as the greatest player to have ever laced up a pair of hockey skates, Wayne Gretzky was never the strongest or fastest player on the ice. He was a skinny kid who always looked like one solid check from an NHL tough guy might end his career. He succeeded by being able to read hockey games like most people read a book.
While no slouch in the goal scoring department – Wayne still holds more goal scoring records than any other player – what made Gretzky dangerous was the assist. He seemed to know where every other player on the ice was at all times and could launch a pass to a teammate in a scoring position. Gretzky changed the way hockey is taught and showed that strategy and brains are just as important as raw talent and heart.
Name: Nicklas Lidström
Team: Retired (Formerly: Red Wings)
The recently retired Red Wings defender wasn’t that big for a hockey player. Weighing in at only 191 pounds Lidström was not a massive physical presence, and yet despite that he was one of the best defenders in the NHL winning four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings and seven Norris Trophies. Playing to the age of 42 was quite the feat, and showed that even though his body was well past it’s prime he clearly had something that allowed him to compete with players half his age.
On defense in particular the ability to read the game is important, and that was an ability Lidström had in spades. Helped along by his speed he was able to get into the right position to cut off offensive chances and clear the puck away from his goal and out of his zone, even if he wasn’t always laying down the bone crushing body checks. Stealing the puck and creating a turnover was more important to Lidström’s game than physically intimidating his opposition. Without his Hockey IQ this NHL All-Star would not have lasted as long as he did playing at the highest level of the sport.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin
Position: Center, Left Wing
The Sedin twins have an almost telepathic connection on the ice that could possibly be attributed to their nine months spent together in the womb. Regardless, neither brother has the physical size of former teammate Todd Bertuzzi, or the raw speed of former Canucks star Pavel Bure. Able to find each other with passes, often without even looking, the pair is always an offensive threat.
While the Swedes have been working on their strength and conditioning, allowing them to stay on the puck better than during their first few years in the NHL, they are still not your typical hockey players. Not blessed with an overabundance of ability in any one area, such as blinding speed or a howitzer of a slap shot, they’re well rounded offensive players who rely on their knowledge of the game, and each other, to score their goals. Together they are the primary offensive threat of Vancouver’s two-time President Trophy winning Canucks.
Those are just some of the many players whose on ice smarts help them in the NHL. What players, past or present, do you think have great Hockey IQ?