NBC’s Science of NHL Hockey Brings Physics to the Ice

One of the fastest actions in team sports, the hockey slapshot is a dramatic demonstration of a player’s skill, strength, and force. From wind-up to follow-through, says University of Maryland professor Jim Gates, the slapshot is also a perfect illustration of the concepts in physics known as work, energy, and power.

Gates, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), explores these three concepts as they play out in hockey in one installment of Science of NHL Hockey. The 10-part educational-video series is a collaborative effort of NBC Learn, NBC Sports Group, the NHL, and the NSF.

Erik Johnson, defenseman for the Colorado Avalance, reviews footage.

NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, spearheaded the project, with NBC Sports Group acting as a production company. Created with the classroom in mind, the Science of NHL Hockey video series was aligned to a scientific lesson plan and adhered to national and state education standards.

“We look to directly support specific curriculum that [satisfies] the needs of the National Science Foundation,” says Phil Parrish, senior producer/editor, NBC Olympics Production Group. “We look to wrap the sport or use the sport to illustrate some of the specific science and math principles that are involved in this [curriculum].”

Following in the footsteps of Science of NFL Football and Science of the Olympic Winter Games, Science of NHL Hockey uses current NHL stars and on-ice footage to explain scientific principles like Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, geometry, kinematics, and volume measurement.

A Frame-by-Frame Approach
The 10-part video series was filmed over three days in early September 2011 at the Ice House in Hackensack, NJ. The crew used the Vision Research Phantom Flex camera, a state-of-the-art, high-speed unit capable of capturing up to 10,000 frames per second. The camera was used primarily on a dolly, with crew occasionally recording high-angle shots.

Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne participates in an installment exploring reflexes and reaction time.

“We did actually shoot up to 10,000 frames per second on this particular shoot to try and capture and slow down the hockey puck, which, on a slapshot, can move [80-90] miles an hour,” says Parrish. “It’s a tricky and difficult process to try to pinpoint the hockey puck in flight. This camera obviously is designed to do that, and we got some really beautiful images.”

The footage was recorded internally to the file-based Phantom Flex cameras and externally to Sony XDCAMs, organized by NBC Sports Group, and distributed to NBC Learn. NBC Learn Senior Producer Mark Miano and Executive Producer Soraya Gage oversaw production at 30 Rock, which included finalizing the script and editing the footage in Avid Composer.

After the on-ice footage was collected, NBC Learn interviewed both the players involved and the NSF-supported scientists to explain the scientific principle explored in each installment. Throughout the process, NBC Sports Group provided research and technical support.

Problems — Both Expected and Unexpected
While the Phantom Flex provided exceptional, slow-motion footage for the video series, the camera’s unique needs presented a challenge the crew did not anticipate.

“The speed of the camera requires an inordinate number of lights,” says Parrish. “At one point, we had probably over 100,000 W of light [on the ice], which is an incredible amount of lighting. So much so that, at one point, on the first day of shooting, the lights actually started to melt the ice.”

Vision Research's Phantom Flex camera records a slapshot frame by frame. An NHL slapshot averages 80-90 MPH.

Parrish’s crew reacted by turning the lights off between takes as much as possible and equipping crew members with squeegees to clear the excess water caused by the heat.

Crew members, nearly 40 people, also had to adapt their movement to the slippery surface. Being on the ice for upwards of 12 hours a day, says Parrish, trying to move quickly while not falling made for a difficult shooting environment.

“We saw quite a few interesting, but thankfully not life-threatening, spills on the ice,” says Parrish. “You sort of develop a little bit of a shuffle to move around safely.”

Available Online, In Venue, In Flight
The videos debuted during NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the 2012 NHL All-Star Weekend Jan. 26-29. Although NBC Learn operates a firewalled subscription-based Website for educators, the Science of NHL Hockey videos are available for free to the public on NBCLearn.com, NBCSports.com, Science360.gov, and NHL.com. The series will also be shown in arenas throughout the NHL, on NHL Network and NBC Sports Network, in retail venues across the country, on American Airlines in-flight entertainment, and on NBC’s affiliate stations.

To watch the Science of NHL Hockey video series, CLICK HERE.