By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers are doing their homework — literally.
When Alain Vigneault took over as head coach of the Blueshirts in the summer of 2013, one of the initiatives he installed was having a system that allows every player to review all of their shifts from the comfort of home using a specially-designed iPad application.
Since beginning his coaching career in the QMJHL at the tender age of 25, Vigneault has been a proponent of maximizing the latest available video technologies to give his players an edge. Back when he started his coaching career in 1986 with the Trois-Rivières Draveurs, video tape was the best technology could offer.
“I started with the VHS, running my own things,” Vigneault said. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years.”
Now in 2015, it’s the DVD that’s dead. As of the 2014 playoffs, 17 of 30 NHL teams use XOS Digital’s ThunderCloud applications. Vigneault is a big believer in the power iPad technology offers as a constructive tool. Every player has his own iPad and AV expects them to study their individual shifts in their downtime, ideally before arriving at practices.
“I believe it’s huge for a player,” Vigneault said. “I expect guys — the next day at some point that they watch all their shifts. I would prefer that they watch it before coming to practice. Today, I had a couple questions for a couple of guys. But the time frame — life is life. You’ve just played a game, you’ve got to pack, you’ve got to get ready to come to practice, et cetera.”
You will see coaches pulling out tablets during breaks in play to pull up information and review specific shifts with players in real time.
“It’s a great tool,” Vigneault said. “You see yourself, you see how much time or the reads you should have made on a play. That’s how you get better. This game is all about trying to get better on a daily basis. I do believe in today’s game, players watch their shifts. It’s changed a lot in the last five-to-10 years. It’s a tool that has become more useful. Players want to see it on the bench during the game — what’s going on, what they can do, what happened on that play. It is not done in a critical fashion, it is done in a constructive fashion to help them with their play.”
After a game ends, every player has access to all the footage and it is broken down individually for each player. Video is shared through cloud-based syncing. Alternate captain Marc Staal, defenseman Keith Yandle, and forwards Kevin Hayes, Tanner Glass and Oscar Lindberg each spoke exclusively to WFAN.com about their experiences using the technology.
“You can break it down many different ways,” Glass said. “You can break it down every time you touch the puck, shots for when you’re on the ice, shots against when you’re on the ice, power play, penalty kill — a bunch of different ways. It’s a good app, a good program. It’s good to watch specific plays that you feel you wanted to do something different on, a read that wasn’t quite there or when you’re not sure of something. We had it when I was in Pittsburgh, but it was on computers in the locker room where you could sit down and watch your shifts. You still had ways to break it down like that. Here is the first place I’ve had it individualized and you can have it home with you and on the road.”
The Rangers’ coaching staff is fully aware of the players who are keeping up on at-home study and the ones who aren’t.
“I get weekly updates from one of my staff members here on who’s doing their work,” Vigneault said. “I would say for the most part, we’ve got a 90-percent success rate on guys. Some other guys have to be reminded a little bit on occasions.”
For Staal, a nine-year veteran, iPad study helps eliminate some of the guesswork in his game and improves dialogue with coaches.
“If something’s bugging you, I find that it helps me,” Staal said. “If I think I see something on the ice that I don’t — when you watch it on film, obviously you see the whole picture. It helps you evaluate what to do in different situations. It definitely adds some value for sure. We get pretty open-minded conversations from our coaches. Any questions we have on a certain shift or a certain play, they’re always there to explain things or at least just talk about it — at least what you saw in the situation and what you can do differently. It’s a big plus.”
Lindberg said being able to watch shifts from home puts him on the same page with coaches before he arrives in the film room.
“It’s easy to look through your shifts and find things you can improve,” Lindberg said. “If the coaches show me different kind of clips, I’ve already been able to watch it myself. It’s easier to talk about it and give my opinion. It makes things easier to discuss.”
Hayes, a second-year forward, said he began using this kind of technology at Boston College and appreciates how it highlights positive and negative on-ice habits.
“Being able to get away from the rink and watch yourself at home, you pick up things that you normally don’t see during the game,” Hayes said. “You can’t hide on film. You realize what you do bad and what you do well. If you do something bad and you don’t see it during the game, the coaches see it. You can go home, watch the film and kind of agree with what the coaches were talking about.”
Yandle, who arrived from the Arizona Coyotes at the March 2015 trade deadline, said the Rangers are at the forefront when it comes to supplying players with every possible technological edge.
“In my last year in Arizona, they gave us iPads,” Yandle said. “For the last few years, they had the shifts available on computers at the rink. It’s one of those things I think a lot of teams are doing, but here — it’s probably to another level. They do a really good job of helping us out and trying to give us the extra edge. Having the iPads, it takes away the gray area. You can go back right after the game or the next morning and look at the whole game or a couple of shifts, whatever you want to see.”
iPad-based shift-tracking technology is just one of many modern advancements the Rangers are utilizing. They are amassing all kinds of data on their players.
“I have no idea what kind of stuff they collect on a day-to-day basis,” Staal said. “But we’ve got heart rate monitors for tracking how hard we’re working and how much rest we need. That’s a big thing throughout a season, knowing how recovered you are and whether you need to work out that day or not. From that standpoint, we’ve gotten a lot of information in the past few years. All of these newer things are a big help.”
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey