By Rob Mentzer
Tristan Conrad is honing his hockey skills. The junior men’s hockey player at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point has a stick in his hands and he’s batting away pucks and avoiding defenders — but not on the ice. He’s facing the wall in an empty room, wearing a virtual reality headset.
Conrad is part of a new research project focused on improving players’ cognitive skills, such as reaction time and peripheral vision. The system that he’s training on is called the Sense Arena System, and it's brand new to UW-Stevens Point as part of a partnership between the university and Charles University in the Czech Republic. Researchers said they hope it helps improve the players’ hockey performance and reduce on-ice injuries.
About 35 members of the men’s and women’s hockey teams are participating in the research, which is a project of the school’s new graduate program in athletic training. The players started last week performing tests of basic hockey skills, both on the ice and in virtual reality. Those measurements will form the baseline for the study.
For the VR training, the players stand on a synthetic ice surface in front of motion sensors. Their hockey sticks have motion sensors, too, plus haptic technology that simulates the feedback they get when the puck hits the stick. It’s an 11-week training course.
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