Commentary

Exhibit shows what makes hockey tick

Updated: April 1, 2009, 2:31 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Velocity, strength, impact.

Sounds like your average night around the Honda Center in Anaheim, or any other NHL rink.

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Courtesy of Anaheim DucksDucks winger Corey Perry and two fourth-graders test out the "You Be the Goalie" exhibit at the Science of Hockey.

But if you were to peel back the outer skin of a hockey game, what would those terms -- velocity, strength, impact -- mean? What is their very nature, and how do they apply to pro sports' fastest game?

Leave it to the Anaheim Ducks, seemingly always on the vanguard of thinking outside the hockey box, to bring science and hockey together in an unlikely yet wholly fascinating marriage.

Thanks to a $2 million endowment from the Ducks, the Science of Hockey, the first permanent science exhibit devoted to the game of hockey and how it works, will open its doors to the public Thursday in a 3,000-square-foot space at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, Calif.

"It's trying to teach kids science using hockey, and it's trying to teach hockey using science. You can look at it from both perspectives," Ducks CEO Michael Schulman told ESPN.com. "We're always thinking of ways to get hockey in the minds of our youth. This is just another way to help it."

Given carte blanche by the Ducks to come up with the exhibit, Discovery Science Center officials began asking basic questions about the game such as: How do players skate? How do bodies move? How does the puck move? What is the reaction time for a goalie? What is the physiology of making a save? What are the nutritional requirements of players? How does a Zamboni clean the ice? Then, they took those questions and applied science to come up with answers in a fun and, in many cases, interactive way.

Janet Yamaguchi is the vice president of education for the science center, and her favorite question was, what the heck is up with the puck? Part of the finished product in the Science of Hockey is the cross section of a puck, which details its evolution and how it works (i.e., it's frozen, so it doesn't bounce all over the place).

"Once we started getting into it, we just said there were so many connections [with science]," Yamaguchi said.

Along with money, the Ducks also donated their expertise in the form of players, such as netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere and forwards Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, whose moves were incorporated into hands-on parts of the permanent exhibit focusing on goaltending, shooting and skating.

[+] EnlargeScience of Hockey
Anaheim DucksNHL commissioner Gary Bettman tests out the "Reaction Time" meter at the Science of Hockey.

"I think the project is awesome," Giguere told ESPN.com. He admitted it was tedious to pose for the multiple camera angles needed to provide visitors with a lifelike experience about how a goaltender reacts to NHL shooters, but said it was worth the effort.

Giguere, who has been with the Ducks since 2000, understands the ongoing challenge to integrate hockey into the fabric of Southern California life and sees this exhibit as another way of reaching out to fans.

"A lot of the kids [who visit the science center], you know they've never seen an ice rink," Giguere pointed out.

This project, however, gives them a chance to understand the game in a unique setting.

"Seeing and experiencing and to feel what it is the goalie sees, what it is to be a hockey player, it's just a different way to market the game," Giguere said.

Given the popularity of the game in Canada and U.S. markets such as Detroit, Boston and Philadelphia, it's amazing something like this has never been given permanent life before. And it would be more than a little ironic if Discovery Science Center president Joe Adams were correct when he suggested the California model would soon be replicated around the continent.

"I think this is just the start of it," Adams told ESPN.com.

Whether it's science centers pursuing similar exhibits or hockey centers expanding to include an educational component like the Science of Hockey, the possibilities are limitless.

"Now you can blend the excitement of sport with what teachers are teaching in the classroom," Adams said. "It's like, 'Wow, there's science all around us.' There's a reason they're playing on ice and not the carpet."

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.