‘Sense Arena’ VR trainer helps pro and amateurs hockey players

[Road to VR reports on the Sense Arena hockey trainer. The original version of this story includes another image and three 3 videos, and the NHL.com story mentioned includes more videos and images and quotes goalie Antoine Bibeau of the Carolina Hurricanes saying “You put it on and you basically appear in the net in an NHL arena and you look around and it’s really like being in an NHL arena. I’m shocked by how realistic the whole thing is.” –Matthew]

‘Sense Arena’ is a VR Hockey Trainer That’s Being Adopted by NHL Teams

By Ben Lang
June 9, 2021

Flying, driving—even fencing & crane operation—and now hockey. VR continues to prove out training as a core use-case for the technology. Sense Arena is a VR hockey training platform in use by NHL teams and now expanding beyond goalie training to players all across the rink.

Sense Arena is a VR hockey training platform aimed at professional & amateur teams alike. What started as a system designed primarily for goalie training is evolving to include training exercises for players of all positions. Last month the company began taking pre-orders for the Sense Arena for Players version which is expected to begin shipping in the second half of this month.

Both the Goalie and Player versions of the system are sold as a complete package including an Oculus Quest 2, controller mounts for goalie gloves and hockey sticks, the Sense Arena software, and a case to store everything. The complete package for the goalie kit is $700, plus $99 monthly (or $89 per month annually). Lesser versions not including the extra equipment are available for less, and are geared toward players running basic exercises at home rather than on the ice.

According to NHL.com the system has been used by at least 10 NHL goalies including Philipp Grubauer of the Colorado Avalanche, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Antoine Bibeau of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Since the system only tracks the player’s head and hands there’s a lot of the player’s body and motions that can’t be accounted for, meaning it is far from a perfect physical simulation. However, Sense Arena pitches itself as being a cognitive training tool as much as being about working on technique. For the goalie version, the company touts the following benefits:

“READING THE RELEASE
Improve your ability to read the release by watching interactive videos of players hooting at you. Make the saves, track the player, track the puck.

SCREENS
The probability of making a save increases dramatically when you can see the puck. Practice your ability to face screens in difference game situations.

BOX CONTROL
No other tool gives you an indication of the right box control on the fly. You will learn how to fill the majority of the new when facing shots.

SHOT REPLAY
3D replay of all shots from the perspective of the shooter or the goalie. Walk around yourself and study how you made or didn’t make your saves.

TRAINING PLANS
Professional NHL goalie coaches, Pro goalies, and well recognized goaltending specialists created a number of eight days training plans for goalies at all ages.”

Understanding how to best read shots on goal would surely be difficult with anything less than motion data from real players. Sense Arena came up with an interesting solution to this problem by superimposing footage of real players shooting on the goal and then transitioning the puck from the filmed version to an interactive version just before it reaches the goal.

Other exercises use simple dummy player props for more dynamic exercises, like watching for screened shots.

Sense Arena also claims to measure player performance by tracking exercise data over time to give players and coaches a way to monitor their training progress through a cloud-based platform.

As far as efficacy is concerned, Sense Arena seems to have earned the respect of some pro teams so far. In April the Arizona Coyotes, an NHL team based in Phoenix, AZ, announced it had signed a multi-year partnership to use Sense Arena in its training program.

“When I first experienced Sense Arena I knew immediately that it is a game changer,” said Brian Daccord, Assistant GM of the Arizona Coyotes. “Ice time and goalie coaches are limited but Sense Arena gives motivated goalies the opportunity to improve without the physical wear and tear associated with on-ice training.”

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