By Tim Newcomb
If the L.A. Kings manage to climb all the way out of the 0-3 hole they fell into during their first round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks, they'll likely have a not-so-secret (anymore) weapon to thank. The Kings are one of 10 teams in the postseason tournament that are using an iPad -- six have them stashed behind the bench -- for quick game analysis and strategy planning. Coach Darryl Sutter and his assistants often pull out their tablet during timeouts or lulls in play and use the information it supplies them in their thoroughly modern push toward one of sport’s oldest trophies.
The variety of applications for Apple iPad use in the NHL grew this season, with 17 of the league's 30 teams turning to them in search of an edge. XOS Digital’s ThunderCloud iBench app provides real-time video analysis capability. SAP’s Lumira software helps coaches visualize trends. PlayerLync video services offers multiple ways to scout opposing players and teams. The Kings use the ThunderCloud “on a daily basis to help prepare players for each game,” Zach Ziegler, L.A.'s video coordinator, told SI.com. The team's staff and players commonly review face-off performance or run through specific game situations.
“The ability to telestrate real-time on the iPad through the iBench app really allows us to not only show our players what is needed to succeed, but to teach our players how to succeed,” Ziegler said.
Brent Berglund of XOS Digital’s hockey product division told SI.com that coaches have an ever-growing appetite for video that has evolved well beyond DVDs, thumb drives, Internet storage and old VHS cassettes. With the app, NHL teams can use local networks to capture video streams on multiple iPads that allow coaches to single out specific plays, swipe through clips, zoom in and telestrate. With the stream about five seconds behind the live action, coaches use a remote to tap a button and flag plays for later review.
“Coaches can keep their eyes on the game,” Berglund says. “The TV timeouts in the NHL are a great opportunity to check things out on the iPad and maybe even convey something to their teams effectively.”
Keeping high-tech gadgets behind or on the bench during a game can be a polarizing subject, like the use of advanced stats, but teams such as the Kings are fully embracing the movement. Using the available technology in practice has become commonplace. And from the bench to the bus, coaches and players now have scouting capability. The PlayerLync iPad product, which has become popular with 20 NFL teams, is now being used by the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs to get the detailed low-down on their opponents.
Bob Paulsen, co-founder of PlayerLync, told SI.com that teams have video and documents sent to their iPads—even when the device is asleep—within minutes after a game ends, allowing them to watch and review without an Internet connection (quite a popular feature for road teams that are sitting on a bus or taking off from a tarmac). Comments and information can easily be added and shared. “Coaches and players insert their own audio, visual, text and clips,” Paulsen says, “and securely send them to one another.”
The NHL's playoff technology can be used by fans, too, thanks to SAP Lumira software that breaks down team trends and makes them viewable on an iPad. Though not for official use, SAP has run its visualization software on all of this year's playoff matchups and made the resulting trends available to teams, players and fans to sift through if they desire. For example, before the series began, SAP's data predicted that the Sharks would win in seven games, largely because the Kings score relatively few goals given the amount of time they spend in their opponent's zone. The Kings have surely been working to correct that deficit.
As for what the Sharks are doing, they use SAP services (not surprising, given that their arena is the SAP Center), but were unable to comment more specifically at this time. It's safe to say that along with more traditional sticks, pads, helmets, skates and tape, the iPad has quickly become another valuable tool in their quest for the Stanley Cup. Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.