Thursday, 10 December 2009

Hardest Shot Ever?

I recently spent some time down at my local library looking for some hockey-related material to examine and bring to light from years past. As you know from reading this blog, I am fond of the history of hockey, so I often spend chances looking for off-beat pieces of information and facts from yesteryear. Surprisingly, I found a very interesting article in an unusual place for hockey stories. The April 1968 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine featured an article that caught my eye not for the subject of the article, but for the stats listed in the article. I've heard the stories about Bobby Hull's slapshot being like a cannon, but the numbers posted in this article caused me a little concern. Especially when looking at one number for Gordie Howe.

We'll get to those in a minute. The article, written by William Barry Furlong, examines how science is changing the game of hockey in terms of examining a player's speed and motions. We all know how the introduction of composite sticks for shooters and lightweight pads for goaltenders have changed the game in the last twenty years, so I thought this examination by Popular Mechanics was quite interesting as the results were based solely on the players being examined.

As seen in the illustration on the first page of the article, Bobby Hull would be the fastest man in a race from center ice to a puck in front of the net. You'll notice that the players are measured in inches behind the leader, Bobby Hull. At first it didn't make sense in terms of a measurement, but the top two players in the race - Hull and Howe - were always the top scorers in the NHL during their primes. By showing that Howe and Hull won the most races to pucks, Furlong is stating the obvious, but it needs to be said: fast players who win the most races to pucks put themselves in the best position to be successful.

Why were these two men so successful? Well, Popular Mechanics looked at body shapes as a factor. Whether a player was an endomorph, a mesomorph, or an ectomorph played a large factor in determining which body shape was the most successful in hockey.

An ectomorph is normally lean and wiry, having a body shape rating of 117. They are characterized by a light-muscular figure, a flat chest, being thin, and having small shoulders. Ectomorphs usually find it difficult to build muscle in short periods of time, but also have a hard time gaining body fat. Long necks, fingers, and toes are classic traits. Marathon runners have a classic ectomorphic shape.

A mesomorph is the classic body shape that is found to be "ideal". Men are normally rectangular in shape - their shoulders and hips are in proportion - while women demonstrate the classic hourglass figure. Mesomorphs build muscle and gain fat easier than ectomorphs do, and normally have good muscle mass. Boxers up to the light heavyweight ranking have classic mesomorph shapes.

An endomorph is normally seen as "chubby". Their body shape can give the illusion that their mass is concentrated to the abdominal area, but they have significant muscle mass over their bodies. They do not burn fat as easily as the mesomorphs, so losing the "soft" part of their bodies is not easy. The endomorph would appear stocky, but solid. Linemen in football are often endomorphs.

Now that we've defined what body shapes there are, there is a scale that helped to rank players based upon their body shapes. Each shape was a three-digit number than ranked the player based upon their shape in terms of the three definitions. The first number is the endomorphic rank; the second is the mesomorphic rank; the third number is the ectomorphic rank. Each player is given a three-digit rating: Bobby Hull's is 171 while Gordie Howe's is 363. As explained in the article, Hull is extremely muscular while Howe is less muscular, but a little stockier and wiry.

Furlong determined that similar "somatic body-typing" based on the ratings was the most effective way to shut down certain players. Bobby Hull, for example, had a rating of 171, and he would be best shut down by someone with a similar muscular mesomorphic shape. By his determination, Reggie Fleming of the New York Rangers would be the best player to shut down Hull since he had a 261 rating. With Gordie Howe, Eric Nesterenko of the Chicago Blackhawks was the best match-up against Howe since Nesterenko was rated with a 163 body shape.

An interesting examination to be sure, but one that seems entirely obvious, no? You would expect a guy like Scott Stevens to be the best match-up against Eric Lindros as opposed to a guy like Scott Niedermayer, right? The fact that Popular Mechanics ran a scientific rating system to determine this seems like overkill for something that would be visually obvious. But maybe it's just me.

If you note on that linked page, there are some other interesting things. If a player shoots the puck 44-feet away from the net at 100 mph, there would be zero chance that the goalie could stop the puck if fired to an open corner in 1968. To give you an idea, that would be 20-feet inside the blue line or approximately six-feet above the face-off circles in the offensive zone. Goalies today have no problem stopping the puck from that spot on the ice, so it would be acceptable to say that goaltenders today are much faster than goaltenders 40 years ago.

Also to note, if a player shoots the puck faster than 100 mph at that same distance, the pucks moves at 5.4 inches faster per mile per hour at which the puck is traveling. That's a fairly impressive statistic if the measurements made in 1968 are true. We'll see shortly that these numbers may, in fact, be entirely wrong. That means that goaltenders in 1968 may have had a very good chance at stopping a 100-mph-shot from 44-feet away.

How did Furlong come up with these numbers? It turns out that Popular Mechanics didn't actually do any testing of the NHL stars in question. Rather, the tests were done by a Mr. Lloyd Percival of the Toronto Sports College. In 1968, Mr. Percival did research at the Toronto Sports College on sports and the men who play them. Mr. Furlong, the author of the story, and Popular Mechanics simply published the findings of Mr. Percival without actually verifying that his findings were true and accurate.

Mr. Percival clocked each individual player from the six NHL teams in 1967, and found that the average skating speed for member of the Montreal Canadiens - the fastest team in the league - to be 22.3 mph. The slowest team in the league was the New York Rangers who clocked in at a league-low 19.4 mph. Interestingly enough, the Canadiens also shot the hardest in 1967 at 82.6 mph, while the Rangers were the weakest-shooting team at 76.3 mph.

Those numbers seem fairly believable considering that some NHL players in 1967, such as Terry Sawchuk, were less-than-committed to health and wellness like the players are today. However, Percival's numbers go way off the map when he starts looking at individual results.

The values that he found for shot speeds are a little ridiculous. If Bobby Hull was clocked at 118.3 mph, he is officially the hardest shooter to have ever laced up the skates in the NHL. Zdeno Chara officially set the NHL record at the NHL All-Star Game last season when he registered a blast of 105.4 mph. Yet Percival's findings show that Hull's shot was 13 mph faster than Chara's record-breaking slapshot.

Even more ridiculous is that Gordie Howe's wrist shot clocked in at 114.2 mph! According to his findings, Percival's numbers would indicate that Jean Beliveau's wrist shot at 105.9 mph would be slightly faster than Chara's slapshot. Physics alone say that this is entirely impossible.

While I'm not saying that Percival's findings are incorrect, I am saying that the technology in 1968 was in no way, shape, or form as accurate as the technology we have today. Being that this is the case, we should probably stop comparing numbers from yesterday to today because we're talking about different eras in hockey. Wayne Gretzky's record-setting point totals were played in an era where defensive hockey was rarely seen. Glenn Hall's record-setting consecutive starts total was in an era when it was unheard of for teams to play three or four games in a week. Things were different back then, and we should remember this when comparing numbers.

After all, do you really think that Gordie Howe's wrist shot is 9 mph faster than Chara's slapshot? And do you really think that Howe's slapshot was slower than his wrist shot?

Physically, it is impossible. For a magazine like Popular Mechanics, the mechanics of a slapshot versus a wrist shot should have raised doubts in Percival's numbers. I know they do when I look at them, and I'm just a blogger.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Anonymous said...

I just recently came across the Pop Mechanic article, & then your blog.

Aside from technological inaccuracies, perhaps Percival measured the speed of the shots as of the moment they left the stick.

A shot will be fastest at the moment it leaves the stick, & slow down subsequently. Right now, the shots measured as part of the All-Star game are recorded about... 15 feet?... from the point that they leave the stick.

I do find the efforts by Percival to be very interesting, & certainly ground-breaking -- considering that all these years later no one has bothered to measure the skating speed of Orr, the 80's Oilers, etc etc...

The Fox puck-trax etc. technology could've been used to keep track of all shot speeds... they were also going to keep track of skating speed. For those reasons, too bad it was discontinued.

Shop guy said...

I can see how a wrist shot can be faster than a slapshot. A wristshot is acceleated smoother and longer than the short sudden impact of a slapshot.
A gun with a long barrel shoots faster than a hand gun.

Darryl said...

The numbers are indeed accurate as Gordie Howe
employed a "wrist-slapshot" for a quicker release
and he used to shoot from the goal line in Detroit
and the puck was still RISING as it cleared the GLASS
at the FAR END of the RINK. Howe played in the NHL
past the age of 50 as well and was 40 years old in
1968! So while he came in 2nd to Bobby Hull (who
used a FULL SLAPSHOT to get 118.3 MPH) he may have
had an even harder shot when younger! So 120 MPH
is not unrealistic as an estimate of the speed
for Gordie Howe's "wrist-slapshot" in his prime.
He would take the stick back to about 8 o'clock
about 1' off the ice.

The number of 105.9 attributed to Jean Beliveau is
I believe a mistake as I remember his wrist shot
timed at 103 MPH (still extremely impressive) and
that the number of 105.9 was the speed recorded for
Bobby Hull's Wrist shot! Look at Bobby Hull's forearms
and it is easier to believe that number. If I am wrong
that's OK too as Jean Beliveau was my favorite player
in those days. Once again (if I remember right) the
slapshot Beliveau employed (a half slapshot as he would
take it back to about 9 o'clock ...parallel to the ice
before "the downswing" to steal from Golf terminology.
So BOTH Beliveau and Howe "took something off their
shots for accuracy"! Howe was extremely strong (at age
15 he would use a yoke to haul not just 2-3 bags of
cement but 4 at a time! It was mentioned that they were
86-lb bags...close to the standard 40 kg or 88 lb bags
of today. Beliveau was very strong but not as strong
as Gordie Howe...same for Chara! To give credence
to my statements, Chara's Slapshot is within 1 MPH
of Beliveau's Slapshots and only extremely gifted
players like Frank Mahovlich (110 MPH), Tim Horton
(112 MPH), Gordie Howe (114 MPH) and Bobby Hull (118.3)
had harder slapshots in the "old days". I don't know
how fast "Boom Boom" Geoffrion's Slapshot was (would
guess at least 105 MPH and possibly 110 MPH in his prime).

The FULL 12 O'clock SLAPHOT that Bobby Hull used was
indeed 118.3 MPH and I remember reading that a SENIOR
member of the HULL family Gary Hull had the hardest
shot in the family! He only played SENIOR hockey though.
Dennis Hull also had a hard slap shot and as good as
Brett Hull was, he scored more from accuracy and quick
release and did not shoot anywhere near as hard as his
father or Uncles!

Anonymous said...

Another consideration - were the shots taken while skating with the puck? If so, that would add to the speed of the shot, no? This is opposed to the modern-day All Star skills competition, where the puck is stationary and the player skates up to the puck.

Can't believe someone hasn't yet taken old film & estimated the speed of shots & (especially) skating of superstars like Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr, Gil Perreault, Guy Lafleur, Denis Savard et al.