RALEIGH — Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward isn't opposed to trying something different, even when it means playing catch while sporting a funky looking pair of goggles.
Ward agreed to join some of his teammates in experimenting with Nike strobe glasses before training camp begins. In theory, use of the glasses can improve peripheral vision, reaction time, perception and focus.
Pete Friesen, the Canes' head trainer, is conducting the three-week project in conjunction with the players' informal workouts. Friesen sees it as another training tool, and Ward, who incorporated Pilates into his offseason conditioning last year before playing a career-high 74 games in net, was willing to give it a try.
The Nike Vapor Strobe glasses, which retail for about $300, have strobe circuitry in each lens. The strobe flashes can be sped up or slowed down, changing between clear and opaque states with an LCD lens, as the players attempt to catch balls or stick-handle pucks.
"It's just something new and creative to try and see if it can benefit your vision," Ward said last week. "Especially at my position, it can really be beneficial. If I can find a way of making that puck look a lot bigger, that's going to be a big help."
Friesen recently traveled to Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., to learn more about the glasses, which look like oversized sunglasses. He asked Ward, along with forwards Jon Matsumoto, Zac Dalpe, Pat Dwyer and Jiri Tlusty, and defensemen Jamie McBain and Justin Faulk, to take part in the project.
Friesen said Carolina is the only NHL team taking part in the Nike project. He said the glasses have been tested in other sports. The Duke men's basketball team also have used them, he said.
"We kind of giggled about it at first, but it's a fun experiment," Dwyer said.
What's it like wearing the goggles? Remember the discos of old?
"You see how difficult it is and how much focus it takes to watch the ball, because there's going to be those blind spots," Ward said.
The players wear the goggles 10 minutes a day and for training purposes only - they are not used in games. Some have been catching tossed balls, and Friesen also has used a JUGS gun to launch smaller balls at Ward at varying speeds.
"You only have only a fraction of a second, if someone is throwing you a ball, to see where it is in your mind's eye," Friesen said. "It's a system of evaluating an athlete's vision, not just the peripheral vision but the central acuity."
Friesen kept track of shooting drills performed after players have worn the glasses. Later he will compare the results against those of players who are not using the glasses.
Ward said he felt dizzy after first wearing the goggles, and Matsumoto said he initially was a bit queasy. Dalpe noticed Canes fans at Raleigh Center Ice doing double takes when he wore them on the ice.
"You look kind of weird, but I guess it's kind of cool," Dalpe said, smiling.
McBain said he had a "wide-eyed" sensation after wearing the goggles, noting, "Everything opens up a little bit."
"I hope it helps," he added. "Even the smallest thing can make a difference."
Duke's Stephen Mitroff, an assistant professor in the departments of psychology and neuroscience, is helping to analyze the Canes' data.
"Ideally, this is a training tool, the same as an athlete running with weights on their ankles and taking them off and feeling faster," Mitroff said. "It's the same concept, except with vision and attention.
"You can train with the glasses to better process motion and subtle motion cues, to take in a little more information in a quicker glance at the world. It has been reported to me that it's like the world slows down and the athlete is able to process things better."
Friesen said improved vision is a part of fitness that is often overlooked.
"You always hear about how well goaltenders see the puck," Friesen said. "But they never work on that."
Until now. Ward said he will keep the glasses and continue to use them off the ice.
"Once you do some reps with the goggles, and then take the goggles off and do some reps, you realize how much easier it is to see the ball," he said. "That's the whole idea."
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