Science of hockey exhibit scores with kids in OC

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Two years ago, the Anaheim Ducks hoisted the coveted Stanley Cup when they became the first California team to win the NHL championship. That got the ball rolling for a new "Science of Hockey" exhibit at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana. KPCC's Susan Valot says the exhibit finally opens today.

Susan Valot: The thousands of maroon seats that surround the ice at the Honda Center in Anaheim are empty. The lights buzz softly above. Anaheim Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who helped the Ducks win the Stanley Cup, is on the deserted ice, cranking out some wicked slapshots.

[Sound of Beauchemin shooting]

Valot: Beauchemin uses the science of hockey each time he's out here, but he's never taken a shot at the science behind it.

Francois Beauchemin: You know, I've been playing hockey all my life and I don't really know, really know what's going on in the, you know, in the angles, the angles we're shooting and all that. We do think about angles, but we don't calculate, I mean, what's the angle and stuff like that. The way we're skating – it's all part of science, but I never really think about it.

Valot: The Discovery Science Center hopes its new "Science of Hockey" exhibit will get the next generation of hockey – and non-hockey – kids to think about it. The center's Janet Yamaguchi says science is in every aspect of the game. She's on the Ducks bench at the arena as Beauchemin shoots.

Janet Yamaguchi: So what we can see here is a demonstration of some of Newton's laws of motion. We can see – [Sound of puck hitting the crossbar] wow. We can see that as the pucks that are sitting on the ice right now, they have potential energy.

[Sound of Beauchemin shooting] There as he shoots it, he's transferring the kinetic energy in his stick to the puck and that's what sends it [Beauchemin's shot slams against boards] sailing across to get into the goal.

Steve Carroll (play-by-play commentary from exhibit): An unbalanced force sends the mass rink-wide to Bobby Ryan. He spins the mass 360. And he scores! What a demonstration of Newton's first law by Bobby Ryan.

Valot: At the Discovery Science Center exhibit, you can hit the announcing booth and call a play like Ducks play-by-play guy Steve Carroll, using science terms. A few steps away, you grab a glove, a blocker, and a goalie stick and step in front of a real hockey net. A virtual player skates on the giant screen in front of you and shoots the puck.

[Sound of puck]

Valot: The foam puck hits the goalie stick with a thud. Stick save! After a few shots, Discovery Science Center Vice President of Education Janet Yamaguchi says it's time to move on.

Yamaguchi: Here you reverse positions. You get a chance to be the shooter and you'll see our actual Duck goalie on screen. And you're going to try to make goals this time.

[Sound of shooting – whistle and thud of foam puck hitting virtual goalie]

Valot: Doesn't sound like much, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the exhibits get kids interested in science and the game of hockey.

Gary Bettman: The interactivity is great, whether or not you're shooting at a goaltender or you're being the goaltender shot at or you sit in the penalty box and have to answer questions – statistical, mathematical questions – under pressure. I mean, it's all a lot of fun. It's all very educational.

Valot: The museum says teachers will be able to take lessons back to the classroom. It's the only permanent exhibit of its kind in the country. The Ducks were the driving force behind it – and they paid for a lot of it, too. Bettman says the NHL is also a sponsor.

Bettman: For us, anything that we can do that relates to children connecting to our game and using our game as a positive example is something we want to be involved with.

Valot: Bettman's favorite part of the exhibit is where you test your reaction time – something key for both goalies and shooters. The museum's Janet Yamaguchi shows us how it works.

Yamaguchi: So when you put your hands on these buttons, you can actually select whether you want to receive a stimulus that's light, sound, or vibration. We'll pick sound because sound is just always fun, isn't it?

[Sound of buzzer from reaction time]

Valot: Bettman jokes he beat Ducks owner Henry Samueli on this, with a reaction time of about three-tenths of a second. Not bad for an "average Joe" – but an NHL goalie is twice as fast. The Discovery Science Center's Janet Yamaguchi says she wants kids to walk away with a new understanding.

Yamaguchi: Science really is in everything. And so being able to look at hockey from that point of view is a really fun challenge.

Valot: That challenge opens to the public as the Ducks battle for a National Hockey League playoff spot – something kids can imagine themselves doing at the "Science of Hockey" exhibit.

[Sound from exhibit of goal horn – "Score!"]

[Sound from exhibit: "We hope you enjoyed your visit to the 'Science of Hockey' exhibit at the Discovery Science Center."]