Carolina Hurricanes v New York Rangers
Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers makes a blocker save during the shootout against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on October 16, 2014 in New York City.  Jared Silber—NHLI via Getty Images

Virtual Reality Put Me in the Skates of My Sports Hero

Feb 05, 2016

The Swedish-born Henrik Lundqvist is widely considered one of the best goalkeepers in today's National Hockey League. He's got plenty of metal to prove it, including a Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL's best netminder, and Olympic gold and silver medals. Though, sadly for fans of his New York Rangers (your writer included), he has yet to lift Lord Stanley's Cup.

This season, Rangers fans are getting closer to "Hank," as he's affectionately nicknamed, than ever before. In fact, they become him. That's thanks to a new virtual reality experience at Madison Square Garden that puts participants in Lundqvist's skates and pads, challenging them to stop shots from the team's top skaters.

The experience, created by VR sports startup STRIVR, uses an HTC Vive virtual reality headset to put players on virtual ice. Motion-sensing joysticks, meanwhile, give players control of Lundqvist's glove in one hand, and blocker in another. (Sadly, the experience doesn't leave you with Lundqvist's remarkable fashion sense.)

Just a few minutes with the game left me convinced that my childhood decision to abandon any aspirations of playing professional hockey was absolutely the right move. The virtual pucks came in hot — NHL slapshots have been recorded at upwards of 100 miles an hour — and while there was no real danger, it still felt absolutely terrifying to be in the line of fire. It was also addicting. I badly wanted to spend more time in the headset to hone my skills and improve on my middling results.

See The Incredibly Goofy Evolution of Virtual Reality Headsets

Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.
1988 Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.Roger Ressmeyer—Corbis
Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.
"Reality +" at the Virtual Reality Systems 93 show was described as a next generation, multi-player virtual reality entertainment system that gave a high sense of movement in a computer-generated world revealed in a head-mounted display.
The 3-player Budweiser virtual reality mask at the Food Marketing Institute's International Supermarket Industry Convention and Educational Expostion in Chicago.
A Virtual Reality contraption at the Sci Fi Channel booth at The National Cable Television Association annual convention, in San Francisco.
Soldier training using a virtual reality-simulated 3-D shootout at an Army facility.
A visitor checking out a virtual reality head-set at the G7 Information Society Showcase taking place at the European Parliament. The head-set was linked to a camera elsewhere in the building which the visitor could control through head movements.
A researcher at Tokyo University's Intelligent Modeling Laboratory wearing 3-D glasses, extending his hands to touch carbon atoms in the microscopic world at the laboratory's virtual reality room.
Visitors enjoy virtual reality driving with 3-D goggles and driving simulators for the presentation of Japan's automaker Nissan at the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo.
A visitor to the " Ars Electronica in a dish installation " Humphrey II" , which allowed virtual free flight through a 3D reconstruction of the city of Linz.
A girl wore a full color head mounted display with a built-in camera as Japan's machinery maker Hitachi Zosen and Shimadzu unveiled a wearable computer, consisting of the HMD and a palm sized Windows XP PC with a pointing device at a virtual reality exhibition in Tokyo.
Lt. David Shipley of the Adams County Sheriff's Department watched an interactive video that replicated the experiences of a schizophrenic patient having auditory and visual hallucinations while attempting to refill a prescription at a pharmacy.
Valeria Petkova, right, and student Andrew Ketterer, left, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, tested the 'body-swap' illusion, a method whereby people can experience the illusion that either a mannequin or another person's body is their own body.
Raphael Pirker from Switzerland, founder of Team BlackSheep used virtual reality goggles to simulate the sensation of flight in the real world during a demonstration, flying from the perspective of a model aircraft, during a session of LeWeb'12 in Saint-Denis, near Paris.
A man seeking a job was equipped with 3D spectacles with sensors as he trained in Clermont-Ferrand, central France with avatars (background) in a virtual reality cube, at business incubator Pascalis.
Peter Kenny Jan Torpus, director of Lifeclipper project, tested the immersive augmented reality equipment in St Johanns Park in Basel, Switzerland.
Professor Karl Oldhafer, chief physician of general and visceral surgery at the Asklepios Hospital Hamburg-Barmbek, before liver surgery. Oldhafer used augmented reality, which allowed the liver to be filmed with an iPad and overlaid during the operation with virtual 3D models reconstructed from the real organ. This procedure helped locate critical structures such as tumors and vessels and was expected to improve the quality of transferring pre-operational resection plans into actual surgery.
British television presenter Rachel Riley showed a virtual-reality headset called Gear VR during a Samsung event ahead of the consumer electronic fair IFA in Berlin.
Tim Draper, Founder and Managing partner of 'Draper Fisher Jurvetson', tried out the latest in virtual reality technology the 2014 Kairos Global Summit at Ritz-Carlton Laguna Nigel in Dana Point, California.
A man played a game with the virtual reality head-mounted display 'Oculus Rift' at International Games Week in Berlin. The display transfers the eye movements to the game in real time.
Microsoft's Lorraine Bardeen demonstrates HoloLens headset during an event at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. on Jan. 21, 2015.
1988 Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover w

Roger Ressmeyer—Corbis
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"Madison Square Garden, as a whole, we're always looking at ways to use technology to enhance fan experiences," says Andrew Lustgarten, executive vice president of corporate development and strategy at The Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the eponymous arena as well as the Rangers, the New York Knicks, and several other properties. Lustgarten says fans' reactions to the goalie simulator has been "really positive."

"We talk to people after they do it, they really enjoy it, people come back and do it again," he says. "There's been a line, but not a terrible line. It's really worked well."

The Rangers virtual reality experience is also just one example of a broader trend as sports arenas look to the emerging field of VR as a source of sideline entertainment for fans. The NFL's New York Jets, for instance, are experimenting with a VR experience that takes fans on the field. (It's also made by STRIVR.) Broadcasters, meanwhile, are flirting with ways to broadcast 360-degree video from games to viewers' VR headsets.

That could be beneficial to the broader virtual reality industry. Several high-priced VR headsets are set to hit store shelves this year. But the companies making them are facing a big challenge: Some potential buyers may remain unconvinced because they haven't had the chance to try the tech yet. Getting first hand experience at a sports arena, however, could make shoppers more willing to open their wallets.

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