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A few months ago, Liam Houlahan, a second-year computer science student at the University of New Brunswick, approached UNB hockey head coach Gardiner MacDougall with the idea to join the team in a statistical role.
“His dad has done some work with some pro teams. He’s out of the Ottawa area, and asked us last spring if we would be interested in some more detailed information in parts of the game,” MacDougall says. “He’s been a helping hand for us – that’s for sure.”
Ryerson University is not the only Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men’s hockey program to join the analytics bandwagon. The Varsity Reds are one of the most storied franchises in CIS history.
Under the guidance of MacDougall behind the bench, they have won four CIS championships, the most recent one in 2013. The team is a contender every year in both the Atlantic University Sport and the CIS. They have also showed that so far this season, posting a 4-1-1 record and are currently ranked third in the country.
Ryerson head coach, Graham Wise and MacDougall, veteran recruiters of CIS hockey talent, see analytics eventually evolving into the way they look at players prior to getting them to come to their universities.
“Eventually it’s going to creep in,” Wise says. “So, is it going to make someone play better? Well, hopefully it does, and who’s that advantageous to? It’s advantageous to the players, advantageous to the team he is playing on and it’s advantageous to the coaches.”
MacDougall agrees that advanced stats could become a way of thinking when it comes to recruitment. He also stressed that there are basic elements to a player that still need to be looked at.
“A lot of the times we look for a certain type of player, leadership, and you know there’s a lot of good hockey players out there and a lot of good players come out of major junior that can certainly play in the CIS,” MacDougall said. “It’s just finding the right ones to fit into if you have certain needs each year or what you’re looking for your program.”
Despite the bright future, both coaches still point to the fact both their teams are very early on in how analytics factor into wins in the standings.
“We’re tracking some good information,” MacDougall said. “It’s very early in the process so some of the things that we’ve been tracking, and the validity of it, I’m sure, will increase as the season progresses but it’s been some interesting info for us.”