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Analytics have trickled their way down to university hockey, with the Ryerson Rams using it as an effective scouting tool to evaluate their own players.
A few years ago, it was hard to find many people tracking advanced stats in hockey. But over the last calendar year, the trend has blown up.
Advanced stats have most famously been used in baseball, which started years ago and was popularized by the movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. But hockey is just finally catching up. Hockey bloggers like Cam Charron and ExtraSkater — both hired by the Maple Leafs in the offseason, among many others — have been tracking advanced stats to better evaluate teams and players.
For example, these bloggers predicted the demise of the Toronto Maple Leafs last year because their statistical analysis, or number crunching, showed the team was being successful in an unsustainable way. The Leafs were riding a very high save percentage and eventually, teams would start scoring more. The bloggers were right.
Ryerson head coach Graham Wise says he knows with more information comes more learning opportunities and better evaluation.
He’s been considered an old-school coach by people familiar with the Ryerson team, and anyone aware of the boom in analytics can tell you traditionalists haven’t been too fond of the math. Steven Simmons of the Toronto Sun is a great example of someone who thinks analytics don’t really have a place in hockey. For him, the game is more about passing the eye-test than tracking numbers. But Wise says he understands he has to adapt.
“You can say old school, but I also look at it as you’re always learning,” says Wise. “The day you don’t want to learn, you might as well be in your grave.”
By simply watching a hockey game, you can tell which player scores, which player throws the big hit or which player has a nasty turnover. You can’t necessarily tell how many shots are directed at your own net and the opposition’s net without vigorously tracking these numbers to better determine a team’s possession stats.
Wise stresses decisions can’t solely be based off statistics, and seeing things with your eye is a great way to evaluate players’ performances. But statistics can also be used to provide support for an idea the coaching staff is already seeing – it puts what the eyes see on paper and proves it.
“When you have one line that was quite a bit a minus and you know, we looked at it and said ‘maybe we’ve got to shake that line up,’” says Wise. “Now, as coaches, we probably would have broken that line up anyways because we weren’t happy with the defensive play. What does it do? It reinforces your decision to make the shake up and that’s where you’ve got to use them.”
The season is still young and it’s hard to know what kind of impact the new stats will have or how the coaching staff uses them. They just started using analytics this year and the sample size is still small. As the season wears on, we should get a better gauge for how tracking these numbers help the team.
More to come.