Saturday, August 30, 2014

Analytics creeping into WHL . . . Cougars hire assistant coach

While a lot of hockey people are jumping on the analytics bandwagon these days, the Saskatoon Blades appear to have gotten something of a head start.
The Blades went through an ownership change a year ago, one that had Edmonton-based Mike Priestner and his son, Colin, purchase the franchise from Jack Brodsky and family members.
Almost immediately, Colin Priestner, who is the franchise’s managing partner, brought in Bruce Peter, who volunteered to provide the Blades with something more than the usual in the way of numbers.
“I believe we were the only team in the league using one last season,” Priestner told Taking Note via email. “I hear a few others are now, too.”
Peter, a long-time Blades fan from Outlook, Sask., is back with the Blades and, according to Priestner, will have an even bigger role this season.
“I found it to be an excellent resource last season,” Priestner explained, “and this season we hope to have regular meetings with Bruce and his new apprentice -- a grad student in economics wants to help him -- and our hockey ops to review trends and outliers.”
Just what do the Blades get from Peter?
“His work is awesome and the amount of data he provides us is amazing,” Priestner said. “He does every home game for us.
“He uses his own sheets to track stats. We get everything from everyone's head-to-head faceoff wins to Corsi to Fenwick to offensive-zone entries, defensive-zone entries and scoring chances and drawn penalties.”
To have even one team doing this is a huge step forward for the WHL. After all, this is a league that, as Cam Charron, then of Yahoo! Sports Canada, wrote a year ago, “is a league that publishes very little information via its box scores.” Charron, as of earlier in August, now works for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL’s team’s three-man analytics department.
To give you some idea of the kind of information Priestner is looking for and what he and Peter are up against, here’s more from Charron a year ago:
“Analytics are tricky in the WHL. The NHL in 2007 began publishing play-by-play sheets that didn't just record when shots, hits and giveaways occurred, but also which players were on the ice for each event. That sort of information has been transformed into several different categories, the chief of which is the Corsi number, a plus-minus number that factors in every shot attempt for and against when a player was on the ice.
“Since Corsi is a team statistic, work has been done to attempt to separate a player's individual contribution to his team's Corsi number. Because of the number of games in the WHL and the limited availability of information, coming up with a Corsi number and putting it in the appropriate context is impossible.”
A lot of Peter’s analysis features zone entries and exits, and, as Charron pointed out, that is something that can be done “by a single person sitting high up in the arena,” or by someone watching video with a remote control in hand.
It should be pointed out that the Kelowna Rockets also are beginning to delve into the area of analytics. Larry Fisher of the Kelowna Daily Courier has a story on that right here.
One interesting thing about all of this is that there have long been conversations about the validity of various statistics that are kept by the home team-provided stats crews in WHL arenas. In Kelowna and Vancouver, for example, the shots on goal are often questioned by visiting teams. In Kamloops, then-head coach Guy Charron of the Blazers once had a loud one-sided conversation on that very subject with his own statistical crew.
Last week, one WHL insider told Taking Note that there is a “big question mark at our level regarding the accuracy of information. Without that, you don’t have good data.”

The WHL is using the exhibition season to experiment with a dry scrape of the entire ice surface between the third period and overtime of those games requiring extra time.
It seems that this has been met with mixed reaction. For one thing, the break during a game in Moose Jaw last week was 12 minutes in duration. The ensuing OT period lasted 34 seconds.
As one individual with knowledge of the ice-making and -maintaining process told me Saturday: “Why an entire dry scrape? Forget the scrape and flood then.”
Prior to now, teams went straight from the third period to OT with just a brief intermission. Then, if a game needed a shootout, a dry scrape that took in the middle of the ice was done. This can be done in three or four minutes. That time now has been at least doubled. So why not do a complete flood?
“The timing of a two-Zamboni flood without on-ice promotions to avoid should be 10 minutes tops -- five minutes for the flood and five minutes drying time,” this person stated. “I guess you could shave the dry time to to 2.5 minutes, depending on conditions.”
He also pointed out that “shaving that layer also could lead to ice issues down the road depending on teams’ flood schedules.”
Interestingly, a game in Everett between the Seattle Thunderbirds and Victoria Royals went to OT on Saturday night. Andy Eide, who covers the Thunderbirds for ESPN 710, tweeted that he asked Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk “how he enjoyed the pre-OT ice scrape?”
Konowalchuk’s response: “No comment.”
I don't know how long the dry scrape took, but Seattle won the game, 5-4, on an Ethan Bear goal at 2:20 of OT.
Roman Vopat, who was a guest coach in camp with the Prince George Cougars, has been added to the team’s coaching staff on a full-time basis. Vopat (Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, 1994-96) was a seventh-round pick by the St. Louis Blues in the 1994 NHL draft and went on to a 16-year pro career. . . . The 38-year-old native of Litvinov, Czech Republic, has coaching experience with the junior B Kimberley Dynamiters of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. . . . With the Cougars, he will work alongside head coach Mark Holick and assistant coach Mike Hengen. . . . “Roman and I go way back to our playing days, and he also played with my brother Brett for many years,” Todd Harkins, the Cougars’ general manager, said in a news release. “He was a great teammate, cared about everyone in the room and played the game with passion.” . . . Harkins added: “Roman joined us at training camp as a guest coach and impressed all of us with his excitement and professionalism, and his past experience will be beneficial to all of our players who have a dream to play in the NHL. He’s well connected with teams and scouts in Europe, and that will serve us well down the road with the CHL import draft.”
Carl Cirullo, a familiar face in Spokane hockey circles, has died. He was 87 when he lost his fight with lung cancer on Thursday. . . . Chris Derrick of the Spokane Spokesman-Review has more right here.
Sorry, Las Vegas. Oh, and you, too, Seattle. But you just don’t have enough NHL fans to make a franchise viable. Cities like Kingston, Halifax and Sudbury might be able to support a team, though. At least, that’s the way Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight has it figured in a piece that is right here.
If you’re a regular here, you will know that organ donation is kind of near and dear to me, especially when it involves a kidney. Gregg Doyel, a national columnist for, has the story right here of a college basketball coach who now has three kidneys inside his body. . . . If you read anything today, make it this one.

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