Read any blog or watch a broadcast in the sports world and it can be tough to hide from the growing world of analytics. Gone are the days of measuring an athlete’s impact simply by the box score or even just the eye test. Now, with more data available than ever before, analytics looks to bring sports fans and executives the most information possible in the shortest amount of time.
Colin Campbell is the Chief Marketing Officer with HockeyTech, a Waterloo based leader in hockey related technologies. On the Breakaway podcast, he dug into how the world on the ice is changing as the impact of technology is increasingly felt.
Even casual hockey fans have likely heard of Corsi and Fenwick, two different measurements of on-ice performance. Still, while they can track things like spacing and player movement, the sport itself features so many unpredictable movements that one linear measurement simply isn’t enough.
“Hockey is such a random sport in terms of how the game is played, the speed, the bounces,” said Campbell. “So getting exact and precise measurements in comparable fashion to a sport like baseball is apples and oranges.”
His company is still in the process of developing and perfecting the tracking of on-ice performance but HockeyTech is already being used at the University of Waterloo rink. Trackers in the rafters above the ice help maintain reports on the puck and players, who wear a chip on their equipment.
If a player is noticeably slower towards the end of a game compared to the beginning according to the data, it could indicate that they need to work on their conditioning. Perhaps the opposition is only taking shots from the right side of the ice. Fans will soon be able to share this technology from the stands and keep track of the puck movement and speeds.
“We’re used to watching hockey from the stands, or on the bench if you’re a coach, with your eyes or watching video replays… To see the analytics and see where the Xs and Os are, where the puck is in relation to the player movement and being able to stop it at any given time… With advanced analytics, it’s an interesting experience to be able to see what leads into those game events in the immediate three-to-five seconds.”
“It’s how they react to those game events and certainly the advanced analytics gives an extra set of eyes and an in-depth opportunity to identify why certain plays happen.”
Coaches will be able to track certain patterns that emerge in game situations can be especially valuable at higher levels of hockey.
“I think the advanced analytics and some of this monitoring that we’re working on has a much stronger application at the elite level because the speed is much faster and the skills are much more developed and harder to measure comparatively.”
As these technologies respond with instantaneous feedback it can allow for coaching staffs to adjust on the fly. These in-game changes could prove extremely valuable when every game counts in the standings.
However, for as much information is now out there, regulation is still needed on how and when it can be used. The NCAA, for instance, does not allow any sort of tablet on the bench and therefore limits this feedback to the locker room in between periods.
“I think there’s a lot to be discovered and a lot to be figured out in terms of what the practical application will be but the end result is that it will give coaches a much stronger ability to evaluate plays and players.”