The Power Play of Hockey Analytics

The Power Play of Hockey Analytics
October 15, 2021


Erik Largen and Trevor Stewart talk to their respective college and junior players about hockey analytics. Everett Fitzhugh talks to fans of the National Hockey League's Seattle Kraken about it. Hockey analytics, according to Wikipedia, is the analysis of the characteristics of hockey players and teams through the use of statistics and other tools to gain a greater understanding of the effects of their performance.

Largen, who's in his fourth season as the head coach of the University of Alaska Fairbanks' NCAA Division I program, said recently by phone that the Nanooks coaching staff uses analytics  to keep track of such elements as entries, which relate to players' transition from the defensive zone to the offensive zone on the ice. "We like to keep track of expected goals, like the number of times we're getting chances in a prime scoring area,'' Largen said.

Shot attempts also are a popular topic for the UAF coaches when they meet with players to discuss analytics. The team often meets on a Saturday morning following a Friday-night contest of a two-game weekend series.  "It may be who's on the ice for shot attempts against,'' Largen said. "But for the most part, especially with defensemen, we're looking for zone-exit numbers, and for forwards, we're looking at possession numbers and entry numbers."

Stewart, in his 11th season as head coach of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the North American Hockey League, was introduced to hockey analytics about six years ago. He said that before analytics, "We (Ice Dogs coaches) didn't really track. It was all perception based on what we saw as a staff."

The NAHL is a Tier II Junior A league comprised of 29 teams. The players in the league are ages 16-20 and many aspire to play college hockey after their junior eligibility expires. According to the league website, 98 players on this season's NAHL rosters have committed to NCAA programs.

The NAHL, said Stewart, got on board with analytics about four years ago. "First off, it (analytics) brings some validation to some things as a coach that you're trying to display to players or trying to show and tell players,'' he said by phone. "It gives them a score, there's objectivity to it. So that part is unique and you're allowed to have something to back up what you're saying."

Ice Dogs players are fans of analytics.  "They love it,'' Stewart said.
"They're able to watch their shifts and puck touches — the way each little puck touch is rated and the outcome from that puck touch. They're able to see where the game goes, based on how it's rated and what's accomplished."

Analytics joined Fitzhugh for his first season as the radio play-by-play announcer the expansion Kraken. The nine-year broadcasting veteran also is the first African-American radio play-by-play announcer in the history of the NHL.

"I think for me, when you look at analytics, you're trying to find new ways to break down the game, and find new ways of interpreting the game,'' Fitzhugh said by phone. Analytics will come in handy for the Kraken's radio voice, who said he is a hockey fan and a student of the game but has never played the sport.

"I've never been inside those locker rooms and inside of those huddles,'' Fitzhugh said. "So using hockey analytics is a really good way to get inside of a player's mind, inside of a coach's mind, so I can bring that extra little bit of insight. "Especially here in Seattle, where we've got the most robust analytics team in the National Hockey League. For me to able to work for an organization that is so forward when it comes to that, I think it's going to help our broadcast quality that much more."

 Hockey Analytics also is in the lineup of Sports Management Worldwide's five hockey-related courses. The power of analytics in the game of hockey is aparent and understanding how to apply it to a team is powerful. You can learn the skills and knowledge you need to work in hockey from OHL Peteborough Petes' GM, Mike Oke, and former player and scout Claire Cornish! A dynamic duo who have decades of experience in hockey who can help you get a job in hockey!