“Summer of Analytics” continues as Alberta Analytics Conference packs room in …

The hockey analytics movement is gathering steam. On Saturday, the second Alberta Analytics Conference took place in the Calgary Saddledome, with a full house of some 70 registrants packing the Avison Young room to hear ten presentations from a variety of speakers.

The core group has been informally named “Objective NHL Alberta” in honour of Tore Purdy a.k.a. JLikens, whose untimely death was announced at our first get-together in Edmonton this past May. However, the conference extends far beyond provincial boundaries, as yesterday’s get-together included a number of speakers and interested onlookers who came from eastern Canada and USA. While the majority of folks in attendance were curious Calgarians, the audience also included a healthy Edmonton-based contingent, including several of the fellows from Oilers Nation who made the road trip. There were also a few folks here and there of a hockey background, including coaches, scouts, and at least one rep of Hockey Canada.

After some introductory remarks by MC Rob Kerr of TheFan 960 and conference organizer Rob Vollman, the roster of speakers presented a series of ~40-minute presentations over the next seven hours, with just enough break time to enjoy a tasty lunch catered lunch right on site.

I didn’t take detailed notes of the presentations, but here are some of the highlights.

Chris Snow, Director of Video and Statistical Analysis with the Calgary Flames, provided some background on the use of analytics within the Flames organization. Chris spoke of the PUCKS data-based video scouting system. This interview of Snow (by Rob Kerr) archived on the Flames’ website gives a nice overview of the system now being used by about half of NHL teams including the Edmonton Oilers.

Andrew Thomas from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, is a co-administrator of the recently-unveiled advanced-stats site  war-on-ice.com . Thomas spoke about “The Single-Number Dream and the March to WAR”, that last word being a reference to the baseball stat known as Wins Above Replacement, a single derived number designed to evaluate a player’s “total contributions to his team”.

David Benard of HD2 Analytics spoke on “Doing More With Less”, specifically using a software suite called “Sportstec”. A goal is to provide simplified coding of on-ice events that can be processed in close to real time. Benard gave an example of  ABC coding for zone exits, among others.

After lunch, yours truly, Bruce McCurdy of Cult of Hockey, led a group discussion about the Summer of Analytics. The focus was the problems and opportunities presented to the analytics community as a whole in the wake of multiple hirings of some of the leaders of the field to NHL jobs, and the subsequent disappearance of influential blogs and stats sites to proprietary interests. We also spoke of the recent change in the terms of service at NHL.com specifically addressing “scraping” of data. We heard from one audience member that the NHL had actually issued a couple of “cease and desist” orders to individuals who included actual coding in their analysis, even as some sites that rely on scraped data have been allowed to publish their output for a number of years.

Ryan Pike, managing editor of Flames Nation, gave a brief presentation promoting the possible use of PitchTalks for Calgary.

Allan Hamernick of Hamernick and Associates gave a thought-provoking presentation on Team Dynamics Behavioural Analytics. He went beyond the usual perfomance-based hockey analytics into the “softer” sciences of team-building and chemistry. He spoke of a successful team needing to “balance behaviours”, requiring different personality types to make a cohesive group.

Justin Azevedo of the above-referenced Flames Nation gave an update on his project “Microstats Tracking Results” where he examined circumstances and outcomes of game situations like stretch passes, offsides, icings, and zone entries. His video analysis offers opportunities at both the strategic level for the team and as video analysis for individual players. Azevedo will be using this technique to work with a specific player on the University of Calgary Dinosaurs this upcoming season.

“The Ninja” Greg Sinclair gave an overview of his “Super Shot Search” and suggested that its automated capabilities might render manual tracking of scoring chances redundant.

Host Rob Vollman of hockeyabstract.com and author of the excellent Hockey Abstract 2014 gave a presentation  “Behind the Player Usage Charts”, using the Oilers and Flames as examples and involving audience members who were relatively new to analytics with a quiz about how the coach might use certain players, then showing actual results from his PUCs.

Keynote speaker Michael Schuckers of St. Lawrence University and co-founder of Statistical Sports Consulting gave a preview of an upcoming paper, “Adjusting for Rink Effects in the NHL”. Schuckers gave details as to how poorly the NHL controls its statistical outputs on hits, turnovers, blocked shots, and even shots on goal. Florida, Toronto, Los Angeles and New Jersey were identified as arenas that have displayed a consistent rink bias in recording events over the past six years. He gave some methodologies for adjusting for systematic over- or under-counting, while decrying the NHL’s lack of progress in this area over the past number of seasons.

Each session allowed time at the end for a QA segment, and audience participation was generally excellent. Some live tweeting of the day’s events were collected by Puck Donkey.

After the program was done, a number of us repaired to a nearby watering hole, where it was my pleasure to enjoy an excellent conversation with Scott Cullen of TSN and Sean McIndoe of ESPN (a.k.a. humourist “Down Goes Brown”), who both made the trip from Ontario to cover the day’s events for their respective media outlets.

Vollman advised of plans for future Objective NHL Alberta conferences in both Edmonton and Calgary in the coming months. Dates and other details to be announced in due course; stay tuned.

Related: Rob Vollman’s summary of yesterday’s conference

Related at the Cult of Hockey

McCurdy: First Alberta Analytics Conference saddened to learn of death of analytics pioneer Tore Purdy

Willis: Blackhawks, Sharks, Oilers illustrate complexity of advanced statistical analysis in hockey

Staples: The birth of advanced stats in the NHL

Staples: Oilers were worst team in NHL last season, analytics expert Vollman concludes

Staples: Report from MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

Staples: Oilers start up analytics group to delve into moneypuck issues

460cultofhockey blog banner3 The Edmonton Oilers rookie head coach sounds completely ready for the job ahead

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