Moneyball for hockey: How Guelph's HockeyTech is changing the game

One Canadian company is doing more to change organized hockey than any one player, scout or general manager, but you've probably never heard of them.
Maxime Fortin, a player on Thunder Bay Kings, a minor midget hockey team, completes NEXT testing at RIM Park on December 11. The testing, by Guelph's Hockey Tech, measures speed and agility with computer sensors for accuracy. (Jane van Koeverden/CBC)

One Canadian company is doing more to change organized hockey than any one player, scout or general manager, but you've probably never heard of them.

HockeyTech, headquartered in Guelph, Ont., is a hockey analytics company that tracks massive amounts of player information and data, which it integrates that with scouting reports and player testing. HockeyTech is used by 29 of 30 NHL teams, excluding the New Jersey Devils, as well as Hockey Canada and many junior leagues like the OHL. Even the Boston Red Sox are a client. 

The 50-person company has several arms that together make it possible to track individual player progress and quickly and easily sort through piles of data. HockeyTech uses a web-based login for clients to access its database, and clients can customize what they see and how they use it. 

“In the old days, they used to use notepads and clipboards and sit around and have coffee and say ‘What do you think of this guy? What do you think of that guy?” And now they’re inputting all that information into laptops and into iPads and tablets and it’s all being aggregated automatically," said Colin Campbell, HockeyTech's chief marketing officer, who joined the company this year after leaving the NHL Players' Association, where he was in charge of corporate partnerships.

"[Teams] might place a different emphasis on a certain part of the software, in terms of aggregating junior player information, who are prospects in their system, versus some teams  that might want to know more about competitive players that they play against," said Campbell. 

How it works

Say you're an NHL general manager and you want to see how your whole team stacks up to another team, you can use Hockey Tech's software to do a direct comparison through metrics like shooting, scoring or other stats. 

Or say you're a scout, and you want to know how a player compares to other players. You can search Hockey Tech's database based on a certain skill and see who is ranked highly, and where that player fits. 
Alex Peterson watches as the Hockey Tech testing light turns to green, signalling that he can begin his testing. (Jane van Koeverden/CBC)

"So for example, if you have a team that’s based more on speed than on puck possession you can look for players whose skating speed is higher than average, and puck possession becomes something that they can incorporate or be taught," said Campbell

CBC News was given a basic demonstration of how the software works. Much of the compiled information and metrics are proprietary to the NHL teams that use the software and wasn't revealed. Campbell said that the software is always evolving, based on feedback from top scouts, coaches and general managers. 

HockeyTech in its current iteration was founded by Stu Siegel, the former CEO of the Florida Panthers. Siegel purchased RinkNet, the core company that makes up HockeyTech, in 2013 and acquired other hockey analytics companies to grow HockeyTech's reach. In November, Siegel acquired LeagueStat, the company that does scoring and stats for leagues like the AHL, OHL and WHL

That's helpful because HockeyTech also makes apps for those leagues, and all of the scoring data is available at the push of a button. 

In the old days, they used to use notepads and clipboards and sit around and have coffee and say, ‘What do you think of this guy?- Colin Campbell, chief marketing officer, HockeyTech

Other companies included in HockeyTech's stable include ISS Hockey, an independent scouting arm and NEXT Testing, which does player skills testing. 

"Certainly when there are players are up and coming, the ISS people are aware of who they are and who these players are," said Campbell. "We have rankings we release, and we have a monthly newsletter that is also released that really looks at the rankings of the top 50 players who are eligible for the upcoming draft. And that ranking system is used as a resource by not only NHL teams, but by university and junior teams as well, and the media as well."

In its December monthly ranking, ISS has Connor McDavid, a centre with the OHL's Erie Otters, as the top pick for the 2015 NHL draft, likely no surprise to those who have been following McDavid's rise. The next two projected top picks are Jack Eichel, a centre at Boston University, and defenceman Noah Hanifin, a centre at Boston College, both NCAA Division 1 players. 

​On-ice testing

Erie Otters' Connor McDavid is pegged by HockeyTech (and several other talent evaluators) to go first overall in the 2015 NHL entry draft. (Matt Mead/The Canadian Press)
 HockeyTech is growing its database of player testing results, which will allow players to be tracked over time as they progress. Recently CBC News attended a player testing session at RIM Park in Waterloo to watch the minor midget Thunder Bay Kings go through their paces. 

"The on-ice testing is a very interesting component of what we do, it’s a real growth area," said Campbell. "In the old days testing was done with a stopwatch, and with various degrees of accuracy. Our tests can measure player movement to the hundredth of a second with a hundred per cent accuracy." 

Players wear an RFID tag embedded in an elastic band on their wrists that triggers sensors during skills testing and a green light gives the player the "go" signal to begin the test.

Ian Mosher, a testing co-ordinator with HockeyTech, explained how it works. 

"We do 14 different drills and we're looking at every aspect of skating and puck handling as well. We do forward skating, backward skating, transition and forward and backwards movement just to get a good calculation of every aspect of the game," he said. "Make them turn both ways on everything as well too, just in case they have a deficiency turning left or turning right, we're going to definitely draw it out with these tests."

Players go through the drills, triggering the start and end of their performance through sensors. After, they can speak with Mosher about their results. The tests are the same for every player level. Usually testing per player costs roughly $75. 

"The biggest thing I'd let the player know, is just tell him the averages from the rest of the people in his age group. These are minor midget triple A players, we have a good database of about over 35 teams just this year alone," he said.

Mosher says that can help a player identify if puck control is something a player needs to work on. 

Hunter Buzzi, 15, from Ignace, Ontario says the testing was helpful to him.

"It teaches you what you can do better, especially seeing your test results and stuff, it shows you what can improve on," said Buzzi.  

Players like Buzzi will be able to track their progress through the years as HockeyTech expands its player testing.

And soon enough, young European players will get access to the same testing as well. 

"Our European footprint is growing as we speak," said Campbell, who said the company is meeting with an organization in Finland by the end of this year. 

"You'll definitely see HockeyTech more involved with the European leagues for sure."

with files from Jane Van Koeverden


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