RJ Scott VL Locey Harrisburg Railers MM Hockey Romance Pucks and Percentages

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Episode 1 


“So that is why Corsi-close went under scrutiny saying that it did not predict future goals as well as unadjusted Corsi, thus diminishing its value.” I turned from the white board with my name written at the top, Michael Campbell, and under my name was a rather fine-looking zone analysis, to face the room. To some the analysis was a mess of blobs, but to me it was pure beauty, and my eagerness to share had so far been met with a familiar reaction. Confusion and even some boredom.

As an expansion team everyone had expected the Harrisburg Railers to struggle, but they were on fire, and evidently the players felt that they didn’t need me to point out what they were doing right. But, I’d been booked in way back when things weren’t looking so rosy, and I was now in this beautiful new building, with it’s equally impressive video room.

Four rows of chairs ranged in front of me, all wide enough to hold the big men on the team, each with the Railers logo stitched in the leather. Every chair had a cup holder with bottled water inside. There were snacks on a small table, but most of the guys had ignored those and blearily made their way to what I assumed were their usual chairs. They’d played away last night, a win against Toronto and officially this was a no skate day, however semi-officially it was a team training day.

A ‘welcome to the world of hockey analysis’ briefing, in which I would open the team’s eyes to the concept of using numbers to make themselves better.

I pushed my glasses up my nose and noticed three of the players were asleep.

Good start.

“Any questions?”

I waited and hoped to hell that I would get at least one question, and then I saw a hand raise. I was surprised it was the big Russian starting goalie Stanislav ‘Stan’ Lyamin. Immediately, as I did for every player I met, I had his stats in my head.

Starting goalie, year, 1,117, 103, 2.86, 0.908.

“You don’t have to put your hands up,” I said, to lighten the mood, and waved Stan to carry on, “Just go ahead and ask.”

He wrinkled his nose and sat forward in his chair, then he cleared his throat.

“Someone to pass snacks,” he announced, and shoved at the guy in front of him, who cursed, but sent the message downward.

Great. That was the only question?

When I’d worked at Boston I had two players who were quietly good at math, and who asked at least halfway pertinent questions. Seems like here it would be zero.

“I have a question,” a voice called, and I peered over Stan’s head to see Adler Lockhart.

Left wing, year, 49, 16, 15, 31, -3.

“Go ahead?”

“Is it just me or do those blobs on your board look like two rabbits fucking?”

The player next to him, Ten, 57, 33, 37, 70, 9, star center for the Railers smacked him around the head, I heard someone curse at Adler, and watched him sink in his seat and hide.

The door slammed open and interrupted my response which could have ended up being really funny.

In a flurry of apologies, Coach Jared Madsen arrived.

Defense coach, all time, 385, 18, 72, 90, 64, retired, heart issues. 

“My apologies,” he said quickly, “Meeting ran late.” He slid into the nearest chair he could find and unwittingly became part of the human chain passing snacks back to Stan. But at least he was focused, staring past me at the board behind, at the same time as shoving the sleeping player in front of him.

Dieter Lehmann, year, 60, 7, 14, 21, 8.

Dieter awoke with a start, wiping at his mouth and looking startled. At least he had the grace to look embarrassed, but he wouldn’t quite meet my gaze.

Hell, players falling asleep in my presentations wasn’t new. There are only so many ways you can make analytics interesting. A player either worked off statistics, or their guts, or a mix of the two.

“Okay,” Jared said, and leaned forward in his chair. “Predicting using Corsi, doesn’t that miss out the fact that a team looking to win because of outside pressure, rankings, wildcard places, will become more focused at throwing shots on goal, anything to get past Stan here?”

Stan looked up at his name, his cheeks fat with crackers.

Dieter had gone back to sleep. He was using the classic I’m-leaning-on-my-arm pose to make it look like he wasn’t, only the soft snoring gave it away. At least I had a question, even if I’d more or less explained the variables when I began my speech, and I would be repeating myself.

I turned to the board, and cleaned off some of the non-relevant statistics, and started again.

But was immediately struck with the fact that yes, the blobs I had drawn did in fact look like two rabbits fucking.

* * * * *

“The guys loved it,” Layton Foxx lied. As the team social marketing and crisis management expert, he had been the one who’d hired me for this event. “Again, I’m sorry it’s the day after a late match, but it was really the only time I could fit you in.”

He’d said that already, he didn’t need to keep apologizing for the players who’d fallen asleep. It just made it more of a thing than was completely necessary.

“No worries.” I scooped up my paperwork and put it into my flight bag. What I’d really been hoping was that one of the coaches here wanted to hold me back for further discussion, but everyone seemed so damn distracted by the fact that they were only two points from a wildcard place for the Cup run.

“I wanted to talk to you about the Rush,” Layton continued.

The Carlisle Rush, AHL development team for the Railers, middle of the table and dropping rapidly, on the verge of losing their goalie to come up to the Railers as backup to Stan.

“Go ahead?”

The door opened, and Jared returned, head coach, Mike Benning, in tow.

“You want to take this?” Layton deferred to Jared who shook my hand and then looked all kinds of serious.

 “Your analytics are respected at Boston,” Jared began, “the Railers see great potential in use of analytics, even if some of the team didn’t show it. Although they’ll learn not to fall asleep in a briefing again.” He huffed and then shook his head and I wondered if the three sleeping men would be stuck doing bag skates for eternity now.

“And?” I prompted Jared when he went quiet.

“Okay, here’s the thing, we’d like to employ your skills for the next three months, working with the Rush. Taking the analytics to root level, get some kind of feel for the team. Starting now. Interested?”

I’d need to shuffle some dates. Maybe take a few days out to liaise with Boston on analysis, but I could work it.

 “Very interested.” I said, and we all shook on it. The answer had been an easy one. Was I interested in working with a new feeder team to a hard-working expansion team, with no real history to call on, and a blank slate for analysis?

Hell, yes.


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