SFU prepares to host hockey analytics conference in April

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Simon Fraser University has announced that it will host a conference on the emerging field of hockey analytics on April 9, 2016 at the Harbour Centre campus. It will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the conference will feature some of the brightest minds of the analytics community, to be announced closer to the date of the conference.

“The motivation behind it is that hockey analytics are becoming more popular,” explained Tim Swartz, professor in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science. “Every team is hiring analytics people to do their work, to gain a competitive edge. Fans are interested in this, and I think it fits in well with SFU’s vision of engagement.

“We plan on not just having academics at this meeting, but people from media — television, print — and casual fans.”

Hockey analytics has exploded in recent years. Some of the metrics, such as “Corsi” and “Fenwick,” have even started to enter the average hockey fan’s vocabulary. Sports analytics in general have become more popular in recent years, mostly due to the proliferation of data that is available both to teams and the fans themselves. Sites such as War on Ice are able to give the average fan a plethora of data that they can choose to use as they see fit.

“It’s the use of data to make informed decisions concerning the game. It’s widespread,” added Swartz. He further explained that analytics can be used to make decisions about players’ salaries, answering questions such as, “should you pay someone one million dollars a year or two million dollars a year?”

Swartz gave an example of how data can be used to make in game-decisions. “I wrote a paper a few years back about pulling the goaltender, and the convention [at the time] was to pull your goalie with about a minute left to play. But I think our work has influenced people a little bit. So you’re gradually seeing the goalie pulled earlier and earlier.”

Patrick Roy, head coach of the Colorado Avalanche and legendary former goalie, was one of the earliest adopters of this trend. Said Swartz, “My collaborators at Laval University gave the paper to Patrick,” hinting that Roy may have been inspired by his work. “I don’t know if it influenced Patrick at all, but we know he had the paper.”

Sports has always been a passion for Swartz, so it was natural for him to get into its analytics as a statistician and to help organize the conference. “I’ve played sports and watched sports all my life [. . .] I’ve been working on sports problems for a long time. The range of sports I have worked on has included highland dance, soccer, baseball, hockey, and cricket.”

Registration is free; however, a donation of 10 dollars is suggested. If you can’t make the conference but are still interested in analytics, a sports analytics club has recently been formed at SFU. The club meets every second Tuesday of the month.