Garret’s look back at VanHAC

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Hello all,

Josh and I want to off the top thank everyone for making VanHAC17 such a wonderful success. The Vancouver Canucks for hosting, catering, and supplying so much support and resources. Our financial sponsors Canucks Army and HockeyData. Our helpful registration desk volunteers. Our panelists Dan Murphy and Dimitri Filipovic. Our presenters (more on them below). And a huge applause and thank you to our wonderful keynote speaker: Meghan Chayka.

Let me break down how this conference and the weekend surrounding it went from my perspective.

Friday

A bunch of us planned to meet up for a lunch at a local sandwich shop, but unfortunately I was running behind at work and was too late to join.

I met up with Josh Weissbock (the other coordinator, and the one that did a lot more of the work than I) just outside of Rogers Arena. We wanted to make sure the directions on the conference webpage were both clear and correct, despite that some of our friends paid no heed to the instructions there next day.

Afterward, Josh and I received a walkthrough of the space and we hashed out the final details. The Canucks staff involved were just as excited as we were and were already talking about a potential next year.

After the walkthrough, Josh and I went to a local pub to go over the waitlist and move over some last minute ticket cancellations. This task was made all the more difficult as both of us lost usage of one of our tools, with Josh breaking his cellular phone and my laptop battery completely dying without any luck recharging.

We walked down to Central City Pub on Beatty for the Friday night social gathering. At its peak, we had about 30 of us gather around talking about hockey, life, and how we hope the weekend to go.

Saturday

The next morning started early, with preparing the registration desk for guests to arrive. Everyone seemed keen, and a good chunk of individuals arrived with Josh and I still finalizing the registration desk information and instructing our volunteers.

I tried one last time to get my laptop to work for streaming usage, but to no avail.

The conference started off with Josh giving some instructions and a few thoughts to the panel, followed by opening remarks given by the Canucks own John Wall.

We began with a media panel with Dimitri Filipovic and Dan Murphy, both of Sportsnet fame, being moderated by myself. We talked about how the information in statistical analysis is, could be, should be and hopefully will be one day used in media forums. With my laptop dying the day prior, there was a bit running by the seat of my pants, but Filipovic and Murphy were pros and were able to seamlessly prevent any hiccups.

The panel then opened to the crowd for questions, two of which Filipovic and Murphy requested me to answer… I was only supposed to moderate! Haha

Our first presenter was Mark Francis, a member of the Kelowna Rockets analytics group. Francis graduated from UBC-Okanagan (UBCO) in 2016 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mathematics. He live in Kelowna and have been a part of the Kelowna Rockets Department of Analytics for the last three years. Francis showed how the Rockets implementation of analytical techniques led to their organizations success, including some hilarious anecdotes in creating player buy-in. (Slides and video)

Next we have Namita Nandakumar, an undergraduate business student at Wharton studying statistics, math, and operations. Nandakumar an avid fan of data and a reluctant fan of Philadelphia sports teams. Her topic was on what it means to draft perfectly, showing how optimizing the talent garnered from drafting includes both proper talent evaluation but also understanding how players are viewed by the other 29 teams. (Slides)

After a short break, watching the Canucks’ pre-game skate, came Stefan Wolejszo and his talk on rank ordering some intangibles. Wolejszo is a social scientist working with the Government of Canada. Over the past few years he has spent a lot of his free time writing about “intangibles” in hockey, specifically how they work and how they can be measured. In his talk, Wolejszo dove into specific intangibles and ranked them based on five factors; these were conceptual clarity (whether the intangible was clearly defined), empirical research (whether there is evidence of the intangibles value outside of hockey), elite occupation study (whether or not there is research on elite populations, since NHL hockey is one), practicality (whether teams could in some manner collect meaningful data), and applicability (whether teams could use this data to improve their team)(Slides)

Next we had Dan Glasner and his discussion on the Department of Player Safety, using both data and legal analysis to judge how the department has given out fines and suspensions. Glasner is a labour lawyer and sports law consultant from Vancouver. His legal views on player discipline have been published in Canadian Lawyer Magazine and the Vancouver Sun. Over his recreational hockey “career”, Dan had been suspended four times, each of which he unsuccessfully tried to appeal. Glasner gave some interesting insight into areas of consistency and inconsistency with the departments rulings, and how that matched with the language in the CBA. (Slides and related article)

Peter Tanner then came up to talk about expectations for expected goals.Tanner loves all forms of data. He previously was a staffer on Barack Obama’s analytics team for the 2012 election in Chicago and currently works in the financial sector in Toronto. In his spare time he manages the website MoneyPuck.com (no relation to former HG poster and Panther prospect expert, MoneyPuck). Tanner looked at how to adjusted expected goals when teams have a continual succession of shots, since each successive shot only exists since the previous one did not score. (Slides and related article)

Then came the hilarious Chris Watkins as our final talk before lunch break.Watkins is a lifelong Blackhawks fan and an unwilling convert of the Winnipeg Jets after they absconded with the Thrashers franchise he covered for his college newspaper. Watkins used his opponent weighted Corsi and expected goals to show what led to the San Jose Sharks success last season and how there was more than the “learning to win” narrative. (Slides)

After lunch, Micah Blake McCurdy expanded on his previous work on score effects and how we can better account for them. McCurdy is a mathematician who likes to make pictures. He lives in Halifax with his wife and his two devious children. He works professionally in hockey full time, supported by members of the public. McCurdy looked into adjusting for score effects using the offensive and defensive pressure a team faces in terms of creating or allowing the next goal and the impact that goal has on their standings. (Slides)

Jack Han came next, talking about his success with the McGill Martlet’s women’s hockey team. Han has acted as the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey program since 2014. In the past three seasons, the Martlets have secured two provincial titles and have qualified three times for the CIS National Championship. The Martlets recently secured its 14th RSEQ provincial title and will be playing for its fifth national title next week in Kingston, Ontario. Han showed how the Martlet’s staff were able to improve the team’s shot differentials throughout the season, highlighting how they were able to do so with working on forechecking systems. (Slides)

Joshua Smolow, known online as “garik16,” is a writer for Hockey-Graphs and Lighthouse Hockey. Smolow’s work specializes in examining neutral zone data as well as on individually tracking the neutral zone for multiple teams. Smolow expanded on Tuslky, et al. neutral zone work. The previous work looked at attacking, so it ignored the dump-and-change defensive tactic. Smolow found that DNC is a effective defensive tactic but there are some preferred alternatives. (Slides)

Meghan Chayka was our keynote speaker for the event. Chayka is an entrepreneur and the co-founder of Stathletes, a sports analytics and insights business that provides industry leading data precision within the sport of hockey. Having a wide variety of clients, Chayka has won multiple awards for Stathletes, including one of Rogers Next Big Idea in Sports, Niagara Entrepreneur of the Year, Yahoo Sports Unsung Heroes of 2015 and Toronto Board of Trade Top Professional under 40. She is an Adjunct Professor at the Rotman School of Management. Chayka talked on women in media, academic, and tech industries, highlighting individuals she viewed as exemplary models: (@Lindacohn@tessab25@therealdeens@uh_anna@ashton_lawrence, and @mean_63). Opportunity should be equal for all, and we at Hockey Graphs and also at VanHAC have made steps to help shift the dichotomy, but we are hoping to do an even better job in the future. Chayka mentioned that she will personally help bring along individuals for next years VanHAC.

Richard Demsyn-Jones is an analyst at Google who livens up his evenings with hockey stats. His background is in economics and statistics. He has always been a Leafs fan and is now dangerously optimistic about the future. Demsyn-Jones broke down how difficult it was to evaluate goaltenders, while comparing the relative effectiveness of different metrics currently used. He took things one step further by implementing his own adjustments, which created a more effective tool in predicting future goaltender performance. From this tool, he was also able to look at some of the best and worst small sample playoff performances. (Slides)

Our last talk came from Alex Novet, a contributor to Hockey Graphs, where his previous work has focused on neutral zone play and league-wide analysis. Outside of hockey, he is a strategy data analyst for Cisco Meraki, a cloud networking company. Novet broke down hockey to whether or not it was a strong link or weak link game. In layman, Novet analyzed whether success was driven more due to the top-end talent or the depth of a roster. (Slides and related article)

We finished off our evening with a Tableau tutorial from William Lang. Lang, a Canadian ex-pat, lives in Seattle where he is a Senior Software Developer for Tableau. In his free time he works on his own website, IcyData, where he collects as much data from the NHL as he can. Lang showed how one can use Tableau in order to make easy to understand and popular graphics, such as the Corsi charts many view on Twitter. (Blog post)

Afterwards, the conference split into three parts. We had another after-party social at The Pint, hosted by Canucks Army. Some stayed at the arena at a discount price offered by the Canucks to watch Vancouver host the Pittsburgh Penguins. And of course, some were tired after a long and eventful day, and headed to rest.

Overall the conference was a great success from my view point. Preparations for next year have already begun, with Josh and I reviewing what went well this year and what we could do to make this event even better next year.

Here is a video the Vancouver Canucks created on our event:

https://www.nhl.com/canucks/video/embed/vanhac-2017/t-277437438/c-50372103?autostart=false

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