Hi, my name is Kris and I’m a big fan of Gopher Hockey as well as hockey analytics. As someone who has a degree in economics and has studied some statistical theory I find it fascinating that people have figured out how to use applied statistics to build and improve hockey teams. The goal of this blog is to examine and analyze zone entries, zone exits, and other data related to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey program. Some of these stats are available at sites such as collegehockeynews.com and others like zone entries and exits are tracked manually by me. I plan to make this data public at some point for the sake of transparency as there is some degree of subjectivity to how these stats are tracked and because this is my first time doing this.
So far I have tracked zone entries and exits at 5 on 5 (even strength) for the following 8 games of the 2016-17 season. I plan to do a short write up on these games and series to further dissect and analyze it from an empirical standpoint and see what went well or what went wrong in each game.
- Friday SCSU
- UND series
- Mariucci classic
- Michigan Series
If anyone is interested I could track other games as well and will likely do a writeup for the upcoming NCAA tournament game(s).
Part of my inspiration for doing this is the work of other analytics bloggers who have made huge strides in furthering peoples’ understanding of hockey while also showing their methods and making their work public. One of the original pioneers in this are is Eric Tulsky, now a full time employee of the Carolina Hurricanes. Tulsky had many contributions to hockey analytics and was one of the biggest pioneers of the subject. He performed many studies such as showing the importance of regressing shooting percentages to better predict true shooting talent, showing the relationship between outshooting the opposition and out-chancing the opposition, showing that defensemen don’t measurably impact on ice save percentage, and making all of this easy to digest while also showing his work to prove his theories. One of his most important studies showed the relationship between zone entries and shot/goal generation. This article shows that zone entries in which a team successfully carries a puck into the zone generates more shots than dump-ins. This study that Tulsky also published goes into more detail on that and shows that goals are more likely to come from the puck being carried cleanly into the zone. This is not only obvious from the statistics, it’s also rather intuitive. Clean zone entries and rush opportunities drastically increase the chance of getting at least one shot off rather than zero. As such I think this is something important to examine with the Gophers.
Another part of my inspiration for doing this was to better analyze the defense of the team and provide some hard data to analyze the performance of the Gophers’ defensemen. People often remember the one big mistake a defenseman makes while ignoring a lot of the smaller good plays they make to positively drive possession and ultimately out-chance the opposition. Tyler Dellow, who formerly worked for the Oilers and now writes for The Athletic, had a great quote about this:
If someone asked me what I think the biggest failing of the eyeball test is, I’d respond that it’s the emphasis on the big mistake. There are gigabytes of information contained in a hockey game. So much information that I think it’s difficult for anyone to take it in and organize it rationally. The way that our brains deal with that is by focusing on the big mistake.
As such it’s often better to take an empirical look at these things to avoid issues such as confirmation bias, recency bias, and the various other cognitive issues that all humans employ. Jen Lute Costella examined the relationship between zone exits and shot generation and found that exiting the zone with control created more shots at the other end of the ice. This is intuitive, teams and players that tend to throw the puck out of the zone tend to have awful possession, scoring chance, and expected goal for rates. My goal is similar in that I wish to track which Gophers defensemen are successfully exiting the zone, failing to exit the zone, and dumping the puck out of the zone.
Finally one of my biggest influences for doing this project is Corey Sznajder who writes at The Energy Line. Corey does a great job of concisely explaining, analyzing, and visualizing various games and series at the NHL level. This article might’ve been of particular interest to Wild fans after last year’s playoff exit. While my analysis doesn’t go quite into the level of detail that he does, I hope to try and create something similar and expand what I track as time goes on and I become more efficient at it.
I realize that this post contains a ton of information and links to studies throughout the years. The main goal of this post isn’t to inundate you with information but to explain why I am choosing to track this information and explain the importance of tracking these stats. Thanks for reading and I promise to publish more content in the near future.