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Player, puck tracking coming to World Cup

by Dan Rosen / Winnipeg Jets

TORONTO -- Player and puck tracking will be featured elements during the live television broadcasts and postgame analysis of all games played in the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

The NHL announced Wednesday it is partnering with Sportvision on the player- and puck-tracking technology that will be used during the eight-team international tournament, which takes place Sept. 17-Oct. 1 at Air Canada Centre.

"It gives people another way to connect with the game," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "If you're a fan, you can have more and more insights to the game, and if you're a casual fan or not a fan at all, this may give you another reason to connect even more with the game."

Through technology embedded into the puck, small devices inserted into the back of the player jerseys and infrared cameras stationed throughout the arena, Sportvision will be able to capture real-time information so it can be fed to broadcast partners ESPN and Sportsnet.

The data captured will feature puck and player speed, puck trajectory, distance traveled for players and the puck, player ice time, zone time, shots, shot distance, shot direction, and possession information.

SAP, a corporate sponsor of the NHL, will help transition the data from Sportvision to the broadcasts. The League and SAP will incorporate the data into postgame editorial content on the NHL's World Cup of Hockey website.

Sportvision is responsible for some of the leading technologies in other sports, such as the first-down graphic line in football broadcasts and the "K-Zone" that shows the virtual strike zone in baseball telecasts.

The NHL worked with Sportvision on player and puck tracking during the 2015 All-Star Weekend in Columbus. The expansion of its relationship into the World Cup will allow the League to experiment with the technology before it considers incorporating it on a full-time basis, Commissioner Bettman said.

"What's really great about using the technology in this tournament is it's two weeks, it's in one place and it really gives us an opportunity to test it before we have to decide whether or not we're going to unleash it on 1,230 regular-season games (and) if you include the outdoor games, more than 30 different venues," Commissioner Bettman said.

Steve McArdle, NHL executive vice president of digital media and strategic planning, said the use of tracking technology in the World Cup will be similar to what the League and Sportvision did in Columbus during All-Star Weekend. However, he said the scale of the World Cup will give the League a better read on the potential positives and negatives of the technology.

"These are competitive, repeatable situations where we're going to take a hard look at the system, a hard look at the data that comes off of it, and really understand at a scalable level what it means to deploy this night after night after night, multiple times a day in this situation," McArdle said.

McArdle said the League is working with a manufacturing company to make 750 pucks for the World Cup. He said the puck will look, weigh and feel exactly like a regular game-used NHL puck.

McArdle also said the League has received a "high level of interest" from various teams regarding the information that will become available through the tracking technology.

"We're going to work with our hockey ops groups and SAP, and we're really going to understand what it says," McArdle said. "The data that came off the All-Star Game was at all-star speeds, at all-star physicality. It was different. So we've received a lot of questions from hockey ops groups, scouting groups at the club level. Our approach is going to be take a good hard look at what this data is, and then we'll take a measured approach to how we're going to use it and distribute it, etc."

In addition, McArdle said coaches in the World Cup will have tablets on the bench that will allow them to have access to live video streams and replays to give them an advantage on coaching strategies and challenge situations.

"You've seen some coaches and teams using a format of that already on their benches," McArdle said. "We're taking a uniform approach in this tournament with a uniform set of highlights and live game streams to figure out with the coaching staffs what they find useful and what they don't find useful."

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