The game of hockey is a complex sport broken down into an endless number of…well, numbers.
Players are judged by how many goals they score, when they’re on the ice for a goal against, how much time they spend on the ice, how many hits they register, pucks they take away, and the list goes on and on.
These numbers are analyzed, scrutinized and mulled over every which way by everyone from coaches, to scouts to general managers, to fans, and everyone in between. The numbers mean the difference between wins, points, and when it all comes down to it, money.
But where do these numbers come from?
It would be easy – and perhaps somewhat expected – to say that they come from some brilliantly designed, comprehensive computing system, which operates via movement-detecting lasers and mathematical formulas that requires little human input.
But that’d be wrong.
Every official statistics compilation from an NHL game comes from a team of statisticians that work directly for the League – and yes, they’re all human.
Jeff Shulman is the scoring system manager responsible for tracking the real-time game stats at STAPLES Center for the LA Kings. He and the four other members of his team are responsible for operating the Hockey Information Tracking System (HITS), which is the proprietary system developed by the NHL for keeping game-time stats.
Time-on-ice, faceoffs won/lost, shots on goal, missed shots, shot types, hits (both given and taken), takeaways, giveaways, penalties, and stoppages in play are all statistics collected by the eyes of the five event scorers.
Five computers, which are all networked together, are used to input the raw material, after which HITS formulates reports and generates other stats, such as plus/minus, faceoff percentage, and various time-on-ice subcategories, among others.
Aside from Shulman’s group of five event scorers, there is an official scorer responsible for assigning goals and assists, and two goal judges who are all located in the press box, as well as a game timekeeper, a penalty timekeeper, and two penalty box assistants, who are located at ice level.
“It’s a fast-paced game and there are a lot of things going on during the game that we’re responsible for tracking, but we’re good at keeping up with the game,” explains Shulman, in his 30th season as a scorer.
One of the first things that Shulman does when he arrives about two and a half hours prior to game time is he downloads all the official rosters from the League, which are based on the salary cap. He then verifies the rosters with each team to ensure that no player takes the pre-game warm-up who isn’t listed on the roster.
All player transactions must be approved by the League to ensure they comply with salary cap restrictions. There is always the possibility that a transaction is still awaiting approval just prior to puck drop, and if this is the case, Shulman must put in a call to the League.
The game rosters that are submitted by the teams after warm-ups and before the game, must also coincide with the actual lineup.
A few years ago the Kings were hosting the Phoenix Coyotes and the Phoenix game roster was submitted with Petr Nedved’s name on it, when, in fact, he was scratched and sitting in the press box.
When a player took the ice who was not on the lineup sheet, the scorers were thrown off and forced to contact the on-ice officials, who ejected the player and assessed the Coyotes a delay-of-game penalty.
Although the stats are considered ‘real time’ and can be viewed on the web, in between periods Shulman and his staff are reviewing goals, assists, penalties, and other plays that require review, to get a more accurate read on any given play.
“None of the stats are official until the end of the game or at the end of each period after review,” says Shulman.
Many of Shulman’s colleagues are just as tenured as he is, as there is no real hiring process when a job becomes available, as positions are largely filled by word of mouth.
“It’s based on who any of us may know that are good hockey people who are able to separate themselves from being a fan of the game and be able to be objective,” Shulman reveals.
The commitment level required is significant, considering the job consists of game nights only and provides little wiggle room, but the opportunities afforded to the statistician crew are unique. Shulman has worked memorable games such as the Kings season opener at the O2 Arena in London in 2007, and the recent Stadium Series Game at Dodger Stadium.
It takes a special, numbers-oriented person to be able to keep such an intricate watch on such minute details for a speed-oriented game like hockey, but when the impact is of such significance, so then, must be the reward.
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