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Stars putting technology to work on bench

Among the NHL teams using Coaching Insights App for iPad to make key decisions in real time

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

DALLAS -- Let's say the Dallas Stars have a key face-off at American Airlines Center. Before they decide on a center to take it, they can consult the SAP-NHL Coaching Insights App for iPad. Who's been hot on this night? On this side of the ice? Against this opponent? The info could give them an edge.

The NHL and SAP unveiled the app during the 2019 All-Star Weekend in San Jose on Jan. 25, showing how it could give coaches real-time data on face-offs, ice time, shot location and more. Then they sent teams new iPad Pros with the app installed.

It's up to the teams to determine how to incorporate the app into their process, and Dallas is an example of one that has used it already.

"We're just kind of getting into the early stages of it," Stars assistant Stu Barnes said. "But to this point, it's really been valuable." 

NHL benches are chaotic places where decisions must be made quickly. Teams already go over data before games and between periods, and they already have iPads to review video.

"We've got iPads everywhere," Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "I turn around, and there's one here.

"We know what we're doing before we get out there. We look in between periods. We've got good video coaches in here. They're radioing everything to us."

On the Stars bench, coach Jim Montgomery runs the forward lines, assistant Rick Bowness the defense pairs. Barnes and assistant Todd Nelson stand on either side of Montgomery, with Barnes on a headset communicating with video coach Kelly Forbes underneath. Forbes also has the Coaching Insights App. 

"A lot's going on," Barnes said. "It's great, and there's so much information. But you can get overload."

The challenge is to sift through the info and find the right nugget at the right time.

So far, the Stars have used the Coaching Insights App mostly for face-offs.

They don't use it in the first period, because they haven't had enough of a sample size, and they still watch all their face-offs on video and go over the percentages between periods. But after the first period, Barnes gives Montgomery an update every five minutes on the bench.

Barnes can look at the app and see the percentages in real time, broken down by player, location and matchup.

"I'm just kind of paying attention to all those numbers and seeing where they're at, left side, right side, and trying to get that information into his ears as he's sending guys over for face-offs," Barnes said.

Barnes said the Stars don't use the app for ice time often during the game. But shift lengths are important to the Stars, who want their players to limit them to about 40 seconds. The Stars check them between periods, and Montgomery said players are starting to ask for the data on the bench.

"There's a lot of players that come back and ask for their shift length right now," Montgomery said. "[Barnes] and [Nelson] can show them during the game, because they're cognizant of how important it is to our success."

It will be fascinating to see how teams use the app as they grow more comfortable with it and the data improve.

The NHL Puck and Player Tracking System, which uses sensors in pucks and shoulder pads, will be installed in each NHL arena at some point next season. Teams will have mountains of data to analyze in many ways, including during games.

"One of the challenges you have is everything going on on the bench at one time, trying to pull out information as much as you can and then still be able to be aware and be hands on to what's going on," Barnes said. "I think it's been a really good addition, no question. And I think the more you get used to it, like anything, [it will be easier].

"We'll do 15, 20, 30 games like this, say, 'Oh, we've got to change this, or reconfigure our selections, customize it for what we need.' I'm sure every team will be a little bit different." Staff Writer Tom Gulitti contributed to this report. 

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