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SUNRISE, Fla. -- As the use of advanced statistics continues to gain traction within the hockey community, it’s becoming more important than ever for the brightest minds within this fledgling field to gather in order to discuss current theories and cultivate new ideas.
One man who recognized this growing need for increased interaction between hockey’s intellectuals was Florida Panthers Director of Hockey Analytics Brian Macdonald, who used his position to host the first-ever Panthers Analytics WorkShop (PAWS) on Feb. 13 at the BB&T Center.
“It’s definitely something that I enjoy doing,” said Macdonald, a former associate professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at West Point. “It’s important to share ideas and research, meet new people, and then collaborate with the new people you’re meeting. My first experience with conferences like this was in academia, so I kind of wanted to create something similar to that.”
With people coming from as far as the Czech Republic to attend this inaugural event, Macdonald says he made sure to craft his conference curriculum with the idea that there should be a little something for everyone involved. The day not only consisted of talks on the analysis of hockey, but also left plenty of time for socializing and networking.
“I wanted this event to be geared towards students and professors in the area, but also have it be similar to the other hockey workshops and conferences that have popped up around North America,” said Macdonald. “I think we were able to achieve a nice balance with this conference. It’s a great way to get a bunch of like-minded individuals all in the same room together to discuss the things that we love: hockey and data.”
At the heart of this conference, however, was a wide variety of intelligent and compelling speakers who shared their own experiences while also answering questions over the course of five unique panels: Analytics in Hockey Operations, Analytics in Business Operations, Hockey Analytics in Media, Hockey Analytics in Research and Teaching, and Hockey Analytics in Social Media.
“One of our main goals was to hear about hockey analytics from a variety of perspectives,” said Macdonald. “We had a pretty diverse set of panels and panelists. It was good hear all sorts of stories and I think everyone contributed something unique to whichever panel they were on.”
The speakers for this year’s event, handpicked by Mcdonald himself, came from all ends of the hockey world, including Panthers Associate General Manager Tom Rowe, TSN Anchor and Columnist Scott Cullen, Co-Founder of LCG Analytics Jennifer Lute-Costella and Winnipeg Jets Scout Jack Birch.
There were five professional sports teams represented, as well as several esteemed guests from the world of academia, including Jess Dixon, an associate professor of sport management at the University of Windsor.
“I think this is something that is becoming permanent in just about any area of business,” said Dixon, who is also a Member-at-Large on the Executive Council of the North American Society for Sport Management (NASSM). “I think sports are several years behind, some might even say decades behind, in terms of how they are using analytics to help informed decision making. We’re seeing it in the technology sector, we’re seeing it in business, we’re seeing it in medicine, and I think it’s only a matter of time until it starts becoming a part of the every day conversation in the world of sports.
“I really give a lot of credit to Brian and the rest of the Florida Panthers for having the foresight to do this. The event had a really intimate feel and gave people a chance to get up close and personal with a lot of heavy hitters in the field of analytics… I’m looking forward to next year and seeing more people with lots of new ideas.”
As for future conferences, Macdonald hopes to see PAWS grow into an even bigger event with the implementation of new workshops, more speakers and possibly even a live stream of the event for those yearning to learn but unable to make the trip to South Florida.
“I think we’ll be doing it again next year,” said Macdonald. “As far as new ideas, I’ve been taking notes and getting feedback the whole time. I think we have some really good ideas for next year to keep it fresh and new.”
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