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iPads Offering Wild Coaches, NHL Officials New View

Apple, NHL collaborate to create real-time video system for playoffs and beyond

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers /

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Wild assistant coach John Anderson doesn't claim to know a ton about technology, but the newly-minted 60-year-old will become much more familiar with it in the future as coaching at the NHL level continues to evolve.

While coaches have been using iPads on the bench for the past few seasons, a new system borne from a joint effort between the NHL and Apple allows for points of emphasis to be taught on the spot instead of between periods or after games.

The League has installed iPad coaching systems in each of the 16 arenas that will be used for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Each team will have three iPad Pros with 9.7-inch screens. Each tablet is equipped with an app that allows coaches to view highlights in real time.

In addition to the benches, the screen linesmen and referees use to view coach's challenges has also been beefed up, with 12.9-inch iPad Pros available to them moving forward.

The system will be implemented League-wide starting with the 2017-18 season.

Game 1 between the Wild and St. Louis Blues on Wednesday was the first opportunity for the Wild's coaches to use the new technology. It was Anderson who seemed to use it the most.

"I'm just glad I didn't electrocute anybody," Anderson said.

The Wild's video coach, Jonas Plumb, will be able to post specific highlights -- or coaching points -- to the app almost immediately. Eventually, the goal is for coaches to be able to review a specific element of the game, or at least have the ability to, before a player even returns to the bench on the shift it occurred. 

"The whole objective behind providing this arena coaching system is to ensure competitive balance across the entire League," said Jen Neziol, the NHL's vice president of corporate and strategic business communications. "[We wanted] to make sure both home and away teams have equal access to the same kind of technology on the bench."

Neziol said the NHL has been working to perfect the technology for a year or two, figuring out during the process that Apple would be the right partner moving forward.

While coaches and general managers weren't a significant voice in what would eventually become the current system, video coaches from around the League were consulted on ways to best perfect the tools on the bench.

"At the end of the day, it's up to the coaches and the teams how to choose how they use this," Neziol said. "They just wanted something they could access in real time."

In years past, when something would go awry on the ice, a player would come back to the bench and talk with Anderson about it. The player would tell him what he thought he saw, while Anderson would relay what he saw.

Often times, the conversation would end with "well, lets look at it at between periods."

Now, the gulf between what the player saw and what the coach saw can be bridged on the spot.

"When you're on the ice and the game is going a million miles per hour, you don't see everything," Anderson said. "When the game's going on and I'm behind the bench, the guys are so big now I don't see everything. It's a tool that's going to be very valuable as we continue to get better at using it."

But there will be an adjustment period as coaches learn exactly how to incorporate real-time data into their on-bench strategy sessions.

Anderson isn't in charge of changing lines, so it's easier for him to take his eyes off the action for a few moments to use the iPad. Scott Stevens, the Wild's other assistant coach, is changing the defensive pairings, which makes being able to look down at a screen -- even for a few seconds -- difficult to do while the game is going on.

"You're trying to coach and get the right matchups and talk to the players, so it's a little hard," Stevens said. "But it's a nice concept. It's pretty easy to run and get where you want to go."

There's also the concept of overloading a player with too much information on the spot. Anderson said he likely won't be showing video to players on the bench, at least during the current playoff drive, in fear of changing the way things have been running all season. 

"If it was preseason or something like that, no problems, then we get used to it," Anderson said. "Right now, we'll just talk to them and if we have to show them stuff afterwards, we'll show them stuff afterwards."

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