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SFU-grown hockey analytics company lands first NHL client

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Rob Williams May 08, 2017 8:52 am 5,090

From the city that brought you hockey analytics wiz kids who now help out the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers comes another ‘fancy stats’ success story.

The Washington Capitals, the NHL’s best regular season team over the past two seasons, has signed up with Vancouver-based hockey analytics company HockeyData Inc., an SFU-grown company that began operations just last year.

SFU Beedie student Cole Gawenda paired with former hockey blogger and statistical consultant Garret Hohl to form the company last spring. With Gawenda’s business acumen and Hohl’s analytical know-how, the company has taken off.

Working out of SFU Harbour Centre, HockeyData has a core group of more than 20 part-time and full-time staff. They’ve worked with a number of clients, including player agencies and even individual players. That they were able to secure an NHL team should not come as a surprise, although the fact that the Capitals were willing to make it public, should.

In the world of professional hockey, teams are always looking for an edge. Analytics strategies are often kept secret by NHL teams and releasing the name of their consulting company is certainly not the norm.

Analytics companies also need to remain secretive to an extent as well, not wanting to give away the recipe to their secret sauce.

“We’re a data tracking and analysis company,” Hohl, chief technical officer of HockeyData, and former managing editor of Jets Nation, told Daily Hive. “Depending on who we’re working with, we can do a lot. We’ll watch games, using our apps, and track events. We can also analyze the data and give suggestions to the team based off of that data.”

HockeyData uses a proprietary hockey event tracking system, created with support from the National Research Council’s (NRC) Industrial Research Assistance Program, allowing them to track every event that occurs on the ice, while increasing automation capabilities through the use of machine learning and big data processes.

In essence, it’s another tool for teams to use while evaluating players.

They have the ability to track any league they have video for, although the Capitals are most interested in AHL analysis for now.

“Our process involves tracking every individual player’s events based on time and location throughout a game,” explains Gawenda, operations manager. “We track each player’s performance and provide this data to the team, which allows them to gain a greater understanding of players in the American Hockey League.”

With over a thousand AHL players playing games all over the continent, it can be costly for teams to hire scouts to evaluate individual players Gawenda says. That’s where HockeyData comes in.

“Our data allows the teams to envision trends, focus their scouting evaluations on specific players, and adjust their opinions based on the additional information we can provide,” Gawenda added. “Our mission is to supplement the team’s existing evaluation tools with our tracked data.”

The Capitals are the first NHL team (that we know of, anyway) that HockeyData has secured, and they’re likely not the last. Upping their marketing efforts, Gawenda says HockeyData’s sales team has been successful in showing the value that their data offers.

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Rob Williams
Man of the people, voice of the fans. Daily Hive Sports Editor.

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