The Brave New World Of Hockey And Analytics: Insights On Goalies, Broadcasting, And Statistics

Fred Isbell

The world of sports is now being swept by a new revolution – analytics fueled by an explosion of data. The rise of what IDC calls the “Third Platform” – combined with Big Data solutions and the ability to collect and access massive amounts of information in real time – has delivered newer and more powerful analytics. Not only do these solutions allow real-time and intuitive reporting, but also increasingly predictive analytics that extends and enhances its value in exciting new ways.

Having discussed the hockey fan experience in a recent blog series over the past year, I thought it would be interesting to examine the impact of analytics on the game of hockey. As a former hockey goalie, I always believed that the best seat in the house was the one where you can see the entire game unfold. So I reached out to an expert who clearly knows the game: former NHL goalie Brian Boucher, hockey analyst for the NHL on NBC Sports, CSN and the NHL Network and the holder of the modern-era NHL goaltender shutout record.

Fred Isbell: Brian, you recently spoke at an event focused on business and leadership challenges. What was your experience in making a seemingly seamless transition from player to broadcaster? How did you prepare for a career after hockey?

Bouch-2Brian Boucher: I spoke about how being a hockey player and being a part of a team really have great assets in my life. The work put in by everybody involved is endless. When you do things as a team and in conjunction with one another, anything is possible. As a broadcaster, my team is my producer, director, and all the people in the tape room that make me look good. It really is a collaborative effort. My career in broadcasting has been one of true fortune. An e-mail sent to the NHL Network turned into paid gigs and an eventual hire by NBC. I have been really lucky to have a lot of help along the way.

Fred Isbell: It’s been said that hockey is the most real-time sport of all – with constant motion, improvisation, and extraordinary creativity. How has hockey analytics come into play in such a sport?

Brian Boucher: Without a doubt, it is a game of motion. Analytics has given people evidence to what their eyes may – or may not – have seen in the past. The role of analytics is growing and helping people in charge of these teams to run their organization and make truly informed decisions. Decisions are now based on more factual evidence, as opposed to gut feelings.

Fred Isbell: As a long-time youth hockey coach, I had our coaches and, sometimes team parents, log goal shots on paper – including the numbers of shots, locations, saves, and scores – to assess how well our team and goalies performed. That was considered “innovative” back then. But now it’s routine, if not almost primitive. How has this changed in your time in hockey, and where do you think it will evolve into?
Brian Boucher: Stats are everywhere nowadays, and one can get bogged down with the amount of information out there. It’s important to know trends and tendencies of your team. This can help you plan better. But, you must play the game with extraordinary reaction time. In other words, stats can help you plan, but execution is up to the player.

Fred Isbell: Wayne Gretzky’s dad, Wally, taught him to anticipate, using the famous saying “skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.” How can a team use hockey analytics to its advantage, and is there a new kind of hockey player emerging as a result?

Brian Boucher: Analytics can tell you where you are most productive. This can, without a doubt, help teams prepare for games. But, it’s how each individual uses this information that’s key.

Fred Isbell: You have made a successful transition from a goaltender whose pads are showcased in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto to a network analyst on NBC Sports and CSN. How has hockey analytics helped you in your role, and what do you focus on most to assess a team’s and its players’ performance?

Brian Boucher: Honestly, I do not get overly involved with analytics. My job is to call what I see, not what I read. I look at some analytics, but my job is to watch.

Fred Isbell: One of many innovation accelerators in technology is wearables – sensors, smart watches, and more that are fueling an incredible explosion in data. Sports are no exception to this phenomenon. How is this impacting hockey? Better yet, how will this Internet of Things (IoT) in sports add new elements to the way we play and watch hockey?

Brian Boucher: I’m sure this all aids in the collection of data, which can only give more information that can help prepare coaches and players.

Fred Isbell: One final question, Brian. You are the holder of the modern shutout record for a hockey goaltender – more than five consecutive games without allowing a goal in 332 minutes and 1 second of play. Will your amazing record ever be broken?

Brian Boucher: All records are made to be broken. I hope that I’m attending and reporting the game when it happens!

Brian Boucher is an analyst for the NHL on NBC Sports, CSN and for the NHL Network. A first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, Boucher had a long and successful pBouch-4rofessional hockey career. He is best known for setting the modern-era shutout record with the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2003–2004 season. He is also active with the Philadelphia Flyers alumni team and gives back to the local community through charity and fundraising efforts throughout the Philadelphia and New Jersey area. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianBoucher33.

Fred is the senior director and head of Thought Leadership for Digital Business Services Marketing at SAP.

For more on Big Data in the hockey and sports industry, see How Data Analytics Is Changing The NHL Fan Experience.

Join Fred online: TwitterFacebookLinkedInsap.comSAP Services Hub.


About Fred Isbell

Fred Isbell worked at SAP for nearly 19 years in senior roles in SAP Marketing. He is an experienced, results- and goal-oriented senior marketing executive with broad and extensive experience & expertise in high technology and marketing spanning nearly 30 years. He has a BA from Yale and an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business.