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World Cup of Hockey to use player & puck tracking

Player and puck tracking made their NHL debut at the All-Star Game last season, and they'll get a second test at the World Cup of Hockey.

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The NHL has announced that the World Cup of Hockey 2016 will feature player and puck tracking. The tournament, which begins Sept. 17 and runs through Oct. 1, will include tracking data on television broadcasts of the games and in postgame analysis. The NHL partnered with Sportvision to provide these additional insights through their tracking technology.

Sportvision also assisted the NHL with player tracking and puck tracking for the 2015 NHL All-Star Game. Sportvision will be collecting real-time data from these trackers, including a player’s ice time, zone time, and shots, plus the direction, distance, and speed of the shot, player speed, puck trajectory, distance the puck and player travel, and possession data. SAP­—who partnered with the NHL to reinvent the league’s analytics platforms—will transmit the data to broadcast partners ESPN and Sportsnet.

When announcing the experiment with tracking for the 2015 All-Star Game, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, “Ultimately we are hoping to deliver the kind of data that will create insights and tell stories that avid and casual hockey fans will enjoy. In short, we are attempting to embark upon a journey that hopefully will enable us to create and then maintain a digital record of everything in our game and compile a complete digital history.”

Bettman furthered that notion when announcing the use of player and puck tracking for the World Cup of Hockey 2016: “What’s really great about using the technology in this tournament is it’s two weeks, it’s in one place and it really gives us an opportunity to test it before we have to decide whether or not we’re going to unleash it on 1,230 regular-season games (and) if you include the outdoor games, more than 30 different venues.”

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NHL executive vice president of digital media and strategic planning Steve McArdle said the League will use the World Cup of Hockey as an opportunity to examine the use of player and puck tracking as well. “These are competitive, repeatable situations where we’re going to take a hard look at the system, a hard look at the data that comes off of it,” he said, “and really understand at a scalable level what it means to deploy this night after night after night, multiple times a day in this situation.”

McArdle said that 750 pucks would be created specifically for the World Cup. All of these pucks will resemble an NHL puck in look, weight, and overall feel. However, these pucks will also have tracking technology embedded. Players’ jerseys will also feature a small tracking chip. For additional tracking resources, infrared cameras will be stationed throughout the Air Canada Centre in Toronto where the World Cup of Hockey will take place.

According to McArdle, a number of teams have expressed interest in the data. “We’re going to work with our hockey ops groups and SAP, and we’re really going to understand what it says,” he said. “Our approach is going to be take a good hard look at what this data is, and then we’ll take a measured approach to how we’re going to use it and distribute it, etc.”

Earlier this year, Bettman discussed the use of data and analytics in hockey: “I think our teams, coaches and managers covet and crave as much information as they can get. But I think you don’t play these games on paper. There is a human element, an emotional element. While I think data can point you in the right direction, a really good manager has to have a feel for the game, for the locker room, and for the players on the team and how they interact. Because no matter what the stats are, if the guys in the room don’t like each other and respect each other, they won’t win.”

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McArdle stressed that the World Cup’s player and puck tracking is just a “scaled implementation” for the tournament. “This is probably the best simulator that we have in this very dense period of time to do so,” he said. “So we will take our time after the tournament to evaluate the data, evaluate reactions from the fans, evaluate reactions from the players and evaluate how the system itself performs before we move onto anything more permanent.”