From Garden Hose To Fire Hose: NHL Teams Prepare To Receive, Store and Analyze Flood Of New Real-Time Data


Photo: AP News

We’ve written quite a bit about the league’s new puck and player tracking system over the past several years. The new system currently being implemented in all NHL arenas will generate exponentially more data and information that details the action on the ice better then ever before. (Think stats, not Fox Trax) That’s exciting news for NHL analytics staff as well as f0r armchair analytics nerds such as myself, (assuming I ever get to see the data).

SportsMEDIA Technology (SMT), the company that the NHL has contracted to build its player and puck tracking data systems, will sit between the new data sources generated on the ice and the NHL’s analytics teams, and will provide an interface for teams to collect, manage and analyze the new data sets.

All of the data collected from the ice, from advanced tracking info to referee whistles that stop the clock, is fed into SMT’s OASIS (Organization of Asynchronous Sports Information Subsystems) platform. Within OASIS is an AI engine called EIEIO, which technically stands for Eventing Intelligence Engine Inside Oasis.

Each NHL team will get what SMT is calling a “fire hose of data.” Players will produce 200 data points a second and the puck will register 2,000 data points a second. More than the sheer quantity of data, it’s the type of information that’s exciting analytics folks.

200 data points per player per second and 2,000 data points for the puck each second. That’s a huge leap in incoming data for teams to aggregate, analyze and understand. That’s certainly generational shift, worthy of a flood moniker.

“The data that’s currently available publicly really focuses on specific events that happen on the ice. A shot. A hit. A faceoff. Things like that,” said Sam Ventura, Director of Hockey Research for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“This data is fundamentally different. Instead of just looking at specific events, it’s giving you the locations and the trajectories of all players on the ice and the puck, at every moment in time. It lets you look at things that you would never even be able to begin to explore with data otherwise, things like positioning of defensemen and goalies, how much space is being created by particular players.”

By accessing player locations, NHL analysts who can get their hands on this information will be able to refine and create many new metrics.

For example, by registering where each player is on the ice for a shot or pass, advanced stats like “expected goals” will be vastly improved. Passing stats, which are not currently tracked by the NHL, will also be calculated in new and different ways.

By measuring distance between players, the concept of gap control could be analyzed like never before. The impact of a net-front screen can be quantified, and blocked shots can be studied to add some science to some of the most fundamental elements of the game.

Receiving, storing and analyzing all of the new data streams will be a challenge for NHL teams. But with virtually all 32 teams employing some type of data scientist or analyst, the race is officially on to try to organize and interpret this new information with the hopes of finding even the smallest competitive advantage.

“It’s an exciting time,” Ventura said. “When you look at what’s happened in other sports, there’s been an explosion of information available to fans and to teams. Hopefully, that happens in hockey, as well.”

The tracking system’s potential is significant, not only to create more advanced stats—the league is also working with Sportlogiq to develop an optical tracking system to complement the puck and player tracking—but also to optimize existing workflows. “We will be able to create our statistics more accurately and faster,” said Keith Horstman, the NHL’s VP of technology.

“The EIEIO engine knows who the shooter was. It knows the distance skated and knows who the assist was and knows the pattern of everything [that] happened prior to the goal being scored. So we immediately, instantly create [a replay]. And we know when, for example, the puck came into the zone, we know the moment the goal was scored, so we can automatically clip off a segment of video,” says SMT founder and CEO Gerard J. Hall.

Knowledge is power, and the tracking information will surely be leveraged to create innovative AR and VR graphics, gaming apps and other applications that may change the way fans, players and coaches watch and understand the game of hockey.

The NHL is sharing some of that data with a select group of third-party developers to create products for the showcase games.


MORE ON NHL AND SMT PARTNERSHIP

The National Hockey League (NHL) and SportsMEDIA Technology (SMT) have broadened out the terms of their long standing partnership to include puck and player tracking technology development and implementation, data integration and distribution, and virtual graphics generation.

The expanded agreement incorporates a comprehensive, end-to-end solution that includes the capture, processing, distribution and visualization of game data. It will be used to enhance a multitude of NHL platforms and fan experiences including live game broadcasts, streaming products, sports betting, free to play apps, fantasy and AR/VR.

Featuring is an updated version of the NHL’s HITS (Hockey Information and Tracking System) official scoring system, which will include the future integration of puck and player tracking data. SMT will continue to develop and install NHL puck and player tracking systems and related technology in all NHL arenas.

The solution also uses SMT’s OASIS platform and infrastructure to ingest, aggregate, and distribute data from multiple sources and filter and distribute data to the appropriate NHL applications, stakeholders and end consumers. NHL puck and player tracking data will be processed and distributed in the form of innovative graphics and visualizations to NHL media partners and other stakeholders.

“Fan engagement and technological innovation are at the forefront of everything we do,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “Using technology to depict exactly how fast, how skilled our game and our players are, enhances the connectivity our fans have with hockey.”

He added: “We are thrilled to expand our partnership with SMT, a leader in the sports technology industry and established partner of the NHL. Through our partnership we look forward to continuing to innovate our scoring and puck and player tracking systems, as well as how we bring to life limitless data points, which will take fans more inside the game than ever before.”

“SMT is proud to extend our longstanding partnership with the NHL and to support NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s vision for harnessing the power of live player and puck tracking,” said SMT CEO and founder Gerard J Hall. “With the installation of SMT’s comprehensive OASIS Platform in every NHL arena, broadcasters, fans and other hockey stakeholders will experience a firehose of data seamlessly integrated into easy-to-consume visualizations that showcase never-before-seen insights, predictions and content.”


By Jon Sorensen

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About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His passion for the Caps has grown over the decades, which has included time as a season ticket holder, social media and community organizer, and most recently led to the founding of NoVa Caps in 2014. Jon earned a Bachelor's of Science in Engineering at Old Dominion University, and is a Systems Engineer during intermissions, which has been instrumental in supporting his Capitals habit.
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