Let’s Nerd Harder (A RITHAC Recap)

As you may know, I spent last weekend in western New York, attending the first ever Rochester Institute of Technology Hockey Analytics Conference (or RITHAC for short). And not just attending, but presenting!

There have been some excellent write ups of the conference so far, including one by a Guest Contributor, Sean, over at Today’s Slapshot. This recap includes all the links to everyone’s slides (like mine) and links to the videos of the conference, which are time stamped so you can pick out what you want to watch.

First I just want to say how honored I was to be asked to speak. I think a lot of it has to do with my background – not just being a business background, but my active avoidance of academia, especially math and science – but I often feel like I’m not really an “analytics” person. So when I was asked to participate and saw the list of speakers I was like “what, you want me to speak? But everyone else on this list is brilliant.”

Needless to say, I was a little intimidated. Here’s the best advice I can give to anyone afraid of public speaking – just pretend you’re Kanye West. There is no one on this earth more convinced (rightly so or not) that what he says is important.

The entire conference was fascinating, and not just in content. Ryan Stimson and Matt Hoffman were really committed to diversity of presenters (four women, including myself!) and backgrounds. My presentation was about salary, success, and what makes a bad contract bad and a good contract good. I’ll be doing a lot more work in this area (I have an entire slide on things I want to do), but for now you can feel free to bug me with questions about those topics.

I’d left my laptop charger plugged into the wall…at my home in Texas, so unfortunately I couldn’t take notes on any of the presentations, but I definitely encourage y’all to look through everyone’s slides. For me, the best part about any sort of conference like this is really being able to challenge the limits of what has been studied – or to combine areas of study in new ways to better improve our understanding of the world around us. In this case, that world is hockey.

There were a few presentations I thought really raised some excellent “Next Step” questions in research.

The first was from Brad Stenger & Kevin Dawidowicz, which focused on injury tracking and prevention. Very little work has been done in hockey about injury research, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that injuries have a huge effect on how teams do over a season. He mentioned rest & recovery, especially with respect to travel are also important.

“Next Step” Topics:

  • Given the huge amount of travel miles a lot of NHL teams put on their players, it would be interesting to see if there was any correlation to man-games lost.
  • How does ‘minimum miles traveled’ correlate? Through some of my own down-the-rabbit-hole research, I learned that despite ‘total miles’ traveled, Colorado, Vancouver, and Dallas have the highest minimum miles traveled, so that might also have some effect.

Kyle Stich presented on salary, a topic near and dear to my heart. He used a common stock valuation formula to do “risk assessment” of contracts, which I thought conceptually was really interesting.

“Next Step” Topics:

  • I’d be interested to see his results using metrics that we’ve found to be more consistently tied to talent, like Primary Points or relative shot metrics.

Steve Burtch’s presentation on Network Maps of the Leafs compared to the Islanders was intriguing, but definitely raised questions for me about whether you’d be able to gather usable info from them. He was using the maps to look at passing – the Islanders were evenly spread out, whereas the Leafs had clear “better” or “worst” players.

“Next Step” Topics:

  • Showing us more than 2 teams (which I’m sure is in the plan). With so little data it’s hard to tell whether this will be useful as a whole.
  • Applying the idea of Network Maps to things like injury cascades, something talked about in the first presentation, aka the waterfall effect injuries have on causing other players to be overworked and then injure themselves in turn.

The last presentation of the day, by Michael Boutros, was on “fractionality” in the NHL. A heavily math oriented presentation, he hypothesized that having increased nationalities on a team would decrease “chemistry.” While he did find this hypothesis to be true, he cautioned that it was a low correlation.

“Next Steps” Topics:

  • Using the NWHL as a case study. The NWHL is largely made up of Americans, with the Boston Pride having the most American Olympians, and the Riveters having the most international players. With just 4 teams in the league, it would be an easy way to further explore the concept.

The entire conference was great (I even got to meet some 2BL fans!), I didn’t fall flat on my face during the presentation, and I finally got to hang out with all my fellow twitter nerds, which was a treat. But the best part had to be seeing @ineffectivemath show us some dance moves.


2 thoughts on “Let’s Nerd Harder (A RITHAC Recap)

  1. My professor finally got back to me on my paper topic. Here’s his response. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. Thanks for the inspiration! I’m relatively new to your blog, so I don’t know of this is something you’ve already looked at or not. Hopefully you don’t mind me basically taking your post on forwards and Corsi and manipulating it.

    Me: I think it’d probably be easier to look at Fenwick rating of a hockey team’s defensemen to the probability of a favorable outcome on a penalty kill. The data seems more available. (As opposed to medical device industry statistics)

    Professor: You might try separate regressions, where in one you use the Fenwick rating, and another where you enter in the components of the rating into the regression themselves and see if it makes a difference. This would sort of be a test of the quality of the rating. You’ll also want to control for as many other variables that effect the outcome as well.


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