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Sunday Hockey notes

Video gives new looks to scouting, coaching

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / August 21, 2011

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The future could be as dynamic as the following scenario: At the 2012 NHL draft, when a player approaches the Bruins table, he will give the club his e-mail address. Almost instantly, he will be granted access to a secure site. After logging in, he will go through video clips, complete with PowerPoint notes and audio from the coaching staff, that run through the systems the Bruins prefer to play.

Then, when he arrives for development camp the following month, he will be ready to go before he takes his first step onto the Ristuccia Arena ice.

In hockey, as in other sports, video is vital. Every team, from pro to college to junior, has a video coach or analyst. On the road, every coach has opened his laptop by wheels-up to review clips of the just-played match. During each pregame meeting, viewing opponents’ clips is standard operating procedure.

Video is just as valuable for management. The standard scouting program is RinkNet, where scouts and executives log all their notes on every imaginable player from juniors to Europe to the NHL. They can also watch as many clips as they want, giving them more information when compiling draft boards or wish lists for free agency or the trade deadline.

The catch with hockey is its fluidity. There are scripted plays, mostly on faceoffs and special teams. But unlike football and baseball, which have components that are easily identified as specific plays, hockey is a free-flowing compilation of actions and reactions. The trick is to capture all those movements, break them down correctly, and present them via video in a digestible fashion.

“It’s not as clear-cut as football and baseball,’’ said Brant Berglund, hockey product specialist for XOS Digital. “Football and baseball are slow sports. You could write one sentence to describe everything that happens from the time the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand or the center’s hand, to the time the ball returns to the pitcher or the whistle blows.

“In hockey, from puck drop to the next whistle, you’d have run-on sentences and incomplete sentences. You’d definitely need four or five paragraphs in there. It’s a flow sport.’’

Gold mines of information reside within those free-flowing stretches, data that clubs can use to improve their on-ice performance. For example, clips compiled over a season could show that Patrice Bergeron is best on faceoffs in the defensive zone against lefthanded centermen. In one-goal games, Dennis Seidenberg could be the Bruins’ most efficient defenseman at getting pucks through and on goal.

With that knowledge, a coaching staff could emphasize certain plays over others. If there’s a third-period D-zone drop at home, and an opposing coach sends out a lefthanded center, Claude Julien would know that Bergeron would be his best candidate. Or if the Bruins are tied in the third, the staff could draw up a shooting play for Seidenberg instead of Zdeno Chara.

All that data is available. It’s just a matter of whether teams care to use it.

XOS Digital, which has offices in Billerica and Orlando, is one of the companies NHL teams use for video needs. According to Berglund, a former video coordinator for the Bruins, seven big-league clubs are users of Thunder, XOS Digital’s latest hockey product.

During a recent demonstration, Berglund whizzed through examples of what teams can do. They can compile clips (in high-definition, naturally) of every breakout - in a specific game, over a two-month segment, during the entire season - then sort them in any imaginable category: off faceoffs, without forechecking pressure, against only Western Conference opponents. One click will provide success rates of each breakout in bar graph, pie chart, or number form.

A coach is then armed not only with video of what his players did right, but also with statistics of how well they performed. Then, if a coach wishes, he can formulate ideas about breakout trends, which personnel executed them more efficiently than others, and which formations might work best in certain situations.

The question is how deep a coach wants to go.

Depending on the efficiency of the video coordinator - someone must log plays during or after games - a coach could break down 60 minutes into hundreds of working parts. From there, all kinds of variables come into play. Is the sample size big enough to spot trends instead of anomalies? Is it worth a coach’s time to peck out some PowerPoint notes to impose over clips for future sessions? Should a coach instruct a defenseman to go off the glass because video determined it was a better transition route than D-to-D?

Above all, how much can video and subsequent teaching help a player in a sport so fast and instinctive?

“Everyone’s got the tools,’’ said Matt Bairos, XOS Digital vice president and GM for digital coaching technologies. “The competitive advantage teams have is not the tools. It’s how you use your time and interpret the data that comes from these tools.

“There’s plenty of places where you can get ‘analysis paralysis.’ You get too bogged down in it. There’s a balancing act. You can’t be afraid to make decisions on what you see and what you’re looking at. That’s where the coaching side comes in.

“It’s how you use your tools to acquire information and analyze it, then how you teach it and reinforce it with your players. That’s the secret sauce.’’

In Berglund’s estimation, there’s a 12- to 18-hour window for players following games when they’re most receptive to video coaching. Once that window closes, it’s on to the next game. The key, as Bairos noted, is balance: incorporating video with on-ice teaching, motivation, off-ice preparation. Even in a read-and-react sport such as hockey, there’s room for all kinds of tools to be used.

TEACHING POSITION
Chelios prefers an on-ice role When - not if - an NHL team hires Mark Recchi, it will be for a management role that the future Hall of Famer believes will suit his abilities best. It is a course preferred by high-end talent when they’re finished dangling around the grunts.

Consider some of the more recent stars turned suits: Steve Yzerman (general manager, Tampa Bay), Joe Nieuwendyk (GM, Dallas), Joe Sakic (executive adviser, Colorado), Ron Francis (director of hockey operations, Carolina), Brendan Shanahan (vice president of hockey and business operations, NHL), and Rob Blake (hockey operations manager, NHL).

That list stands in contrast to ex-players who turn to coaching: Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh), Kevin Dineen (Florida), Dan Hinote (assistant, Columbus), Luke Richardson (assistant, Ottawa), and Scott Mellanby (assistant, St. Louis). A little more blue-collar, no?

It is not surprising that recent US Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Chris Chelios, after filling the Yzerman role in Detroit last season (understudy to GM Ken Holland), is skating against the trend. Chelios, as rabid a rink rat as the game will ever find, also served in an on-ice development role. During the playoffs, he worked with Detroit’s Black Aces. There he found what he believes is his future calling.

“I don’t want to jump the gun,’’ Chelios said. “But I really enjoy teaching. I watched Larry Robinson, who I have the utmost respect for. He tried head coaching and didn’t enjoy that. He found a niche in assistant coaching. That’s better suited for me.

“With the great coaches I’ve had, hopefully I can use that, help the young kids in our system, and make them better players.’’

Neither role is easy. But in terms of lifestyle, there’s more comfort and stability in management. Better hours. Less travel. Detachment from the daily grind. But when you’re 48 and still mucking it out as a healthy scratch - as Chelios was with Atlanta in 2009-10 - it’s a good indication that the ice is where you belong.

“I think I’m leaning more toward being on the ice,’’ Chelios said. “There’s nothing better than being on the ice teaching. I really enjoyed that - going to Grand Rapids this year and working with the defensemen in Grand Rapids.

“Coaching is something I’ll really enjoy when I decide I want to make that move.’’

ETC.
Net tweaks get a trial run Last week, the NHL concluded its second research and development camp. For the second straight summer, draft-eligible teenagers served as guinea pigs for possible rule tweaks. The experiments included installing a verification line a puck length behind the goal line, and reducing the depth of the net by 4 inches. It’s not perfect, but having the verification line could help in video reviews (if any part of the puck touches it, then it’s a goal). Also, shrinking the net would give skaters more room behind it for wraparounds and such. Currently, in real estate terms, that in-the-net area is dead space. All that’s necessary for a deep-in-the-crease butterfly goalie is some occasional room for his rear end (and pumped-up tires for Roberto Luongo) when he backs into the net. Even for the most ample bottom, the current 44-inch frame is more than enough.

A get-tough approach The Blackhawks dropped the gloves 28 times in 2010-11, according to hockeyfights.com, making them the seventh-most peaceful club in the league. In comparison, the Bruins participated in 71 fights, second-most behind St. Louis (78). Part of Chicago’s polite approach surely was due to opponents wisely choosing not to engage with bruiser John Scott (eight fights), owner of a dangerous reach and a deadly right hand. But general manager Stan Bowman made an influx of tougher players one of his offseason priorities. Consider additions such as Dan Carcillo, Steve Montador, Jamal Mayers, and Sean O’Donnell. Not exactly top-six/top-four talent. But all are glue guys willing to drop the mitts.

One from the old school Best wishes to former Rangers captain Chris Drury, who announced his retirement Friday. Drury, who turned 35 yesterday, concludes his NHL career with 255 goals and 360 assists in 892 games with the Rangers, Buffalo, Calgary, and Colorado. Drury won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001 and the Calder Trophy in 1999. He might be best remembered for his clutch NHL performances as well as his Little League World Series accomplishments while pitching for Trumbull, Conn. But I’ll always think of Drury in Boston University’s scarlet and white, wearing No. 18 and the captain’s “C’’ in 1998, when he won the Hobey Baker Award. Drury is quiet and leads by example. But when he was the big man on the BU campus, he was always kind enough to offer his time to a two-bit reporter scribbling for the school newspaper. A measure of a good man is how he treats the rank-and-file. Drury is among the best.

Promotional consideration When training camp opens next month, eight teams will be without a captain: Buffalo, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, Islanders, Rangers, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. There’s no guarantee all the openings will be filled when the season starts. But here’s one take on the top candidates, in order: Derek Roy, Milan Hejduk, Stephen Weiss, Zach Parise, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Callahan, Chris Pronger, and David Backes.

Follow the leader Only crickets are being heard on the Brad Marchand front, with neither side amenable to disclosing information regarding negotiations. Whatever the final agreement will be, it’s a given that the Sabres and Tyler Ennis will have Marchand’s new deal in mind at the end of 2011-12. Ennis, the No. 26 pick of the 2008 draft, will be in Marchand’s position in one year: restricted with no arbitration rights. Through his first two pro seasons, Ennis has been a Marchand comparable. In 2009-10, Ennis, as a first-year pro, had three goals and six assists in 10 NHL games. Last year, Ennis punched in 20 goals and 29 assists for 49 points, 8 more than Marchand (21-20-41). If Ennis submits even better numbers this year, the undersized Buffalo forward could be looking at a premium on whatever Marchand scores from the Bruins.

No comparison Great get by the New York Post, which obtained the decision from Shea Weber’s arbitration hearing ($7.5 million haul). According to the decision, Nashville used Keith Yandle and Dustin Byfuglien as comparables. The laughs must have started an instant after arbitrator Michel Picher looked at the shorthanded ice time per game for Weber (2:06), Yandle (0:43), and Byfuglien (0:05) last season. That’s usually a good indication of whether an offensive-minded defenseman should be paid silly money.

Poignant memory The Bruins make their first trip to Winnipeg Dec. 6. Don’t think anyone will miss playing in Atlanta. However, one of the 2009-10 highlights, if you can call it that, was Patrice Bergeron visiting Matt Brown at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center. Brown, the Norwood hockey player who broke his neck in an accident in January 2010, was at the spinal rehabilitation center for therapy. It was a very tough time for the Brown family, but Bergeron’s presence was one of the special moments of their stay in Atlanta. In retrospect, Shepherd should have been a mandatory stop for visiting NHL teams.

Loose pucks Last month, Chris Chelios, Gary Suter, and Keith Tkachuk were inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame. All three, former collegians, played on the American club that won gold at the 1996 World Cup. Interesting to note that eight members of that team played juniors in the Canadian Hockey League: Shawn Chambers (Seattle), Derian Hatcher (North Bay), Kevin Hatcher (North Bay), Mathieu Schneider (Cornwall), Adam Deadmarsh (Portland), Steve Konowalchuk (Portland), Pat LaFontaine (Verdun), and Mike Modano (Prince Albert). In comparison, the 2010 US Olympic team had six former junior stars: Tim Gleason (Windsor), Dustin Brown (Guelph), Ryan Callahan (Guelph), Patrick Kane (London), Jamie Langenbrunner (Peterborough), and Bobby Ryan (Owen Sound) . . . Apologies to Rich Peverley, left off the Bruins’ list of former collegians in this space two weeks ago. Peverley starred at St. Lawrence for Lynn native Joe Marsh . . . Good to see USA Hockey hiring Hingham native Michael Ayers as goaltending coach for the National Team Development Program. Ayers, a former University of New Hampshire goalie, had been the netminding coach at St. Cloud State. Ayers was one of three straight goalie gems for UNH in the late 1990s and 2000s - the middle man between Ty Conklin and Kevin Regan . . . Milan Lucic will hold his second Rock & Jock Softball Game Wednesday at Lowell’s LeLacheur Park at 7 p.m. Other Bruins scheduled to play include Nathan Horton, Tuukka Rask, and Daniel Paille. For tickets ($10), visit any NMTW Community Credit Union in Lowell, Haverhill, Danvers, and Framingham; or go to nmtw.org, rockandjocksoftball.org, or the Lowell Spinners box office.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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