Beyond the Stats: An Interview with Rob Vollman

Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract

Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract

The field of hockey analytics took a big step with the recent release of Hockey Abstract, a book which aims to provide a guide to statistical analysis in hockey. As more and more people, including fans and professional teams, seek a deeper understanding of the game, hockey analytics continues to grow and develop.

Author Rob Vollman currently provides analysis for ESPN, Hockey Prospectus, the Nation Network and Arctic Ice Hockey. He was kind enough to provide some additional insight into hockey analytics and what its role is in the game.

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Sport, Hockey, and Film: An Interview with Russell Field, Executive Director of the Canadian Sport Film Festival

On Saturday and Sunday, the 5th annual Canadian Sport Film Festival (CSFF) is taking place in Toronto at the TIFF Lightbox. As usual, the festival will feature a variety of sport-related documentaries that cover a range of topics. Notably, this year’s program includes two films that focus on hockey: Lace Bite and The Uluit: Champions of the North. Hockey in Society is pleased to present an interview with the founder and Executive Director of the CSFF, Dr. Russell Field. In addition to organizing the annual festival, Dr. Field is an accomplished sport historian and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba. We spoke with Dr. Field about the aims and origins of the CSFF, as well as the hockey-related documentaries screening at this year’s festival.

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A League Falls in the Wilderness

 The Detroit Hockey Association is done. Dissolved. How did I just hear about this?

In the Spring of 2012, I published a piece here on Jack Adams Arena in Detroit. I meant to follow it up, but it got lost in the shuffle—until recently, when into the comment section of that first piece someone dropped the troubling news that the Detroit Hockey Association is no more. The DHA ran the leagues and teams hosted at the arena, so while the ice remains, the organizational structure around it does not. It turns out the DHA dissolved before this hockey season began. The causes and consequences of that dissolution are still not clear. But all signs suggest this is bad news.

Those signs, however, are scant. There is hardly any information out there on the demise of the DHA. It looks like the commenter who tipped me off, who has a long history with the organization, had been the primary keeper of the DHA’s blog. After the dissolution, it seems the blog followed him and became his personal outlet, which he used to tell his side of the story with a mix of anger, frustration and ODDly placed CAPLOCKS. Meaning, the only news on this issue is from a few blog posts that often swerve into rants, the merits and accuracy of which are difficult to decipher. What we can decipher from his posts is that the DHA was officially dissolved by the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association for failing to complete elections. Why that occurred is not clear. Full disclosure: I remember the blogger as a coach at Jack Adams who was both devoted—he was still there ten years after I moved away—and not someone people always got along with. So his perspective needs a bit of salt to go with it, but he should also be acknowledged as the only person to make an effort to broadcast this story.

There was nothing in the Detroit News. Nothing in the Free Press. Both are sports-obsessed papers in a sports-obsessed city. They have all the time in the world to cover high school sports and to chase around seventeen year old running backs picking a college. Yet, no coverage at all on the fall of a unique and valuable, if small and troubled, youth sports organization.

In the internet age, if a small community-oriented youth league falls and no one hears, does it matter? Yes. The fact that the comment section of my previous piece has now generated more updates on this issue than the rest of the internet combined shows there is interest here. So yes, it matters, but it also matters how it fell, why no one cared enough to cover the fall, and what people are doing to make up for it. So over the next few weeks, we’ll gather some firsthand accounts on what went wrong, what’s happening now, and why it matters.

First, a follow up on my interview last spring with Will McCants.
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Jack Adams Arena: A fragile island of hockey diversity

Including an interview with outgoing Detroit Hockey Association President Will McCants

Willie O’Ree, with members of the Detroit Dragons, after they won the Willie O’Ree Cup.

Take Lyndon East from Greenfield in northwest Detroit and you’ll go through a neighborhood of detached bungalows and then random industrial parks and warehouses. It’s a quiet, non-distinct stretch of road in an often eerily quiet city. To your left will emerge, after the cemetery, a long, low, grey building. You might notice it, what with the large parking lot out front, or you might not. But if it’s hockey season, there’s a good chance that inside Jack Adams Arena there’s a game on, there’s players winding down from the last game and there’s players getting ready for the next. Unless it’s Sunday or Monday, when the rink is closed due to budget cuts, or in the early fall and late spring, when the rink is closed due to budget cuts.

Jack Adams Arena

This being Hockeytown and Michigan, nothing surprising about an ice rink. What makes Jack Adams remarkable is that it is one of only a few indoor rinks in Detroit proper, and it’s the only one that draws mainly from the city itself. Detroit is an 85% Black city and Jack Adams and The Detroit Hockey Association (or DHA, which runs the rink’s hockey programming) have been increasingly drawing from Detroit’s Latino community, in large part through cooperation with Southwest Detroit’s Clark Park, which includes an outdoor rink. As a result, DHA ices teams that are, let’s say, less White than you might expect. And you would expect that with good reason, because hockey is still a White-dominated sport.

Not that race really mattered within the confines of Jack Adams. I know from experience, because I, a white male, played something like eight seasons at Jack Adams. Later, I coached part of a season, and before I ever played, I watched my older brother play there. When we were on the ice together, we might have been aware that our racial makeup was somewhat unique, but it never really mattered within the team. When it did matter was when we left the city to play suburban teams, or when those teams came to our lonely stretch of Lyndon to play us. Even then, it didn’t usually matter all that much; we were just like any other team. But there were moments when it mattered intensely. To pick just one example, my final game was an intense playoff elimination game against Dearborn, the suburb founded by Henry Ford in large part so he could escape the city (thus helping set the segregating pace that would define the Detroit area). A fight broke out after the game. Whatever, fights happen after games, and I’m not sure race had anything to do with that. But the fact that the Dearborn police were on hand, just in case the game with all those Detroiters in attendance got out of control, just might have had something to do with race. Two of our players, one in the stands because of a previous suspension and one in uniform, were arrested. Both were Black.

I don’t want to make too big a deal out of that. I mention it only to illustrate the tension our games were capable of causing (to be fair, our team was not always the innocent party, we often gave into the tension ourselves). Despite all that, by icing a diverse team in a non-diverse sport and in a highly segregated metro area, DHA has done a whole lot to bridge the gaps between White and Black. But in doing so it has also revealed the racial gap that exists in both the Detroit metro area and in hockey. That gap is hardly flattering, as was blatantly obvious in the racism recently levelled at the Washington Capital’s Joel Ward.

The twitter-based vitriol aimed at Ward had me thinking about Jack Adams, so I called up an old coach of mine: Will McCants, AKA Coach Will, the outgoing president of DHA and a long time Jack Adams regular and corner stone. DHA works because of people like Coach Will–that includes parents, managers, coaches, etc.–who volunteer their time and effort to make hockey a possibility for kids who otherwise wouldn’t even think of playing hockey, but whose lives are often profoundly altered by the opportunity to do so. Sadly, there cannot be enough Coach Will’s in the world to run a hockey rink if the rink is shut down, which has been a looming possibility at Jack Adams for as long as Detroit has been in its current crisis. Here’s hoping something comes through to ensure the long-term existence of Jack Adams Arena and the Detroit Hockey Association.

My interview with Coach Will follows the jump, but if you want a better idea of what Jack Adams is all about, I suggest you watch the video below. Its story is two decades old, but it gets to the core of this unique hockey organization.  Read more of this post

Paul Henderson, the 1972 Summit Series, and Canadian Collective Memory: An Interview with Sean Mitton, Founder of the ’72 Project

Sean Mitton is a Canadian living in the United States, and the founder of the ’72 Project. The ’72 Project aims to collect stories from Canadians about their experience of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union, which gave Canadian hockey its most famous and mythologized moment in Paul Henderson’s game winner in Game 8 of the series. The moment was witnessed by the majority of Canadians from coast-to-coast, and the ’72 Project is asking people to share their memories of the moment and the series. As its website states:

In the past, stories from the ‘72 Summit Series have come from the point of view of Team Canada players themselves. This project will give Canadians from the Baby Boomer and earlier generations a chance to tell their stories and share them through Social Media with younger generations. . . .

These stories will become an online archive for future generations to access, as well as becoming an integral part of our Canadian heritage. The outcome of this project will be a book that will share 72 intriguing stories from ordinary Canadians. This book will be available in both electronic and paperback versions. The book will be launched on September 28th, 2012, which is the anniversary date of the Series win.

The project is intriguing for a variety of reasons. I am particularly fascinated by its explicit attempt to collect grassroots stories about the Summit Series, in contrast with the interviews with players and management that have typically been used to construct the event at a popular level, as well as its use of social media to collect and archive stories. I spoke with Sean a few weeks ago about the project, and addressed these, and other, issues in the interview.

After the jump is an edited version of our discussion. Unfortunately for reasons of length I had to omit some details from the discussion, including a number of examples of stories that Sean has collected. Please visit the ’72 Project website to read more details about the project and to view some of the stories that Sean has collected thus far. Read more of this post

“I remember just being so frustrated because I wanted to play”: Former youth hockey player Brianna Thicke speaks about being a girl playing boys’ hockey and the prospects for an elite women’s hockey league

Image is copyright of Brianna Thicke

Brianna Thicke is an 18 year-old from Montreal, Quebec. Brianna has been an active athlete her entire life and participated in youth hockey from the age of 5 until she quit the sport as a teenager. She is currently studying Communications at the post-secondary level, and recently completed a project on the state of elite women’s hockey. Her project questions to Cassie Campbell were featured on the Hockey Night in Canada website.

Brianna recently contacted me after reading my post about media coverage of women’s hockey, given her passion and academic interest in the subject. I answered some questions for Brianna, and she kindly agreed to speak with me about her experiences playing Montreal youth hockey and about her research project. We spoke last week, and the interview is presented below.

While I certainly do not want to suggest that one person’s story can be used to draw broad generalizations, many of Brianna’s experiences certainly support the established body of research that shows that females can face unique barriers to participation in sporting cultures that have historically been dominated by males and expectations of masculinity. My interview with Brianna is transcribed here verbatim so that readers can get a sense of Brianna’s experience in her own words. Read more of this post