It’s not often a middle-aged man feels like squealing in delight.
But that was me on the first night of the 2017-18 WHL season. On opening night I navigated to the WHL’s website to check out the first box scores of the season, when much to my surprise I discovered two new columns for individual player statistics. One was labeled “SH” and one was labeled “FOW,” and I immediately rejoiced at the new information available to followers of the league.
The “SH” stands for shots, meaning the league is now counting the number of shots on goal by each individual player. The “FOW” stands for faceoffs won, meaning the league is tracking the number of faceoffs taken by each player and the number of those that were won. I’ve always been a stats guy, so I value any new numbers that can help get a read on how teams and players are performing, especially now that I no longer attend every Everett Silvertips home game.
However, the new stats also raised new questions in my mind. Just how are these stats derived?
To find out I headed to Angel of the Winds Arena last Saturday for the game between the Silvertips and Kelowna Rockets. While at the game I caught up with two of Everett’s off-ice officials: Pete Rasmussen is the crew chief of the Silvertips’ off-ice officiating team, and Dave Rose has been a member of the crew since Everett began play in 2003. Who better to shine light on the new statistics than those responsible for compiling them?
My biggest question regarded faceoffs. A faceoff is how play is restarted in hockey following whistles. The opposing centers line up at one of the nine dots on the ice surface, the linesman drops the puck between them, and the players battle for it. Typically the centers try to draw the puck behind themselves to one of their teammates so his team can take possession. These happen about 60 times a game.
But how is a faceoff judged to have been won? Because there’s gray area there.
When I asked Rasmussen, who is charged with tracking faceoffs at Everett home games, about it, I was surprised to learn the WHL gave the off-ice officials no guidance with regards to determining which player won a faceoff. Therefore, Rasmussen took it upon himself to find out.
“I looked at some sources a while back,” Rasmussen explained. “I looked at USA Hockey and the National Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League, and I was really having a difficult time finding a true definition of what would be considered winning a faceoff.
“But the consensus among blogs and other off-ice officials I talked to was that whoever has control of the puck first, even if it’s just briefly, after the two opponents have drawn has won the faceoff,” Rasmussen continued. “Once they’ve pulled the puck back, if someone else who wasn’t participating in the faceoff touches it with his stick, his team would be considered winning the faceoff.”
What that means is that a player could be given a faceoff win even when he didn’t actually succeed in doing what he wanted. For example, a center can try to draw the puck back to one of his defensemen behind him, fail, but end up with a faceoff win because his winger jumped in to intercept when the opposing center drew the puck backwards. Or a player could take a shot on goal straight from the puck drop, get the shot away clean, have it saved by the goalie and controlled by the defense, and end up with a faceoff loss.
So while the faceoff is charged to the player taking the faceoff, in some ways it’s more of a team stat than an individual stat.
“Most of the time the puck will be pulled in a position where you can tell right away who won it, even if nobody controls the puck right away,” Rasmussen said. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t situations where you have to give it good thought and make a determination. So there are times when it’s a judgment call.”
Tracking individual shots is more straightforward. The off-ice officials already kept track of shots by team. Now that shot counter just has to add a jersey number to each shot. While an additional member was added to the now 13-person nightly crew — including statisticians, clock and scoreboard operators, penalty box attendants and goal judges — for tracking faceoffs, there was no need to add manpower for tracking individual shots.
“The shots job is a lot more intense now,” Rose said.
There are two questions that come with tracking individual shots. First, what constitutes a shot? A shot only counts as being on goal if it went in the net or would have gone into the net without the intervention of the goalie. Therefore, a shot that was going wide, even if it was turned aside by the goalie, is not a shot on goal. Second, who gets credit for a deflected shot? Just as a goal is credited to the player who the puck deflected off rather than the shooter, a shot is also credited to the deflector rather than the shot taker.
“We like to think we’re 100-percent accurate,” Rose said. “I know people wonder what this is a shot and that isn’t a shot. We have to go by whether it would have gone into the net, if it clanks off the post it’s not a shot. Sometimes we don’t have good angles. That’s when we’ll call down to the goal judge and ask if that would have gone in or was wide. There’s a little human error, we’re not 100 percent every game, but we try to be.”
And the WHL may not be done, as Rasmussen said he’s heard the league is looking at the possibility of adding more stats in the future, such as tracking the location from where shots came.
But in the meantime I’m going to enjoy the new stats we have this year, and I’ll try and use them to form a clearer picture of exactly what’s happening on the ice.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.