Using data to better understand backchecking in hockey

Positioning matters.

Backchecking in hockey is often evaluated based on hustle. We hear announcers celebrate how hard a player is skating while backchecking because it’s something that’s easy to see and we tend to offer too much praise to what’s easy to see.

But there hasn’t been any analysis done on the distance from the puck and landmarks by the backchecking forward.

Last time, I took a look at the measured impact of player location while defending zone entries. This exploratory analysis suggested that the distance between the player defending the entry impacted the probability of the offensive player entering with possession or not. It also suggested that while the distance between backs did not seem to hold much weight, the distance between the play-side back and centre ice was correlated with the expected controlled entry rate.

The initial finding (distance between player and puck) was intuitive and the latter piece of information (distance between player and centre ice) may not have been. We want our analysis to confirm something that intuitively makes sense about the game, but also teaches us something new – this way the findings are grounded in our understanding of the game, but also exploring new avenues.

Today, we’ll add another layer to the entry regression model – the backchecker. It’s something we can now look at with tracking data from ICEBERG Sports Analytics.

Positioning matters . . .



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Ryan Stimson

Ryan has written extensively on hockey analytics since 2013. He has pioneered work in player evaluation and game strategy, leading the popular Passing Project for several seasons. Ryan has contributed on analytics and published new research at Hockey Graphs, but also has written on using data to better evaluate hockey tactics. He consulted for RIT Men’s Hockey Team from 2015 - 2018 and coached a 14U team as well. Ryan is a Certified Level III USA Hockey Coach. He has published a book you can buy on Amazon, Tape to Space: Redefining Modern Hockey Tactics, that draws on insights gained from data analysis to optimize how teams should play hockey.

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