Puck and player tracking is making great strides in the NHL


When Buffalo rookie Owen Power scored his first NHL goal, the replay from five different angles was available in seconds in a private suite at the Prudential Center while the team celebrated below. A few doors down, putting on a headset practically puts you on the ice as a cast of cartoon characters act out the play.

More than three years since puck and player tracking was first tested by the NHL, the technology has grown by leaps and bounds to provide coaches with almost any information they desire during and after a game. As the playoffs begin next week, fans will continue to see more details on player speed, shot speed, and other metrics; By next season, they should also have access to some of that data.

“We will be putting more puck and player tracking data on our website in the near future for fans to have access to for the first time,” said Brant Berglund, the NHL’s senior director of coaching and GM applications, on the final day of the league Tech showcase during a game between Buffalo and New Jersey. “It’s going to be there for some of that next season and possibly as early as this season’s playoffs.”

Showcasing how hard someone shoots the puck — and how often a player breaks 20 miles an hour — is just the beginning of a slew of futuristic technologies coming to a hockey arena near you. The next wave includes real-time video and instant replays available to fans on their phones, and moves toward augmented and virtual reality.

Coaches already have access to all puck and player tracking data as part of the app designed for their use on the bench during games. It features a two-dimensional illustration of the game, with players turning into tiny circles with their numbers on them, and everything from average and top speed to when an opponent is most likely to pull the goalie when he’s using a specific number of goals left behind.

TV networks could be the next to get such an app to illustrate trends, with fans eventually getting their hands on all the data, more so than ever before.

“You can spend a lot of time and get great information about what’s going on in the game,” said Peter DelGiacco, the NHL’s chief technology officer. “We think that over the next few years we have an opportunity to gather all of this data and gain insights and make the game a lot more relevant with better stories and be a lot more entertaining for all of the fans – not just the hardcore folks . There will also be better insights that you didn’t really know.”

Not only hockey nerds will be happy about heatmaps of shots or live speed data. Dave Lehanski, executive vice president of business development and innovation, said fans in arenas want replays more than anything else.

The good news on that front is that the technology is already available and has been implemented across nine NFL teams and the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. In a phone app, a fan present can pause and rewind the game and view it from different angles.

“We really want to personalize the experience,” said Eric Nagy, Verizon’s director of sports partnerships and innovation. “Was there. That’s something we’re pushing forward now.”

There are already replay vaults filled with automated clips and other human-edited clips. Coming soon, iPad experiences will be integrated with social media and gambling, where live betting odds are available in real-time.

On the other side is virtual reality that can take anyone in the game and on the ice in a 3D world that could look realistic or more like a cartoon world. Put on a headset and you can see a mockup of the game from defender PK Subban’s point of view.

“We can make the characters look whatever you want,” said Nicolaas Westerhof, co-founder of virtual reality company Beyond Sports. “We can go to any camera angle. Everyone can actually choose their own camera angles. It’s like creating your own experience.”

Lehanski said the combination of the puck and player tracking system, 5G networks in each arena, and the cloud is building the infrastructure that could make for tons of real-world applications as more advanced goggles and other things become more readily available.

Commissioner Gary Bettman called the possibilities “unlimited”.

“We want to make sure that your connection to the game and your viewing experience, no matter where you are, including while you’re playing, gives you everything you want and introduces you to the game in ways people never imagined “ Bettman called. “And we do.”


Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno


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