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A Brief History of Hockey Analytics Conferences

posted Aug 24, 2016, 2:55 PM by Robert Vollman   [ updated Dec 21, 2016, 8:59 AM ]
To state that I’m passionate about the hockey analytics community is an understatement. From the moment I first conversed with Iain Fyffe in 2000, I was hooked on the idea of connecting with people who shared my interest. 

After a variety of email discussions with an ever-growing number of hobbyists, Iain organized the Yahoo Hockey Analysis Group in 2004, which introduced us to an even larger body of enthusiastic people. I can’t even begin to recount what I learned from them, and how much I enjoyed those interactions.

1. The Edmonton Hockey Analytics Conference, May 24, 2014
Host: Rob Vollman
Recap by Greg Sinclair, Recap by Sunil Agnihotri

As the field was beginning to explode, it made sense to organize some events where we could all meet in person, share our work, and compare notes. That desire was further fueled when a small conference (that was really more of a glorified organizational meeting) held in Edmonton began with the somber news that the greatly admired Tore Purdy, who went by the pseudonym JLikens on his popular Objective NHL blog, had recently passed away. We may have lost the opportunity to meet him, but we were determined not to lose that opportunity with others.

2. The Calgary Hockey Analytics Conference, September 13, 2014
Host: Rob Vollman

Unofficially recognized as the first, the next Alberta Hockey Analytics Conference was a solid success. Chris Snow of the Calgary Flames was the opening speaker, other speakers and guests flew across the country on their own dime, and everybody was very generous in helping to recoup the relatively considerable costs of hosting the event at the Saddledome. It was a great event in its own right, and also demonstrated the appetite for these types of events, and the basic structure of those to come.

3. The Pittsburgh Hockey Analytics Workshop, November 8, 2014
Hosts: Andrew Thomas and Sam Ventura

The next great stride forward took place in Pittsburgh, courtesy of Andrew Thomas and Sam Ventura of War on Ice, the former of whom was one of the speakers in Calgary. This was the first conference held in the United States and the first one that was recorded (here’s Part 1 of the Pittsburgh Hockey Analytics Workshop), and it established the new standard attendance level, at 200.

4. The First Ottawa Hockey Analytics Conference, February 7, 2015
Hosts: Mike Schuckers and Dr. Shirley Mills
Photos and presentations, Interview with Mike Schuckers, Recap by Shannon Proudfoot, Recap by Goose Monster, Recap by Ron Guillet, Recap by Paul Berthelot, Recap by Sean Tierney

The next conference was hosted at Carleton University by Mike Schuckers, who was the keynote speaker at the Calgary conference, and Dr. Shirley Mills. This continues to stand out as the most memorable of all these conferences, because of how well organized it was, the star-studded lineup of speakers and panelists, the social events before and after, and the mainstream attention it garnered.

5. The D.C. Hockey Analytics Conference, April 11, 2015
Hosts: Arik Parnass and Robb Tufts
Conference details, Recap by Jim Pagels, Recap by Ben Lutz

From one nation’s capital to another, the fifth conference was held at the Georgetown School of Continuing Studies, right near the Verizon Center where the Washington Capitals were hosting the New York Rangers in a game with profound playoff seeding implications. In fact, it was so close that I was able to step away briefly to join John Walton in the press box and promote the conference on air. Building on the best traditions of previous conferences, the D.C. Hockey Analytics conference was available by live stream, had a number of great speakers giving more numerous but shorter presentations followed by Q&A panels, introduced breakout sessions in separate rooms and follow-up surveys, and wrapped it all up with a great social event.

6. The First Rochester Hockey Analytics Conference, October 10, 2015
Hosts: Ryan Stimson, Matt Hoffman, Paul Wenger
Recap by Scott Cullen, Recap by John Matisz, Recap by David Johnson, Recap by Luke P, Recap by Sean Tierney

In what has since become an annual conference, the first Rochester Hockey Analytics Conference was built in the same tradition as the DC conference, with short presentations followed by panel discussions. Leveraging the results of surveys, this conference featured the widest variety of speakers in terms of their different backgrounds, perspectives, approaches, and levels of sophistication. Perhaps most notably, the list of speakers included more than one woman for the first time. The event was broadcast live, had a strong focus on grassroots manual tracking projects, and just had that sense that it was on the cutting edge, and taking that next big stride from the foundation established by the first five conferences.

7. The Second Ottawa Hockey Analytics Conference, January 16, 2016
Hosts: Mike Schuckers and Dr. Shirley Mills

Almost overshadowed by the announcement that War on Ice would be shutting down, Ottawa was the first to make a hockey analytics conference an annual event. Just like the last year’s, this event was known for being very well-organized and well-attended, with an incredible slate of speakers and panelists, and fun social events in the evening. They were also the first to secure some notable sponsorship for the event, as well as some additional mainstream coverage from CBC News and Radio Canada, and I was even pleased to play a role in arranging for the TSN Hockey Analytics program to broadcast its show live from Carleton University.

8. The Panthers Analytics Workshop (PAWS), February 13, 2016
Hosts: Brian Macdonald and the Florida Panthers
Conference Details, Recap by Shane O’Donnell, Story by Jameson Olive

Even though this event was hosted by the Florida Panthers, it still deserves a place on this list for having the same grassroots feel as the others. The usual culprits were in attendance, although the speakers were organized almost exclusively into panels, and it had essentially the same structure, content, and style as the previous conferences. Hopefully, this event will be remembered as the first of several similar conferences hosted by NHL teams.

9. The Vancouver Hockey Analytics Conference, April 9, 2016
Hosts: Tim Swartz, Oliver Schulte, Cam Lawrence, Josh Weissbock

Though hosted at Simon Fraser University by some if its professors and students, the Vancouver Hockey Analytics Conference was a well-balanced partnership of academia, fan-driven groups like Hockey Graphs and Canucks Army, the local media, and even some front offices. As has become the tradition, the presentations were numerous but short, the presentations were recorded, and blended in with several panel-driven discussions. The entire event was wrapped up with a social event.

10. The Second Rochester Hockey Analytics Conference, September 10, 2016
Hosts: Ryan Stimson and Matthew Hoffman

Coming up next is the second annual hockey analytics conference hosted in Rochester. As is the custom in this area, there will be many brief presentations, followed by Q&A panels. It’s also noteworthy that one of the few remaining big names in hockey analytics will be in attendance, Eric Tulsky. Finally, one of the newest traditions that will hopefully catch on is the rec hockey game that is being organized to wrap things up.

11. Babson College Hockey Analytics Conference, October 1, 2016
Hosts: Luke Donoho, Rick Cleary, George Recck
Information and Registration

Taking on the promotional title “the Long Change”, Babson College, located near the location of the annual MIT Sloan Conference on Hockey Analytics, hosted the most recent hockey analytics conference. Speakers included Michael Schuckers, Michael Lopez, and Rob Vollman, among many others. There was a media panel, and breakout sessions for students and guests to get a hands-on demonstration of various new advances.

12. The Second Vancouver Hockey Analytics Conference, March 11, 2017
Hosts: TBD

From the website: “The Vancouver Hockey Analytics Conference (#VanHAC) is the largest hockey analytics gathering on the West Coast. The conference gives the hockey analytics community a means to show new ways to think about the sport we all love. VanHAC is organized by the community for the community. Our main goal is to strengthen the hockey analytics community by providing more opportunities to share knowledge and ideas, encouraging support and education for speaking at conferences, and increasing the visibility of developers, organizations, and companies within the community.”

13. The Third Ottawa Hockey Analytics Conference, May 6, 2017
Hosts: Mike Schuckers and Dr. Shirley Mills

Though specific details are yet to be released, it has been announced that the third annual Ottawa Hockey Analytics Conference will take place at Carleton University on May 6, 2017. Judging from past events, it should be a great event.