Friday, January 25, 2019

NHL Testing Puck and Player Tracking

By: Cari Costa

Now more than ever, sports fans are looking to get as much information about their favorite players as possible. Advanced stats and analytics have become a big trend across the professional sports landscape, and leagues are eager to find new and innovative ways for fans to get this information.

This is where the National Hockey League’s Puck and Player Tracking system comes into play.

The technology is designed to measure several different aspects of the game, including skating speed, shot distance, and players’ ice time. When in use, the data will appear above the heads of the players in a small bubble while they’re on the ice, not dissimilar to the NHL video games produced by EA Sports.

The ability to track these stats is enabled by small sensors “about the size of an Oreo cookie” implanted on the back of players’ shoulder pads and inside of the puck. The sensors on the players’ pads are able to “emit signals about 200 times per second”. The sensors in the pucks, on the other hand, generate signals “up to 2,000 times per second”. These signals are then transmitted to antennae in the arena, generating millions of data points and delivering the information to broadcast teams, allowing them to go into deeper, more detailed game analyses.

Puck and Player Tracking, which has been in development since 2013, was privately tested by broadcasters during two games this season in Las Vegas. It will be presented to the public for the first time during the NHL’s All Star Weekend in San Jose (perhaps not-so-coincidentally located in the heart of Silicon Valley, known as a global center for hi-tech and innovation) as the next phase of the system’s research and testing.

Chip Tracking from Sarah Goldstein on Vimeo.

Some fans, however, are wary of the technology. Concerns have been brought up about the enhanced data; particularly how it is tracked and displayed in-game. Fans worry this might detract from the game itself by introducing potentially distracting graphics and causing information overload.

During the All Star Weekend test, select elements will appear on the main TV broadcast. For fans who are interested in watching with the live stats more heavily implemented, a digital stream featuring the real-time tracking during the entirety of the event will be offered online and through the NBC Sports app.

I, for one, am very excited about the new opportunities that will arise from being able to implement this technology. As a huge hockey fan, I’m always looking for all of the details I can get, especially during the post-game breakdown. Hockey broadcasters are so knowledgeable about the sport, and so many of them are excellent storytellers on top of it, that being able to provide them with stats that we’ve never had before can really amplify our own knowledge and understanding of the game, as well as make it even more compelling to follow. Hockey fans are very big on “storylines” going into games, and this kind of stat tracking can create a multitude of new storylines for fans to follow.

I can also, however, understand where the concern comes from in terms of how the data is presented. While we are becoming more used to technology being integrated into our everyday lives, there’s something to be said about just sitting down and watching a game. Hockey in particular is very unique in terms of viewer experience; it is an incredibly fast paced game where plays can happen in the blink of an eye. Combine that with the one-of-a-kind soundtrack to hockey, such as skates cutting across the ice or pucks being slapped off of sticks; some fans have said they’d love for there to be an option where they can watch games on TV that don’t even include announcers. Introducing moving, ever changing graphics to a broadcast where there’s already so much going on at one time could easily prove to be simply too much when it comes to the viewing experience.

Ultimately, I think the NHL is doing the right thing by experimenting with new technology and choosing to slowly introduce it to the fans. The option being used during All Star Weekend to have just a few of the stats implemented on TV versus a dedicated stream for the data tracking is a great way for the NHL to test the waters and get fan feedback on how these stats are being utilized and displayed. It can also help them to get a better grasp of what kinds of data fans are most interested in getting, and what can help foster a deeper understanding of the game. I truly think that the more data we can get about our favorite sports, the better, but at the end of the day, it shouldn’t overshadow the simple enjoyment one gets out of just sitting down and cheering on their favorite team.

A follow-up reviewing puck and player tracking in action at the NHL All Star Game is coming soon!


  1. Great to know the NHL is utilizing all this Technology! Data driven decisions are made throughout our lives. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and love of hockey!

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