1990: An N.H.L. Draft Class to Remember

Original Article: 1990: An N.H.L. Draft Class to Remember

Long before he joined the analytics revolution gripping hockey, Drake Berehowsky (above, right) was just a defenseman looking for a job.

In summer 2004, after his 13th N.H.L. season, Berehowsky had just become a free agent, and he and his representatives unearthed some advanced statistics that they hoped would entice potential suitors.

“I was probably a better value than a lot of guys out there,” said Berehowsky, but no N.H.L. team agreed.

That research failed to land him an N.H.L. contract. But it did catalyze the development of an app that is on the vanguard of hockey analytics. The program, Statstrack, tracks on-ice plays in real time, providing coaches and players immediate feedback grounded in data.

For years Berehowsky, now an associate coach with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League, logged the information by hand, setting up charts and flow sheets that consumed hours of his day. With his app, someone in the stands – a parent, intern, video coach, backup goalie – merely swipes the screen of the tablet, and the action is registered.

If the figures reveal that his team committed 10 of its 15 first-period turnovers on the right side, Berehowsky will exhort his right wingers to perk up. During a timeout, he can learn who has won the most face-offs in a particular circle and then send out the appropriate center.

The system also helps assign value to players whose contributions extend beyond goals and assists — standing up at the blue line, not allowing turnovers along the boards, shutting down the opposition’s top-line forwards.

“I know as a coach you always have gut reaction, but I think these numbers provide you with – or back up – what you’re thinking and feeling,” Berehowsky said. “You can think it, you can want it, but if the numbers don’t show it, then it’s not true.”

He recognized early that basic statistics and quantitative measurements did not adequately reflect a player’s perceived value. Using Statstrack a few years ago at a tournament in Alberta, Berehowsky told his team how much he enjoyed watching a particular player. His charges disagreed, saying the player committed loads of turnovers and lost a lot of face-offs, but Statstrack revealed excellent skating and puck-handling skills.

The data does not surprise Berehowsky, but it does astound his players, he said. If they complain about a lack of ice time, Berehowsky can call up statistics that support the staff’s decisions.

“This generation, they have to see everything,” Berehowsky said. “If I can help them get better, why not use everything in my favor to make me a better coach?”

Among that generation, Berehowsky, 44, counts his two oldest sons, 10-year-old Duke and 9-year-old Daniel, who have asked their father to use Statstrack at their games. Once, when Daniel wondered how he could improve, Berehowsky told him to figure out a new strategy to get the puck across the line because he was turning it over too often.

“They love it,” Berehowsky said. “They think it’s a fun game.”

Berehowsky carved a productive career, playing 549 regular-season N.H.L. games after being drafted 10th overall by Toronto, despite sustaining three torn knee ligaments. He could have quit several times, he said, but never did, and he tries to instill that persistence and perseverance among his players.

For everything else, there is Statstrack.

“If you don’t use technology,” Berehowsky said, “you’re going to fall behind as a coach.”