NEVILLE ISLAND, Pa. – After several hours of presentations at the Pittsburgh Hockey Analytics Workshop in early November, an inquisitive gathering turned its attention to Kody Van Rentergem, hockey operations coordinator for the Robert Morris University men’s hockey team.
For the next 15 minutes, Van Rentergem snapped the group at Carnegie Mellon University out of its late-afternoon malaise by offering a glimpse of the problem-solving processes of a Division I program.
How did he do it? By employing the same technique Robert Morris coaches use to get through to their players: video-based learning.
— Sam Ventura (@stat_sam) November 10, 2014
But it was cool to learn about how RMU and @kody_van used video analysis to evaluate the team’s strategies. Really in-depth work.
— Sam Ventura (@stat_sam) November 10, 2014
The use of video review in all sports has increased exponentially over the past two decades, aided by the transition from analog to digital and the refinement of software that distills game footage into digestible fragments. Hockey is no exception, with the Colonials and their NCAA competition buying in.
“It’s a very important thing,” said RMU head coach Derek Schooley. “We did a bit of video in the 90s when I was playing, but not a lot. Video didn’t get that high-profile until about 10 years ago, but if you’re not doing it now, you’re behind the game.”
The Colonials are anything but behind the pace, both in terms of between-game analysis and the type of in-game tinkering that can easily make the difference between a win and a loss.
“(Video) allows us to make adjustments on the fly and show the guys things between periods,” Schooley said. “You can say, ‘I want to see that goal, that turnover, that power play.'”
However, it was a long-term adjustment that allowed Van Rentergem to captivate the Carnegie Mellon contingent last month. He explained that the Colonials, after a program-record 20-win season in 2012-13, concluded that allowing 2.76 goals per game wasn’t good enough to get them where they wanted to go.
In the summer of 2013, Van Rentergem, along with RMU associate head coaches Mark Workman and Matt Nicholson, analyzed every goal the Colonials gave up during the previous season. They found that the team allowed too many scores that resulted from an opposing player beating an RMU skater one-on-one.
From there, the staff decided to change the way they defended in their own zone, implementing a system that provides more “layers” of defense between their opponents and the net.
RMU actually allowed more goals per game in 2013-14, ranking 44th of 59 Division I teams with its 3.10 goals-against average. Nevertheless, the Colonials scored the seventh-most goals in the nation on a per-game basis (3.45), powering an overwhelming run to an Atlantic Hockey championship and an NCAA tournament appearance.
This season, with RMU (8-1-3) off to the best 12-game start in program history, it appears the defensive lessons have sunk in. While sacrificing none of their speed-based attack, the Colonials have limited opponents to 1.83 goals per game, ranking them eighth in D-I. RMU’s average number of shots allowed has also dropped significantly, from 35.3 and 34.5 during the past two seasons to 30.5 this fall.
Van Rentergem showed the Pittsburgh Hockey Analytics Workshop crowd video clips of how the Colonials used to defend, then contrasted that with their new approach. The differences were striking, giving some of the general public a taste of the coaching RMU players receive on a regular basis.
“Matt, Mark and Cody do a tremendous amount of work with the video,” Schooley said. “They’re showing the players what they’re doing right and wrong, and also the other team’s tendencies and what we can learn there. As a player, you always see yourself differently on video than you do during a game. You don’t see it as a coach would see it.”
RMU junior forward David Friedmann said he did some video work in his pre-college days, but nothing like what goes on at the Island Sports Center.
“It’s one thing when someone is telling you what to do and how you played, but it’s another when you’re watching it,” he said. “You get a really good understanding (with video).”
For Friedmann, the benefits of video coaching are just as much about scouting the opponent as scrutinizing his own play.
“You know what to expect when you get to the weekend,” he said. “You think about it before the game when you’re mentally preparing. You’re able to visualize where you want to go on the ice because you know where they’re going to be.”
From power play and penalty kill to all three zones during 5-on-5 play, nearly every aspect of the game can be put under the microscope via video. Upon further review, it’s made a difference for the Colonials.