EA Sports, NHL 22 with a mid-week win — Nayan Patel talks HockeyU Analytics — Must-click women’s hockey links

The IX: Hockey Friday with Anne Tokarski, December 10, 2021

For the first time in the history of EA Sports’ NHL video game franchise, playable women’s teams will be available on NHL 22.

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Fans of the PHF or PWHPA shouldn’t hold their breath, though — this patch update to NHL 22 means that only players on the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship rosters will be playable, and no players who are currently attending college will be featured in the game due to NIL rules. While the IIHF patch was released today, gamers won’t be able to lace ’em up as the reigning Women’s World Champions (and the runners-up, and an assortment of other national teams) until early 2022.

“The introduction of women’s national teams to NHL 22 as part of the upcoming IIHF content will be an important moment for the franchise in its continued effort to reflect the diversity of the hockey community,” said Sean Ramjagsingh, VP and GM, EA SPORTS, in the organization’s release. “We are proud to feature playable women’s teams for the first time in NHL 22, alongside the rising stars on the World Juniors teams.”

It might not seem like much — after all, in an exclusive interview with The Ice Garden, EA Sports revealed they would not disclose whether the women’s hockey players would be compensated for their name and likeness — but this move is a step in the right direction when it comes to visibility.

For so long, mainstream media has elected to focus on women’s hockey once every four year when the Winter Olympics roll around…or when the same tired trope thrusts the game into a reluctant spotlight. This could be the start of something new (don’t mind the High School Musical reference); after all, a brand new demographic will be exposed to women’s hockey from a very early age. It won’t just be young girls clamoring for a chance to play as their idols, but all young children who will see women in the game and think, “This is normal.”

This Week in Women’s Hockey

2x Olympic champion Cheryl Pounder to make NHL broadcast booth debut (Ottawa Sun)

Amherst College alum Laura Schmidlein ECHL’s first female official (Pro Hockey News)

PHF Recap: Whale dominate Whitecaps; Pride sweep Six (The Victory Press)

PWHPA All-Stars to face Team Canada (The Ice Garden)

PHF announces new video review rules (Premier Hockey Federation)

Hockey East struggling in the NCAA — What gives? (USCHO)

Five at the IX: Nayan Patel

This week, The IX sat down with Nayan Patel, a graduate of The Ohio State University and hockey statistician, to talk about his website: hockeyuanalytics.com, which features women’s college hockey statistics unlike any other site.

Question: When did you first get involved with hockey statistics, and what inspired you to combine your two interests (hockey and statistics) into one package deal? What inspired you to start HockeyU Analytics?

Nayan Patel: I’ve watched and played hockey since I was a kid and data science & analytics was what I had my heart set on as a career path, so the marriage between the two was natural to me! However, for a while, that interest was limited to me loosely following a bunch of really smart people posting their work on Twitter. What inspired me to start my own work was the inaugural Columbus Blue Jackets Hockey Analytics Conference, set up and hosted by Alison Lukan in February 2020. … I saw that nobody was doing college hockey work for the sake of college hockey itself, but rather for tracking prospects and development in service to the NHL. I built a model, and got the opportunity to present it at the conference! I got great feedback and ideas to improve, so I decided to try and build a website devoted to college hockey advanced stats, a one-stop shop for rankings, predictions, charts, and anything else you could want. HockeyU Analytics is the product of that. There’s still so much work to be done, but we are well on our way!

Q: Your Top Ten women’s college hockey rankings often look a lot different than the USCHO’s, USA Today’s, and The Ice Garden’s. What goes into calculating the HockeyU Analytics’ weekly Top Ten, and what differentiates it from other rankings?

Patel: Definitely! I really think it comes down to different questions being asked when trying to rank teams and what you’re trying to solve for. Polls like USCHO, [The Ice Garden’s,] and others try to rank teams based on past game results to order teams. This is “reactive analysis,” using information to respond in kind after an event occurs. This is best for trying to determine who has had the best season to date, or who’s the most deserving. My model tries to solve a slightly different, albeit, similar question. Basically, who will win in the future? This is “predictive analysis,” which is, as the name implies, trying to use past information to predict future events. The way my model, or any other predictive model in sports, goes about it is trying to see through the basic box score to derive insight into future performance using metrics that may not necessarily correlate with actual talent or wins/losses. For a full write-up/presentation on how my model works, feel free to check out the Blog and About sections of my website.

Q: Statistically speaking, who would you argue is the best player in Division I women’s college hockey right now, and which team is the most fun to watch on the ice?

Patel: Statistically speaking, there’s two D1 women’s hockey players that stand out to me so far this season. Ohio State’s Sophie Jaques and Boston College’s Abigail Levy. Jaques leads the way for the Buckeyes’ blue line both offensively and defensively. She’s tied for the team lead in goals and points while also shutting down opposing offensive systems in her own end. … Following close behind is Levy, playing in goal for all of BC’s 17 games thus far. She’s been worth 2.7 WS so far this season, best among women’s goalies. BC has allowed 660 shots on goal, 4th worst in the NCAA out of 41 teams, however she’s carried her team to a 10-7 record with a 0.939 save percentage, a real impressive accomplishment with the tricky schedule they’ve had.

As for the most fun to watch team, that’s a pretty subjective question, as “fun” means totally different things to different people. For me, I’m pretty biased and say Wisconsin and Ohio State have been the most fun for me to watch. The two most dominant teams in the game right now, and it’s really been enjoyable when they go head to head. If I had to pick a different team, I’d say Colgate is definitely one to watch. They lead the NCAA in shot suppression, and just won the Smashville Showcase, beating Minnesota in the final.

Q: The world of hockey analytics is one that’s hard to break into. What advice would you give any newcomers to advanced stats?

Patel: It can definitely be intimidating. I’d say the best way to learn more about advanced stats is just to ask questions! Pretty much everybody I know in this circus is more than happy to help explain concepts and methods as long as you respect their time and come in with an open mind. Theories and ideas are always being challenged and that’s how the field advances. For people interested in actually working on projects, I’d say just pick a topic or question in sports you’re interested in answering and try and solve that using the data available to you. As you tackle more and more of these questions, you learn skills like modeling or data scraping that, in turn, help you solve more and more complex topics.

Q: Obviously you have a full-time job outside of hockey, but are there any fun new projects you’re working on?

Patel: Honestly, I just have a laundry list of improvements to my model and my website that I want to continue implementing one by one. The trick is just finding the time and/or motivation. Doing the smart thing and getting some coding done vs. lounging on my couch binge watching Succession is a constant battle that I continue to lose weekend after weekend. One thing I am excited for is Stathletes’ Big Data Cup 2, which will happen in early 2022. Carleen Markey (@quarkyhockey) and I worked on a really cool clustering project last year, and I’m excited to work with such a brilliant and fantastic person like her again as we try to win it this year!

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Anne Tokarski