Upgraded iPad app helping NHL coaches gather useful information

Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett watches play from behind the bench in the third period of an NHL hockey game. (Jeffrey McWhorter/AP)

Edmonton’s Dave Tippett doesn’t look at an iPad during games.

“No, there’s too much going on,” he says.

But, like any coach, he craves updated, accurate information. There’s a flow coming to him through assistants Glen Gulutzan (who wears an earpiece), Brian Wiseman (eye in the sky) and video coach Jeremy Coupal.

Four years ago, the NHL placed an iPad Pro on to team benches, allowing access to real-time, in-game video. Coaches and players loved it, breaking down plays as often as possible. Two years ago, the league launched the SAP-NHL Coaching Insights App for iPad, delivering customized data and player statistics in real-time. Again, the effort was greatly appreciated.

But, if you know anything about tech, you know no one’s ever satisfied. There are always upgrades, always tinkering to make it better.

As the NHL paused during the pandemic, it met with representatives of all 31 teams for feedback: seven head coaches, 27 assistants, two goaltending coaches, 44 video coaches, two in player development and three in analytics.

“Good coaches delegate,” said Brant Berglund, a former video coach for the Boston Bruins, now NHL senior director of coaching and GM applications. “During our (zoom call) with Florida, Joel Quenneville said the app might not be 100 per cent for me, but every member of his staff had to know how to get the most out of it.”

What did teams say?

“What we heard was, ‘We need 24/7 access,’” said Chris Foster, the NHL’s senior director, digital business development. “Across the board, we were told, ‘We don’t have enough time to experience it.’ Only having access at the game didn’t help.”

“What this app now does,” Tippett said, “is give you what you want, faster.”

Previously, the app only could be utilized in the bench area. Now, there’s unlimited access to two iPad Pros, with more available on game days. Coupal, who provides a lot of feedback to the league, doesn’t have to go to the bench for connectivity when he wants to prepare something for pre-game meetings.

Here are some of the new looks...

Head-to-head faceoff matchup planner

Game Pulse

Virtual Replay

The faceoff planner is self-explanatory, and I found the detail really interesting. Unquestionably, teams are doing deeper faceoff breakdowns than we publicly see, and the fact they wanted this interface confirms it.

“More faceoff information was requested,” Foster said. “If there’s an icing, and a coach has 10 seconds to make a decision, they want it fast.”

Coupal, who provides a lot of feedback to Berglund, said the game pulse helps someone in his position better see the “roller-coaster” of a game.

“When you are looking to clip important events, you know when the momentum is about to change,” he said.

“You can have your ‘Spidey Sense’ tingling,” Berglund added.

The virtual replay is motion-enabled. Once the “tracking pucks” are back in, you’ll be able to see its movement, too. You can “see” the game without much noise.

“It provides such a variety of feedback,” Foster said. “The gaps between defence and forwards, what happened off of a faceoff.”

Time-on-ice is a big one too, as with real-time rest counters and 10-second speed breakdowns of each player’s shift. Some clubs care more about distance-skated than minutes-played. Teams can also customize some of their own details that the league cannot access. That’s important when it comes to scoring chances. The app comes with a standard “home plate” going from the offensive zone faceoff dots towards the front of the net. But, not every team uses the same “plate.”

This led to the following exchange with Tippett.

Q: What does your “home plate” look like?

A: It’s a secret (smile).

Tippett did say that he does not delegate counting scoring chances. He’ll get 50-70 clips per game from Coupal and goes through them himself to determine their veracity under his own personal criteria.

The good news for Tippett is that now, the updated app makes the process much faster.

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