More than a numbers game

Second-year Miles Hoaken, men’s hockey’s director of analytics, stretching team’s boundaries on statistical knowledge

Starting from ground zero, Hoaken has constructed a seven-person advanced analytics team for varsity men's hockey.
Starting from ground zero, Hoaken has constructed a seven-person advanced analytics team for varsity men's hockey.
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From a quick eye test, men’s hockey rookie Jared Bethune was in a slump. With zero goals and five assists through his first 12 games with Queen’s, the touted rookie wasn’t meeting his production estimates.
 
Miles Hoaken said otherwise. 
 
At that point in the season, Bethune was among the top three players on the Gaels for shots-taken, all of which were deemed high-quality.Hoaken brought it up with Assistant Coach Kevin Bailie one day.
 
“[I] said, ‘Every technical indicator we have is great, he’s just not scoring. He’s due to break out,’” Hoaken told The Journal. “He was just getting such bad luck.”
 
By playoff time, Bethune had three regular season goals and 12 assists to his name. But then something shifted. In the team’s first two rounds, he had three assists and three goals, including a hat-trick in the Gaels’ death-defying 6-5 game three win over UOttawa. To cap off his run, he scored a highlight, game-sealing goal in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals, and recorded an assist in the Queen’s Cup Final.
 
For Hoaken, Bethune’s run of nine points in eight games wasn’t a fluke. It was a long time coming.
 
“I think that’s where Jared Bethune will produce in his U Sports career. I think he’s a point-per-game player,” Hoaken said.
 
Hoaken, Comm ’21, currently makes his stay on the men’s hockey team in these types of situations. As the team’s Director of Analytics, he coordinates a group of seven volunteers, providing Head Coach Brett Gibson and his coaching staff with in-depth analytical information of their players.
 
“[Hoaken’s] like an embarrassment of riches for our team,” Bailie told The Journal. “He’s so good at what he does […] we’re getting NHL-level analytical reporting. Some of the data points, we don’t even know what to do with.”
 
A self-taught statistical aficionado, Hoaken began cultivating his detailed statistical knowledge of hockey after watching the Toronto Maple Leafs blow a late 4-1 lead in Game 7 of the NHL’s first round in 2013.
 
“I was, like, ‘Okay, can people see this coming?’” he thought at the time of the Leafs’ downfall.
 
Through high school, Hoaken worked with Upper Canada College’s varsity hockey team, where he fiddled around with various online programs and formulas he’d either read about or come up with. Shortly after receiving entry into Queen’s Commerce, he sent Gibson an email and set up a meeting. Weeks before Hoaken stepped on campus as a first-year student, he was the Director of Analytics for the team.
 
In his first season, Hoaken had one intern under his tutelage, both of them tracking various data points. After the Gaels lost in the OUA East Semi-Finals in 2017-18, he reassessed what he wanted to provide the team. Attending a sports analytics conference in Vancouver last summer, he presented his goals.
 
“I had this very ambitious slide where I went, ‘I want this stat, this stat, this stat,’” Hoaken recalled.
 
By the end of this season, Hoaken achieved approximately 90 per cent of the goals on that slide—all of which centred around building a base of volunteers who could track data for him. 
 
Each volunteer tracks a multitude of statistics: one records turnovers, icings, and penalties drawn; another records CORSI—an advanced statistic related to shots-taken. Each volunteer then uploads their information to an online Excel spreadsheet, which is sent to Hoaken’s computer and processed by his online program.
 
All content is available to coaches, but isn’t shared with players. Any information that is communicated with players goes through the coaches.
 
Over the past year, Hoaken’s evolved his program to look at the current situation of the Gaels—and their future. Recruiting, which the team does each year due to consistent player turnover, has become a core feature of his analytical approach. His program creates a factor number for each league that’s relative to U Sports’ level of hockey. It then takes the factor number and multiplies it by a statistic such as points-per-game, which conclusively predicts the performance of a player at the collegiate level.
 
Essentially, it’s a statistic translator that can inform coaches what type of production they can expect from a player. For example, a player in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) who scores one point-per-game might be predicted to score just under that mark at Queen’s based off the OHL’s factor number relative to U Sports’.
 
“Before, Coach Gibson would listen to my opinion, but when is he going to listen to me when he knows everything he could about a recruit unless I have a statistical model?” Hoaken said. “Now, we can have awesome conversations on the future of the program.”
 
A modern thinker in the hockey universe, Hoaken keeps an open mind to new ideas. 
 
When team captain Spencer Abraham approached him in the playoffs asking his opinion on pulling the goalie on a five-on-three power-play, Hoaken looked into the numbers.
 
“The theory is that you’d practice it so many times and you’d only pull the goalie once you had possession, that two [players] to one would have an almost 100 percent success [rate],” he said.
 
Looking ahead, Hoaken’s ultimate goal is becoming an NHL General Manager—but at the same time, he’s just “looking at the next step.” While he’s a self-described new-wave hockey mind, he said he won’t pigeonhole his identity as purely analytics-based. He recognizes that numbers can say a lot—but they don’t always tell the full story.
 
“I’m not just a numbers guy, I think I’m a hockey guy, too. I’m always combining the two.”
 
While it’s intuition for Hoaken, he recognizes that analytics will ultimately smooth his path to where he wants to go.
 
“If I could combine math with just general communication and able to market this stuff to the old guard, then I should be golden.”
 

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