Hockey Canada doesn’t want to fall behind the rest of the sport in the analytics department.
That much was clear with Wednesday’s hiring of Misha Donskov as manager of hockey operations, analytics and video. Donskov will be primarily tasked with video responsibilities, but Hockey Canada president and CEO Tom Renney believes the former Ottawa 67’s associate coach has more to offer.
“I think there’s an opportunity to tap into his knowledge with respect to analytics and what might (be) best to measure, whether it’s on-ice performance, whether it’s how we put our camps together, whether it’s the numbers of people we put in our camps,” Renney said in a phone interview Thursday. “He has an analytical mind, and having said that he certainly pays attention to the analytics of the game. I think there’s lots of ways and means with which to incorporate his skill to that end.”
Analytics go beyond traditional statistics such as goals, assists and plus/minus to measure things like puck possession, quality of competition and where players are on the ice.
Donskov replaces Andrew Brewer, who left his job as Hockey Canada’s video coach to join Mike Babcock’s staff with the Detroit Red Wings. Babcock heaped tons of credit on Brewer during the Olympic gold-medal run in Sochi for ensuring Team Canada was well-prepared along the way.
Brewer got some analytics started before he left, and that’s where Donskov picks up.
Renney, who worked as an assistant under Babcock last season and was head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers before that, said he has an appreciation for analytics from those jobs. In replacing Bob Nicholson in July, the 59-year-old didn’t see analytics as a weak point for Hockey Canada but considers the hiring of Donskov a way to strengthen it.
“We knew that because of the skills that he brought to the table that that was an avenue we could even explore that much deeper,” Renney said. “I don’t know that analytics is always solution-based, but it certainly has a great deal of information to it and really in-depth information. I think with that in mind I wanted to make sure that we could at least pursue that to a point with the skill that was required. Misha delivers on that, we think.”
Donskov had recently been promoted to assistant GM of the Ontario Hockey League’s 67’s after spending two seasons as an associate coach. Before that he was an assistant coach/assistant GM with the London Knights.
“The more diversified you are, the more valuable you are in a number of different ways,” said Renney, who cited conversations with 67’s owner Jeff Hunt and OHL commissioner David Branch as reasons he chose Donskov.
“Certainly he has a job description and it would suggest video, but it does go beyond that. I think we’re going to see his skills over time—not unlike myself, I hope—where we’re able to apply ourselves in those other areas.”
Even though Donskov has hockey operations in his job title, he won’t have to help replace Brad Pascall, who left to be an assistant GM under Brad Treliving with the Calgary Flames. Instead, those duties belong to vice-president of hockey operations and national teams Scott Salmond.
After a career of coaching in the NHL, being the president and CEO of Hockey Canada and piecing these things together is another challenge for Renney, who said he was enjoying the learning portion of his new job.
Renney and his lieutenants don’t have any time to waste with the world junior championship in Montreal and Toronto fast approaching. Canada hasn’t won a medal since 2012 and hasn’t won gold since 2009.
In preparation for the tournament, Renney is involved behind the scenes but understands the expectations that will follow.
“At the end of the day, win and it’s everybody else’s program, lose and it’s mine,” he said.
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