From a desert, from the driest continent, from this land at the opposite end of the globe ...

... as remote as could be in the hockey world ...

... came one of the world’s oldest winter sports trophies.

A cool tradition, a dream of champions, and a story we owe it to our children to tell.

Legends of Australian Ice.

SYB = Sydney Bears
MEL = Melbourne Ice
ADE = Adelaide Adrenaline
GCB = Gold Coast Blue Tongues
NEW = Newcastle North Stars
PTH = Perth Thunder
SID = Sydney Ice Dogs
CNK = Canberra Knights
MUS = Melbourne Mustangs
* = Mighty Roos (asterisk)
RK = Rank by ES/GP
POS = Position on the ice
GP = Number of Games Played
G = Goals scored
A = Assists scored
PTS = Points scored (G + A)
PIM = Penalties In Minutes
PP = Power Play Goals
PPA = Power Play Assists
SH = Short-handed Goals
SHA = Short-handed Assists
GW = Game Winning Goals
PTS/GP = Points per Game
ES PTS = Even Strength Points (PTS less PP, PPA, SH, SHA)
ES/GP = Even Strength Points (ES PTS) / Game

2011 AIHL Scoring. Data source: Pointstreak ( IHA website)


(And Fall in Love with Hockey)  II | Jul 2012

Hockey is unlike baseball, football and basketball in two material ways. The first difference is the position of goaltender  a single player with a disproportionate accountability for goal prevention. The closest match in another major North American sport is the pitcher in baseball. Australian's are a little more familiar with goalkeeping, especially through sports such as association football (soccer), netball and field hockey. The potential impact of the goaltending role in ice hockey is very large.

Well, it's true and you certainly can't rely on those old Box Score statistics you see around the web to sort it out, because they don't describe much of what happens on the ice at all. They don't directly measure the valuable skill of screening the goalie on offense, for example. Nor maintaining good positioning on defense.

The second difference is that skaters play offense and defense simultaneously. In effect, teams take turns on offense in the other three American sports mentioned above. Football even has offensive and defensive units. Football and basketball turnovers can and do happen, but they are relatively rare. In hockey, however, puck control is very challenging and turnovers happen all the time.

Offense and defense overlap in hockey, at least at the elite level. Players have concurrent roles and need to be constantly assessing both offensive and defensive opportunities and risks. Forwards have an offensive bias. Defensemen have a defensive bias. But the concurrence still prevails. One cannot truly separate offense and defense in hockey.

The ebb and flow of opportunity and danger in a hockey game tells us something about individual player impact. The most glaring example of this is in penalties. The taking of a penalty puts a team on its heels for up to two minutes, maybe more. Defensive risk increases. Offensive potential is reduced. The drawing of a penalty has the opposite effect.

There are many other "transitions" in hockey that alter the offensive or defensive "potential" of the game. Faceoffs, takeaways and giveaways and less obvious, unrecorded events such as battle for position and possession along the boards and in front of the net. Transitions also include the lightly documented but critical result of moving the puck up or down the ice.

A player who generates positive transitions is adding value because he elevates the ratio of offense to defense, and vice versa. On balance, each of these other transitions have a small impact relative to penalties, but there are players who consistently transition well, and it adds up to something.
In our earlier article we showed a score of 0.41 even strength points per game was league average last season for AIHL players with more than 5 games. However, the bar was set a bit higher for forwards alone: 0.53 even strength points per game (purple row, page 2 of table). The Top 50 players achieved this or better. That's about one-quarter of all players, one-half of whom were local. There were eight 2-way defensemen among them and, to get there, they had to score over double the league average for defensemen (0.25 even strength points per game).

Import forwards and defensemen still dominate the AIHL scoring leader board, although a group of 6 locals also finished near the top last year. But the vast majority of Australians with above-average scores were in the second half of the Top 50 list. All clubs except the Mustangs had one or more local forwards who performed above average at even strength.

We have already mentioned the strong and rather obvious correlation between goal differential and points in the standings in this sport (see chart in The Road Not Taken below). So it should not surprise you to hear the distribution throughout the league of these better-than-average scorers generally mirrored the 2012 standings. The more of them your team had last season, the better your team usually did.

Transitions matter a great deal in the same way that probabilities matter. But they are just the warm or cold fronts on the radar because goals are the lightning storms. Goals defy the odds and create finite counts from infinite possibilities. Goals char the scorecard, jarring perceptions rooted in a careful visual or analytic assessment of the rest of the game. Transitions matter but, as we've often said, hockey is nearly all about goals scored and prevented.

Which might still leave you to ponder: Newcastle had a scoring edge, so why didn't they win, especially at home? How did Adelaide end up on top of the Sydney Ice Dogs? Or the Sydney Bears over Perth? Well, these three battles in particular were very close, and offense alone does not hold the answers. It's like the LA Kings unexpectedly winning the last Stanley Cup. Was it really such a shock? Or was it more because there were just too few who knew the Kings were a Top-4 shot prevention team for the three years prior?

Goals Allowed [GA] reflects overall team defense — both skating defense and goaltending — but we can get a good assessment of skating defense alone by looking at Shots Allowed [SA]. (We should also use Shot Quality, but the AIHL don't keep those records yet.) Average shots allowed per game is a very familiar metric in this sport, and the dominant part of any assessment of skating defense. You will find it among the scoring leader stats for goalies on the AIHL website.

League average shots allowed is about 30 in the NHL, and 29 in the AIHL. The percentage of shots taken by NHL forwards and defensemen has been fairly stable over the years. Forwards take about 70 to 75 percent of shots in an NHL game, but AIHL defensemen shoot and score more than their NHL counterparts.

Now, let's return to the questions from last season. Perth and the Sydney Bears each scored the same number of goals last season, but Perth had better goaltending. This had greater impact on winning than the Bears' comparatively better skating defense (644 vs 691 SA). It is also true the Bears performed like a 4th-place team, despite finishing sixth. They just did not win the requisite game points. This was effected by a rich cocktail of factors, including luck.

Sydney Ice Dogs had been strong most of the season yet Adelaide scored the same number of goals and finished third above the Dogs. Perhaps that was surprising at first glance, because the Dogs had the second best skating defense during the regular season (614 SA). Even so, their goalies had still allowed a quarter more goals than Adelaide. That's a lot. Yet, paradoxically, all teams except the Tongues and Knights had a better skating defense than Adelaide. Their biggest weakness was soon exposed in the finals.

The AIHL champions last year had shown throughout the season they were equal to any team's firepower. They had also allowed the least shots and the least goals. And it turned out, of course, given the opposing offense was about equal or less, that this kind of defensive play was decisive.

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