Near each goal five people sat in front of laptops. Behind them stood six spotters, watching, instructing and yelling. It was a whirlwind of activity as a scrimmage during Vegas Golden Knights development camp was played in front of them.
“No. 55 with a hit on 63,” one of the spotters shouted. Another called out a line change. And when an extra skater came on the ice, “goalie pulled,” echoed through Las Vegas Ice Center.
As the players on ice worked to impress Golden Knights officials, a different Vegas team was going through its preseason work in the stands.
They were the off-ice officials, the behind-the-scenes team of NHL employees who record the information from every game, from goals and assists to time on ice, hits, faceoff percentages and more. Every NHL arena has a team of off-ice officials working each game, and now a 31st group has been added to wholesale jerseys. More than 20 people were hired and trained by NHL officials for the fast, high-tech work that starts with Golden Knights games at T-Mobile Arena in October.
“The one thing I’ve learned about off-ice officials is they have a passion for the game. And that’s key,” said Dave Baker, NHL director of off-ice officials. “You can teach a guy how to move a mouse around on a screen, but to teach them concepts and the culture of the game, you’ve got to kind of already bring that to the table.”
Baker started recruiting off-ice officials for Golden Knights games in January, and said he received 44 applications. Many of them came from people who had worked on the stats crew for Las Vegas of the ECHL. Others were transplants who had worked American Hockey League or ECHL games in other cheap jerseys cities. Some were new but showed promise.
Every candidate was interviewed during two days.
“We dwindled it down to 22, 23 people,” Baker said. “Then the decision was, how do we get these guys trained?”
Off-ice officials include goal judges, time keepers and penalty box attendants. But there are others who record specific details of each game. It’s not just a shot on goal; the official needs to record where on the ice the puck was shot from, what type of shot it was and how the goaltender saved it. It’s not just a hit that gets recorded; the official must identify who delivered the hit and who received the hit.
Last week Baker and Benny Ercolani, NHL statistician and information officer, joined with arena technical coordinators from the Anaheim Ducks and Winnipeg Jets for two nights of classroom training in Las Vegas that totaled nearly 10 hours. The new off-ice officials learned the computer system and the elaborate set of definitions that allows statistics to be consistent throughout the League.
Then they held a practice session, scoring the Golden Knights’ development camp scrimmage.
“The biggest thing is getting them trained on HITS (Hockey Information and Tracking System),” Baker said. “So knowing they were going to be putting on this development camp, we thought, what a great opportunity.”
“When the game ends they won’t know what happened,” he said. “We tell them, ‘You don’t watch the game, you score the game.'”
The work and training will continue before the Golden Knights play their home opener against the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 10.
“They just finished with the construction of the press box area with our booth for the HITS scoring and video replay,” Baker said. “The next step is to bring in the equipment, monitors, Hawk-Eye video replay systems, all that stuff. It will be ready to go in September. But there’s lots of work to go still.”
For the new off-ice officials too. They’ll convene for Vegas’ rookie camp in September for more game practice. The preseason schedule, which includes three home games, will serve as a tune-up. Vegas will play the Los Angeles Kings on Sept. 26, the Colorado Avalanche on Sept. 28 and the San Jose Sharks on Oct. 1.
By the start of the regular season, the stats recorded by the Vegas off-ice officials will be the same accurate and high-quality information available throughout the NHL.
“I’d like to hope that by then they’ll feel comfortable in their various roles,” said Ercolani, who has worked for the NHL for more than 40 years. “Here it’s moving so fast. But once they get into [T-Mobile Arena], they’re up high and things are slowing down.”