It was past midnight in the middle of a week in November, and Neil Lodin, the founder of MYHockey Standings, was hunched over a computer in his sparsely furnished home office, feeding the beast.
Results from over 10,000 youth hockey games had arrived over the weekend and were awaiting approval. Lodin needed to remove duplicates, resolve complaints, and monitor statistical anomalies. Above all, he had to classify the teams.
Lodin, 54, worked hard in suburban Indianapolis. Her son, Ian Lodin, 27, had been preparing the website for hours from his apartment 360 miles outside Pittsburgh. They worked in silence, save for the click of their keyboards, to update their weekly rankings of approximately 13,000 homeless youth hockey teams covering age groups from 9 to 18 years old.
As Wednesday dawned, crowds of youth hockey coaches, parents and players would be in line, eager to see what the Lodins would serve.
“There are people across the country who say they or their kids get up on Wednesday mornings and check the rankings,” said Neil Lodin, a former computer programmer who created the algorithm that powers his site.
MYHockey Rankings – now as much a part of North American youth hockey as hot chocolate and hand warmers – has been called a salvation by coaches who depend on it to help them schedule games against teams in roughly the same level of talent. Scouts use it to identify teams to watch.
Critics, including a blogger who called MYHockey Rankings “”worst youth hockey website… ever“, complain that the rankings fuel the culture of the sport focused on parents and focus on winning over player development.
“These rankings are as close to the Bible as they get on a youth hockey scale,” said Sean Green, who coaches a squirting team (9 and 10) for the. Allegheny Badgers outside of Pittsburgh. Yet, he said, rankings can be destructive. “Development should be the key, but the problem is, once the leaderboards are involved, the development is gone. “
MYHockey Rankings attracts 340,000 unique visitors and 10 million pageviews per month when the season is in full swing, according to the Lodins, and daily traffic reaches 500,000 pageviews when new rankings are posted each week.
“I think that’s partly fun to watch,” said Darren Palaszewski, who coaches a 12-year-old girls’ team in Amherst, NY, a suburb of Buffalo. “It’s the only thing that exists quantitatively to see where you are. “
Aesthetically, MYHockey Rankings is disappointing. Its interface is clunky and bland.
But the site offers an array of statistics for teams in its database, all pulled by the Lodins or generated by thousands of coaches and parents who voluntarily provide information to keep their teams in the ranking loop.
The site contains information on a total of 24,000 teams, including high school, junior and college teams. Over the course of the hockey season, as more games are played and scores rolled in, the Lodins expect to have enough data to assign a ranking to around 18,000 teams.
Visitors can find teams’ winning and losing records, their schedules, the number of goals they have scored or allowed during the season and the projected goal differential of any game they might play against. any opponent in the system.
But most people come for the rankings, which for many define a team’s worth, for better or for worse.
In search of the right competition
Neil Lodin insists that was not what he set out to accomplish 18 years ago when he began analyzing data from teams in a handful of states in the Midwest.
In 2003, as Lodin recounts, Ian Lodin was playing squirt hockey in suburban Indianapolis on a team that regularly rolled their opponents, in part thanks to a particularly talented player. At the request of Ian’s coach, Lodin set out to find a way to identify the appropriate competition within driving distance.
“It wasn’t about being the best,” Lodin said. “It was a question of who would give us competitive games.”
He compiled a list of every travel team in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan in his son’s age group. Then he spent weeks recording the scores he found by combing through each team’s websites.
“One of the things I started doing was looking at who was playing who and trying to say, ‘OK, we played this team and we beat them by five, and they lost by six. against this other team so that should be good. ”said Lodin.
Lodin, who grew up in Minnesota and studied math and computer science at Minnesota State University Moorhead, quickly came up with a formula for ranking teams.
He started sharing his calculations in online youth hockey forums. By 2006, he had responded to so many requests to apply his formula to other Midwestern teams that he launched MYHockey Rankings. (The curious amalgamation of capital letters is a nod to the original name of his initiative: “Midwest Youth Hockey Rankings.”)
The site is supported by advertising as well as memberships which offer privileges such as the ability to add lists and player statistics. Individual memberships sell for $ 30 per year, while youth hockey association memberships range from $ 69 to $ 299 per year.
Lodin left computer programming in 2012 to work at the site full time, and Ian Lodin joined him four years ago as Director of Business Development.
Most of Neil Lodin’s time is now spent running a spin-off company, MYHockey Tournaments, which hosts tournaments in 19 cities across the United States and promises to “bring together the most suitable competition.” He would not disclose the financial figures of either company.
How rankings work
Lodin’s algorithm calculates each team’s average goal differential and schedule strength and assigns a number score that peaks at 99.99.
The top-ranked teams’ scores are usually separated by hundredths of a percentage point, with each percentage point equaling a one-goal differential.
So a team with a 99.99 rating should beat a team with a 98.99 rating by one goal. A match between teams with scores of, say, 99.99 and 99.55 should go both ways.
For practical application, consider the peewee level, ages 11-12, in the United States.
Teams in this age group were recently ranked from 1 to 1,397, with the Chicago Reapers AAA team leading at 99.99 and Ohio team Troy Bruins B last at 60.19 . In theory, the Reapers would beat the Bruins by 40 goals if they were to face each other.
In both extremes, however, are groups of teams whose ratings suggest they would be competitive. For example, there are 63 teams with a score between 75.00 and 75.99.
Of course, the actual results of some games are outside their projected goal differential. When this happens, the information is fed back into the system and the Lodins generate new ratings and rankings.
But, overall, the site’s biggest fans and the harshest critics agree that ratings tend to be a pretty accurate barometer of most matches.
Chris Collins runs Bishop Kearney Selects, an elite program in Rochester, NY, with four teams of teens and a six-figure travel budget.
“As a program director trying to set schedules for four teams and choose where we’re going to spend money and send our teams, this is an extremely valuable resource for me,” said Collins.
Even USA Hockey, the sport’s national governing body, turns to the Lodins every year for information the organization can use to award general offers at its national tournaments for ages 14 and up.
“Let’s face it,” said Ken Martel, director of player development for the organization, “the site has collected a lot of really good data.”
Bloating costs, neglected players
At the same time, said Martel, he is concerned that the weight given to rankings by some coaches, parents and youth hockey associations is having a toxic impact on player development and the cost of the game.
Stories abound in youth hockey circles of organizations recruiting promising players as young as 11 and 12 who live hundreds of miles away in an effort to bolster their rankings.
In extreme cases, they end up creating super teams that can only find suitable opponents by traveling great distances to other super teams.
“You have teams, because of these rankings, that won’t play against teams in their region,” said Martel. “They’ll pass six teams or get on a plane, God forbid. You just made hockey more expensive.
Hockey is already the most expensive youth sport, with parents spending an average of $ 2,583 per child annually, according to the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program, which publishes an annual progress report on youth sports.
Since the algorithm takes into account average goal differentials, teams can beat opponents they should beat, but still fall in the standings because they don’t win by a wide enough margin. The reverse is also true.
As a result, some coaches bring weaker players into play, even in unbalanced wins, harming their development. And parents have been known to criticize a coach for shooting the goalie in a close game and surrendering a goal into an empty net that blew up the intended goal differential.
For Martel, examples like these suggest that things have gone too far.
“We shouldn’t classify children nationally at age 9,” he said.
None of these anecdotes come as a surprise to the Lodins, who said they kept a roster of notorious coaches and teams to try and play their system. Recently, Ian caught a coach trying to squeeze the score from a game the team had won three months earlier in the standings. Both teams had agreed that the exhibition match would not count towards their standings, but the winning coach backed down because the margin of victory would have helped his team stand out.
“There are people who do great stuff,” Ian said.
Neil Lodin said funky stuff is the exception. He responded to reviews of the site in general by citing just one statistic: the average game winning margin in the system.
“That number has decreased over time,” he said. “It tells me that the sport is getting more and more competitive, people know who they are playing, they are avoiding 11-0 games. I think that it’s good.