or: Why USHL Scoreboard Operator is the Best Job in the World
Although I live in Southern California, I was born and raised just outside St. Paul, Minnesota. I went to college in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where I met my lovely and talented girlfriend, Sam. She’s intelligent, funny, clever, and beautiful, but she grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin where she attended Vince Lombardi Middle School. I’m a Vikings fan and she’s a Packer fan, which has been the main source of friction in our relationship.
I starting writing this from “Titletown, USA” where we visited her family after spending Christmas with my family. While Minnesotans love to brag about the State of Hockey, Wisconsinites are famously and justifiably known for having one of the most successful and storied NFL franchises in history. As I write this, the wall opposite me in the living room has a framed share of Packer stock, a photo from the 1997 Super Bowl parade, and a collage of ticket replicas and photos from each of the Packers’ four Super Bowl victories. Sam’s dad has two boxes of Lambeau Field grass from when they re-sodded the field a few years ago, they cut up the old stuff and sold it. One box just wasn’t enough, but three would have been too many…
One afternoon, as Sam and her mom were getting ready to host a baby shower for a friend, her dad asked me if I wanted to see a hockey game, and of course, I quickly agreed. I had heard of the local team, the Gamblers, but didn’t really know anything about them, so in the couple hours before puck drop, I did some research. The Green Bay Gamblers have played in the USHL since 1994, and their alumni include a number of big-leaguers like Stu Bickel, Justin Braun, Adam Burish, Ryan Carter (pride of White Bear Lake, MN,) Matt Greene, and Blake Wheeler.
The snow had been coming down steadily all day by the time we left for the arena, and though it was light and powdery, the accumulation would end up at 6.5 inches when it was all said and done. The Gamblers’ arena is literally right next door to Lambeau Field, and we parked at one of the Packers’ practice facilities, Ray Nitschke field. It was a short walk to the arena and I saw a good crowd had make it out to see the Gamblers skate with the Chicago Steel. I saw a ton of Packer shirts, hats, and jackets, but there was a lot more black and yellow Gambler swag than I had anticipated (plus a North Stars hat, a toddler in a Wild jersey, a number of Wisconsin Badger sweaters, and a guy with a Pavel Datsyuk jersey so crisp it had to be a Christmas gift.)
The arena was less than a third full, partly because of the snowstorm and partly because the city was focused on the upcoming Vikings-Packers game. We had great seats, second row from the glass right on the blue line. I had not been that close to the ice before except for Bantam games coached by my brother-in-law, so it was great to take in a game from that vantage point.
The game moved pretty smoothly, with no penalties in the first period and not a single icing call. There was very little hitting, and almost no extra-curricular activity after the whistle. There were hardly any odd-man rushes, and not a lot of setting up in the offensive zone…it was a lot of carrying the puck in and getting a shot and maybe a rebound. Not sure if that’s par for the course for most USHL games or if the guys were just a little sluggish after Christmas.
Having been involved in zone entry tracking for quite a while now, I tend to view any game through that prism and subconsciously count controlled vs. uncontrolled entries. These teams would chip the puck in deep for a line change here and there, but other than that you could literally count on one hand the number of times both teams attempted a dump-and-chase. Again, since I don’t have a frame of reference I don’t know if this is normal or if these two teams just play more of a carry-and-shoot style.
Midway through the second period, I looked up at the scoreboard and noticed that despite the score being 3-1 Gamblers, the Steel were credited with 21 saves on 21 shots. I thought to myself, “that’s a little strange but the scoreboard guy must have just made a mistake.” Then in the second intermission, as fans were taking part in the Puck Chuck attempting to throw bright orange foam pucks into a coffee can at center ice for some reason, I looked up and saw that the scoreboard was off by more than a couple shots–for both teams.
I mentioned this to Sam’s dad, saying in as many words that the scoreboard guy must be watching a different game than the rest of us. At this point, a 20-year old kid with an extra-large cubic zirconium earring and a fur-lined Aeropostale coat turned around and explained (not unkindly) that they counted some missed shots as shots on goal. “Like if he misses the net but it’s pretty close, they’ll count that as a shot.” I was pretty sure there was no way that was correct, at least not for the official stats…but I didn’t argue with the diamond earring kid because he was nice enough and it didn’t seem like the right time or place to get into a fancy stats debate.
For the entire third period I watched the scoreboard more than the game and tried to wrap my head around the “some missed shots count as shots but some don’t” theory. I know there is a hazy differentiation between shots and scoring chances, both by the NHL and Elias, but I was unable to come up with even a working model that explained the sloppy scoreboard-keeping (the three craft beers I had before the game and the 32-ounce Miller Lite from the concession stand didn’t help.)
So the game ended and the fans went home happy because the Gamblers won 6-3, earning everyone a free hot dog from the bar next door for scoring 5+ goals and free nachos for scoring a shorthanded goal (this one game with an empty net, but as the Lonely Island taught us, STILL COUNTS!)
I snapped a picture of the scoreboard before we went home so I could compare to the official score:
The official line for Gamblers netminder Michael Rotolo is 26 saves on 29 shots, good for a .897 Sv%. The scoreboard guy has the correct number of saves but an inflated number of shots, which would lead me to believe that he was in fact counting near misses as shots or perhaps scoring chances.
But the numbers for Steel backstop Alex Sakellaropoulos are completely out of whack: the official scoresheet has him 34 for 39 (.872) while our friend working the scoreboard again has the right number of saves but either had some acute narcolepsy or a faulty Shot button, because by his count, Sakellaropoulos made 34 saves on just 29 shots, good for a 1.172 Sv%. I’d say that’s prettaaaay, prettaaaay good.
To sum it all up, here’s what I learned: 1) in addition to a rabid NFL fanbase, the good people of Green Bay, Wisconsin have some darn good ice hockey fans, and 2) if this stats thing doesn’t work out for me, I’m going to become a scoreboard operator, because as long as you get the final score right, only nerdy guys like me will notice if you botch the rest of it.