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For UND's crew, hockey stats are a serious business

Erik Martinson, assistant athletics director, operations for the University of North Dakota Athletics Department. watches the replay of UND's first goal Friday night, Dec. 1, against Western Michigan University. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS — Erik Martinson was still in the press box, finishing up his nightly work after a University of North Dakota men's hockey game when media members returned from their postgame interviews.

They told Martinson, the head statistician, that the opposing coach questioned whether the shots on goal were accurate that night.

Specifically, then-Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell quipped that the stat crew was doing lines of crack during the game.

While most in the press box laughed at the quote, Martinson wasn't as amused.

He was confident that his numbers were right, but he had to make sure.

He went home that night, turned on a recording of the game, sat down with a notebook and a pen, and along with his brother Mitch, also a member of the stat crew, re-counted the shots on goal.

When they finished, at about 2 a.m., they found out that they were spot on.

They got the exact same numbers that ended up on the final scoresheet that evening.

Martinson was able to rest easy that night, knowing he got it right. But it wasn't the last time he re-watched a game in the wee hours of the morning to make sure all the numbers were correct.

When it comes to keeping stats at UND hockey games, Martinson and his crew are passionate and obsessed with accuracy.

That's one of the reasons why the National Collegiate Hockey Conference has selected them to handle the official statistics each year at the Frozen Faceoff.

"I think Erik and his crew try to adhere to the highest level of standards," NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said. "That's what makes them great. Frankly, it adds credibility to statistics that come from Ralph Engelstad Arena or games wherever they are working."

For Martinson, no detail is too small.

If he's unsure who blocked a shot or whether a shot was going wide or on net, he'll review it, using multiple angles if needed. He'll ask for a consensus among his stat crew in the press box. He'll ask the workers in the penalty box. He'll ask video production if he needs to.

"Most crews will reviews goals and assists," said UND media relations director Jayson Hajdu. "These guys are reviewing shot blocks, whether a shot was wide or not, they're reviewing everything. They take it very seriously."

How seriously?

"11 out of 10," Hajdu said. "But that's not a real number, so he'd probably be upset with that."

Martinson's reasoning is simple.

"What's the point of taking stats if they're not right?" he asked

How it works

Martinson, who played goalie at Roseau (Minn.) High, has often filled his stat crew with former hockey players.

Jack Stellon, a key member and mainstay on the stat team, played at Richfield (Minn.) High.

Others have included his brother Mitch Martinson (Roseau), Jade Schirado (UND), Jeremy O'Keefe (Grand Forks Central), Shane Omdahl (Roseau), Kevin Vaughan (Simley), Karynn Adams (Shakopee), Margot Miller (UND), Max Markowitz (Victory Honda), Kathleen Rogan (MSU-Mankato), Elisabeth Hewett (MSU-Mankato) and Ryan Sullivan (Bemidji).

Martinson's full-time job is working as UND's assistant athletic director for operations, but he's able to handle the statistics because of Ralph Engelstad Arena's smooth game-night operations.

On each night, at least five people work on the stat crew. They are required to dress "professionally"—no team gear. The men wear suits and ties.

Martinson's job is to call the game and enter the action into the computer.

For example, if UND defenseman Colton Poolman has a shot on goal, he will call out "shot, home, 6, save," and type into his computer "sh06s, enter." If Poolman's shot is blocked by No. 25 on the opposing team, he would type, "sh06b25, enter." That stands for shot by home team's number 6, blocked by number 25.

That occurs for every shot attempt—whether it's on goal, wide, off the post, in the net or saved by the goalie. There's often more than 100 shot attempts between the two teams.

Martinson also tracks faceoffs. For that, he types in 'f' for faceoff, followed by the visiting player's number, the home player's number and 'v' or 'h' depending on who won the draw. For a Rhett Gardner faceoff win over No. 29 for the visiting team, it would be "f2922h, enter".

There's always someone sitting to Martinson's right, whose job is to fill out the shot chart (Martinson married the woman, Natalie, who was doing that job when he started in 2006).

That person's job is to write down the location of each shot attempt—not just shots on goal but all attempts—by putting the player's number on a map of the ice with symbols to designate whether the shot was on goal, wide, off the post, in the net, on the power play, shorthanded or at even strength.

The stat crew passes out maps of the shot attempts to media members after each period.

The shot chart person also controls the shots on goal on the scoreboard to keep it as up-to-date and accurate as possible. The rest of the scoreboard is controlled from the penalty box.

Stellon's job is to track assists. Every time a player touches the puck, he writes down their number on a large notepad. Sometimes, the writing gets messy, because he never looks down at his notebook when he writes.

When there's a change of possession, he starts a new string of numbers.

The other two members of the stat crew track which players were on the ice for each goal—one is in charge of the home team, the other is in charge of the visitors. They are instructed to start writing down the numbers of those closest to the bench and work out from there. They write the numbers on a post-it note, tear it off and give it to Martinson.

Staying true

At the end of games, Martinson will go back and review anything he needs to. He'll also allow a few minutes to see if either team has a stat correction request.

"We don't just give it to them," Martinson said. "We rewatch it. The biggest thing is to make sure it's right."

Even if it's a UND player or coach who requests an added assist, Martinson won't give it if he doesn't feel there's merit.

"Guys in the locker room have learned over the years that there's no hometown fudging," Hajdu said. "They're going to call it down the middle. Accuracy is all that matters to them.

"These guys care about getting it right, especially in this day and age, where everything is televised and everything is online. If you're a homer, you can't hide it. If you're sloppy, you can't hide it."

Fenton has seen it in action.

"They definitely take it upon themselves to operate at a very high level," Fenton said. "Going back to review who blocked a shot is part of working at that high level. For us, it's great having Erik and his crew. They are so good at what they do and so detail-oriented."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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