The mastermind behind college hockey stats is stepping back; what does it mean for the future?
Behind the scenes, Tim Danehy has been among the sports most influential people.
In the early 1990s, the college hockey world relied on a radio station in Hancock, Mich., for score updates.
Each Friday and Saturday night, sports information directors would call WMPL-AM at the end of each period to give their game’s score. In return, they would get updates from other games across the country.
Once all the games went final, WMPL’s Bob Olson recorded a message with every college hockey score. Coaches, sports info directors and media members dialed a number that’s burned into their memories, (906) 428-3700, to get the information.
One of those WMPL callers was a computer engineering major at Clarkson named Tim Danehy.
Danehy was part of a college hockey listserv, hockey-l. The distribution of scores was a part of the listserv or electronic mailing list during the early days of the internet.
Danehy, who grew up in Canton, N.Y., knew a number of sports information directors in the area. Through them, he was connected with Joe Bertagna, then an administrator with the Eastern College Athletic Conference.
Bertagna had a small stipend he could use to pay someone to do the league’s stats. He asked Danehy.
That’s how it all started.
Danehy was first the ECAC’s statistician. Before long, he was doing it for all of college hockey.
His website, collegehockeystats.net, became the mecca for coaches, media, scouts, fans and players. It contained standings, statistical leaders and game-level data unlike any other college sport. He did it for both the men and women, Divisions I and III.
In the last eight years, more than 300 million pages have been accessed on the site.
In 2012, he joined with longtime statistician and college hockey broadcaster Dan Parkhurst to create an in-depth stat filter page on College Hockey Inc.’s website. If you wanted to look up who led the nation in third-period power-play assists in road games, it would take 10 seconds.
Danehy also revolutionized live scoring in college hockey. In roughly 2008, he started keeping live scores on collegehockeystats.net and it became the conduit for every other outlet to get live college hockey scores. Danehy pulled the data from the sports information directors and distributed it to other outlets.
The popular College Hockey News app? Its data came from Danehy. USCHO? It used Danehy, too. The NCAA? Yes, even the NCAA relied on Danehy’s site to get its live scores.
“He has been a Godsend,” said Adam Wodon, the editor and publisher of College Hockey News. “We wouldn’t have had anything we’d had the last 20 years dating back to 1999 if not for Tim. In particular, the ability to do live scoring and stuff like that didn’t exist in college hockey. That came around in like 2008, but if it wasn’t for Tim, we wouldn’t have had all of that.”
But this season, it’s all changing.
The NCAA has adopted a new stat platform for all of its sports, NCAA Live Stats powered by Genius Sports. The information will automatically go into the NCAA’s cloud as sports information directors input it during games.
With that, Danehy decided it was the right time to stop operating his site.
“As much as I enjoy it, it’s reached a point where college hockey has grown,” Danehy said. “There’s a lot of reliance on this data. It shouldn’t all depend on one guy. I’m a one-man show here. If something happens, that shouldn’t cause system failure in terms of all that stuff. It’s time for the transition to happen.”
The first two weeks of the season haven’t been pretty.
NCAA.com, which has live scores for other sports, hasn’t had anything for hockey. In fact, if you click ‘scores,’ it brings you to last season’s national championship game.
Other sites trying to pull live scores from Genius Sports and the NCAA’s cloud have had problems. During the opening weekend for women’s hockey, less than half of the games had live scores working. It was a little better for the opening weekend of the men’s season, but not ideal.
USCHO has even posted a disclaimer on the front of its web page warning that it anticipates issues and errors.
“A lot of people are realizing how much Tim meant to the business,” Parkhurst said.
Adding to the problem, College Hockey Inc. lost its media relations guy, Nate Ewell, last month to the Vegas Golden Knights. The NCAA’s hockey coordinator, Mark Bedics, left his position for a new one within the NCAA. And roughly a third of college hockey’s sports information directors turned over in the offseason.
“It was one thing after another,” Wodon said. “I found out about Tim in February, Bedics in July, then Nate a couple weeks ago. Not only that changed, over 20 men’s hockey SIDs changed. That is just a recipe for disaster. This stuff could not have happened for a worse year.”
Wodon and Parkhurst have worked together since February to make sure live scores and stats would be available this season, though they knew there would be growing pains. Parkhurst said they've been in contact with Genius Sports almost every day for the last eight months about fixes in its system.
Parkhurst said he's optimistic things will improve, even if they're not there yet.
Among the positives: College Hockey News has been able to continue generating its in-depth statistics page, measuring advanced analytics like Corsi and Fenwick.
Among the negatives: College Hockey Inc.'s filtered database is now a shell of what it has been.
"That's the biggest loss, the filtered stats database," Parkhurst said. "I'm not saying we won't have anything like that again, but given the other challenges with stats stuff we're dealing with, I feel it's getting pushed further and further back. I just want to make sure we have accurate box scores at this point.
"Every week, we're finding new things to deal with. When you've had a system so long, like we did with Tim, there are always going to be growing pains going to a new one. But there definitely have been more than I had anticipated."
A do-it-all wiz
Fans may not know Tim Danehy.
But everyone inside the college hockey world does.
He's worked diligently on a nightly basis to make sure the stats are correct and to clean up any errors sports info directors may have made while entering game data. For example, SIDs manually input the power play numbers each night, but Danehy wrote a system that can detect if they're wrong. If the SID punches in that a team went 1-for-7 on the power play, his system will recognize if it was actually 1-for-8 and automatically fix it.
If an SID punches in that a player received a game disqualification penalty, which carries an automatic one-game suspension, Danehy would often verify it would the league's supervisor of officials to make sure it was a disqualification and not a misconduct (no suspension). Danehy didn't want the team's next opponent to think a player was suspended if he really wasn't.
Sometimes, Danehy was up as late as 2:30 or 3 a.m. fixing box scores.
"Everything we're realizing over the last couple of weeks is a testament of how well it was done by College Hockey Stats and Tim," said longtime college hockey reporter Todd Milewski of the Wisconsin State Journal. "Everyone is missing what's not there right now. To me, it's a question of whether we've made things better yet. I understand there was a reason this was done by the NCAA, but I wonder whether we're going to benefit from it or if we've lost something because of it. Tim has been a remarkable part of the college hockey landscape."
Danehy's role has gone far beyond stats.
All four NCAA hockey committees (men's and women's Division I and III) consult him on Pairwise Rankings data (the Pairwise system is used to select the NCAA tournament field).
Prior to the Pairwise calculators on College Hockey News and USCHO, coaches would contact Danehy as NCAA selection time approached, to ask exactly what they needed to do to get in.
When the coaches get to their annual April convention in Florida, they ask Danehy for tips on how to get an edge in the Pairwise Rankings formula (his advice is always the same: schedule the best teams you think you can beat in nonconference play).
When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference formed in 2013, the league’s coaches and athletic directors asked Danehy whether a 24-game or 28-game league schedule would be smarter in terms of its efforts to get as many teams into the NCAA tournament as possible.
Danehy now does the NCHC's conference schedules.
Last season, Hockey East was making its schedules on the fly and every team had a vastly different number of games played because of coronavirus-related issues. Hockey East consulted Danehy to come up with a formula that would determine seeding for its league playoffs.
“I don’t think fans truly understand what he did for the sport for so many years,” Fenton said. “Essentially, we have relied on Tim Danehy to compile and aggregate statistics at a national level for college hockey, both men and women. If you look at other sports across the NCAA spectrum, there hasn’t been this central repository that College Hockey Stats has provided. That’s because of the work he put in.
“He’s a brilliant person. I think he loves the game and loved doing it. I understand he wanted to take a little step back and that the NCAA was moving in a different direction with statistics. But he meant a great deal to our sport and will be missed.”
When Danehy started as the ECAC's statistician in the mid-1990s, things were much different.
Danehy received faxes each game night with goals in one column and penalties in another. He would plug the info into a computer system he custom built. Every Sunday, he’d fax Bertagna a big statistics report with team stats, league leaders and more.
“It was relatively primitive, but that was a big advance at the time,” Danehy said.
About three years later, as the internet became more prevalent, Danehy thought of a more efficient option. Instead of him sitting around waiting for faxes each night, he built a back end on the ECAC’s website where the sports information directors could enter game data directly. It worked.
“It was pretty bare bones,” Danehy said. “There was no penalty record, just team totals. The SIDs started entering that themselves and it all started showing up automatically on the website. Anyone with the internet could see that.
“The rest of college hockey saw what we were doing and they got interested, too.”
After getting the OK from the ECAC to start managing a national database, Danehy got collegehockeystats.net up and running. Not every league jumped on board right away in 1999.
Hockey East didn't come aboard until 2002. The Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the final holdout, finally joined in 2003.
"We were way ahead of the curve of the NCAA for quite a while," Danehy said. "When they did eventually start collecting game-level data for other sports, they chose not to do it for hockey, because they could get game-level data from me and had a one-stop source for that. At that point, you could consider that's when collegehockeystats.net became the official stats database of the NCAA, because we were the direct provider."
What does the future hold?
Schools began replacing their longtime stats system, StatCrew, with NCAA Live Stats beginning last season. Everyone is on NCAA Live Stats this season.
Right now, there are still things to get cleaned up with the new system. It is not processing line charts like the old StatCrew system. It does not have a place for SIDs to enter game officials.
Other bugs are popping up, too. For example, when teams are allowed to dress more than the usual number of players for exhibition games, NCAA Live Stats didn't have enough slots to add that many players to the box score.
Wodon worries about the accuracy of the data and stats without Danehy there to clean it up and distribute it to everyone.
"I worry about the integrity of the data drifting," Wodon said. "We've never had to worry. Our data, what the NCAA had, what Tim had, it was all the same. There's no official source, no middle man. It's a little scary for those of us who deal with data. I'm trying my hardest to be 100 percent accurate."
Danehy thinks a lot of the bugs will be worked out in short order.
"It's a good concept," Parkhurst said of the NCAA's cloud. "But it's not working like it should at this point and it's reflecting badly on all of us. We have to get through these growing pains."
As for Danehy, you may still see him at the rink. You're most likely to catch him at a St. Lawrence women's game. Perhaps, he will be at the Frozen Four in Boston in April. After all, he's only missed one Frozen Four since 1997.
“There are people that have such an immense impact on college hockey and beyond and Tim is one of those,” said Dave Fischer, USA Hockey's director for communications. “He’s a behind-the-scenes guy who deserves a ton of credit. He’s had an enormously positive impact on the sport for a long time.”