Solar Bears coaching swap a potential sign of Leafs trickle-down

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Photo Credit: Orlando Solar Bears / orlandosolarbearshockey.com

The Orlando Solar Bears weren’t off to a particularly terrible start to their 2016/17 season, but that didn’t stop the team from making a significant change. The team fired Head Coach Anthony Noreen yesterday, replacing him with former Leafs draft pick and player Drake Berehowsky.

From the official press release:

“It is always an extremely difficult decision to part ways with a head coach. We want to thank Anthony for his service to the team, which he always approached with energy and passion, and we wish him success in his future endeavors,” Solar Bears Chairman & CEO Joe Haleski said. “At the same time, we are extremely excited to welcome Drake back as the new head coach of the Solar Bears.”

The timing seems particularly weird, given Orlando’s 5-5-1-0 record, good for a tie in the middle of the South Division of the ECHL. Their goal differential trails behind a little bit at -3, but in the grand scheme of things, the situation could’ve been a lot worse.

Raised eyebrows probably aren’t settled down much by Berehowsky’s prior ties to the Leafs organization, and the fact that he was Orlando’s coach in 2012/13. Going back to an old coach who fits into the old boys club narrative while your team is 0.500 is going to set off massive alarm bells to most people. In this case, though, it might be a matter of simply having the opportunity to align forward-thinking philosophy across the Leafs’ system.

Berehowsky certainly has a coaching resume dating back to not long after the end of his hockey career. He’s been an assistant coach with the Barrie Colts (OHL), Peoria Rivermen (AHL), and Sudbury Wolves (OHL), he had a year of experience as Orlando’s head coach and GM, and was head coach of the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes from 2013/14 to 2014/15. But he’s also the President and founder of a company called StatsTrack.

StatsTrack is similar, in a sense, to companies like Montreal-based SPORTLOGiQ and Niagara region-based Stathletes, in the sense that their technology is designed to optimize the micro tracking of hockey player on-ice interactions. While the latter two companies are focused on doing the tracking of the data themselves and providing the information to their clients, StatsTrack is more focused on bringing the actual tech to them. Teams at various levels can collect the data for themselves and have it presented in a consumable format (though, from the looks of it, they do employ trackers for teams if the teams decide that it’s a necessary step).

Based on this piece by The Hockey News from 2015, Berehowsky’s philosophies go beyond the conventional shot metrics that dominate the public wealth of information:

The goal was to take numerous team and player evaluation criteria and track them more specifically, more accurately, in real time. Instead of defining puck possession via shot attempts, as is done right now, StatsTrack actually tracks how long certain players or lines have the puck. That’s true puck possession. “I believe just because a player’s shooting pucks on a net, that’s not telling the whole story,” Berehowsky said.

“We have zone time in ours. We calculate how many shots the players have taken, but also how long they’ve had puck possession. Just think, if your fourth line isn’t getting shots on net, it doesn’t mean they’re not doing their job.”

“To say that a line isn’t doing their job because they haven’t had many shots is a mistake. You look at the L.A. Kings, or when Boston won the Stanley Cup, that fourth line was a huge part of it. I’m sure they didn’t get many shots, but they were doing their job.”

With Toronto now over two years into their “analytics revolution”, I find it extremely hard to believe that they’d need to acquire a micro-statistics technology, so the idea that Berehowsky could be Orlando’s Head Coach and GM solely for the sake of his product is likely silly. But someone with an advanced familiarity with this kind of work is likely to be understanding and cooperative with the Leafs and Marlies staff as they pass along their own findings, and he might have his own ideas to bring to the table. 

He might also be able to help them execute a larger scale launch of data tracking in Orlando if they haven’t already done so. While the Solar Bears haven’t exactly become the third, baseball-like prospect hub that Kyle Dubas envisioned a year and a half ago, the team still hosts several Leafs and Marlies prospects and the organization’s fingerprints are sufficiently there. With the Marlies over-filled with minute-capable players, particularly up front, it’s only a matter of time before they have no choice but to use their ECHL affiliate in a way the league hasn’t seen before.

Having Berehowsky go in to modernize the team would be a sprinting start to doing so. If he doesn’t work out as the actual coach, an entirely possible outcome given his 0.324 points percentage over 216 games as a bench boss, the groundwork will at least be there.

Though, given the poor rosters he had with those three teams, it might be worth giving him the benefit of the doubt there. If nothing else, until that potential philosophy change hits high gear, the Solar Bears are a useful but non-essential part of the development sandbox. His first game will come on Thursday morning when Orlando takes on the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.

  • Albertan Leaf Fan!

    So after watching Drake take my local team to dumpster…. Which interestingly enough preformed extremely well last year after he was fired, I am needless to say a little concerned about this hire. I must say though that analytics side of the this hire does make me slightly more reassured.