If the Carolina Hurricanes, a national hockey league (NHL) team, are to be believed the answer is a qualified yes. The connection between chemistry at the nanoscale and hockey is in the person of Eric Tulsky. A Sept. 8, 2015 article by James Mirtle for the Globe and Mail spells out the details,
Tulsky, 40, is a Harvard- and Berkeley-educated chemist whose field up until two months ago was nanotechnology, which essentially means he’s an expert in the manipulation of matter on a molecular level. Now he’ll be trying to help an NHL team win hockey games.
“He’s an extremely bright guy,” Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said of his new hire, who is widely regarded as one of the top minds in hockey analytics. “We’re very excited that he decided to join us full-time and move to Raleigh.”
Tulsky spent the last few seasons working part-time for different NHL teams, including last year for Carolina. That the Hurricanes were able to woo him away from a high-paying tech job in the San Francisco Bay Area speaks to how far the league has come in terms of investment in data.
His promotion was one of nearly a dozen such personnel moves teams made over the off-season, building on what was an even busier hiring spree in 2014.
Canadian teams are also investing in data (from Mirtle’s article),
Last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs added Bruce Peter as a hockey research and development analyst, giving them four full-timers in a department that was created by assistant GM Kyle Dubas last season. Peter had been working for the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, and is expected to have a key role in improving the Toronto Marlies’ use of analytics in a league where few statistics are widely kept.
Mirtle provides further insight into why Tulsky was hired,
It’s a movement [hockey analytics] Francis – one of the highest-scoring players in NHL history – has embraced.
“There’s [sic] little, subtle things the analytics will tell you,” said Francis, who began studying advanced statistics after retiring in 2004. “There are certainly things in the analytics that go against the way that I was brought up to think the game at times, which is interesting. So you watch the games, you think you see things, and it’s another balance and check in the process.”
NHL teams are often secretive about these hires and the work these people do. But Tulsky wrote extensively in the public domain for a variety of publications prior to 2014, and the base principles he believes in are on record.
Much of his work concentrated on puck possession – through a statistic called Corsi – but he also made innovative gains in measuring the most effective way for teams to enter the offensive zone. That became part of a paper presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston that ultimately caught the attention of NHL players such as Zach Parise.
In short, Tulsky’s analysis quantified that dumping the puck into the opponent’s end was a much less effective way to generate scoring chances than attempting to retain possession.
In Carolina, he will be asked to push his work into uncharted territory, attempting to give the small-budget Hurricanes an advantage over other teams by dissecting the game in new ways. …
It’s an interesting story and while the nano connection is tangential at best, I’m Canadian and hockey season is almost with us. What more needs to be said?