In Which Versteeg Was Our Biggest Shootout Blessing
You can’t reminisce on the 2016-17 season without thinking about just how good Kris Versteeg was for the Calgary Flames in the shootout. A dreaded way to end any hockey game, Versteeg took matters into his own hands and put on shows that made staying until the very end worth it. He converted on 4 out of 5 shootout attempts, his lone miss coming from his first attempt against the Vancouver Canucks. If you dare recall, that was a game that was won 2-1 by Vancouver, with the only Flames’ goal being courtesy of Loui Eriksson. Lo and behold, it was Troy Brouwer who was credited with the goal. Even when he did put up stats he was decidedly absent. What a surprise. You can’t blame Versteeg for their scoring woes that night.
The next four times Versteeg went 1-on-1 with a goalie, he did not disappoint. The four goalies victimized by Versteeg’s craftiness were: Corey Crawford, Devan Dubnyk, Matt Murray, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Each goalie had their turns watching as Versteeg leisurely skated towards them before making one fancy move after another, sending the puck to the back of the net in awe-inspiring fashion. Watching the video footage of the goals has been a great pastime to get through the offseason. To depict just how effective Versteeg was in the shootout, I wanted to make a visualization capturing the puck movement whenever he scored. I manually tracked the puck path during Versteeg’s shootout goals, and used SolidWorks, a 3D CAD program, to create models of the puck paths.
Though the method of creating the visualization is a bit crude, it shows the general movement of the puck. Alternatively, you can achieve higher fidelity in the puck path by applying mathematical transformations to get the projections from the video footage into the coordinate planes used in the model… but linear algebra was never my forte.
Tracing the path of a puck in arbitrary space can be rather difficult. With no reference points to work with, it would be nearly impossible to get an accurate depiction of the puck path. The best reference I could work with was simply a model of an NHL rink. The NHL Rulebook provided many crucial dimensions for the rink, markings, and nets. With this information, I set out to recreate an actual size model NHL ice rink. By making it actual size, no scaling factors were required and it was a lot easier to wrap my head around the size of objects and distances. Once the required features were in place, I tweaked the appearance of the model, such as colour and lighting until it looked presentable. The result was as follows:
Related: Calgary Flames New Arena Timeline
From here, it was just a matter of watching Versteeg score over and over again until I could transcribe what I see from the video footage into the solid model and create the puck paths. By and large, this is definitely not what people refer to when they say “eye-test.” The video footage of the goals were highlights from NHL.com, providing a limited but usable view of the puck for each goal. One thing that was certain, it is impossible to get sick of watching Versteeg score goals.
Each puck path was then made using a series of curves merged together. Most of the time, the puck remained on the ice surface, which leads to 2D translation of the puck. However, there were instances where the puck was airborne, mainly after a shot release. To incorporate the 3D information, a high degree of interpretation was required. The entire process of tracing the puck path was open to my own subjectivity. Admittedly, there are inaccuracies with this method, especially due to the changing camera angles and the speed of Versteeg’s puck handling. However, the resultant puck paths are fairly representative of the shootout goals. The general direction the puck travelled and all stickhandling instances were captured by this method.
Once the paths were all traced, it was just a matter of taking the sketches and turning them into 3D paths. A circle with a diameter of three inches was swept along the length of each path to create a tubular form for the paths.
Here are the visualizations of all four of Versteeg’s goals. Orienting the entire model such that the views are appropriate for presentation, I then rendered each view into the following images:
The first view here feels familiar if you’ve played any hockey video game before, and really puts you right into the rink.
Note that the colours used here are consistent for all other views. The next views are the top and isometric views, which together should give a pretty good sense of where the puck is in space.
And finally, the isometric view with the rink removed, showing just the puck paths in their abstract glory.
Watch the video footage of the goals below for comparison:
Versteeg vs. Dubnyk (skip to 3:50)
With the extremely small sample size, it was seen that Versteeg preferred skating down the left side before making a move. Saving his best handiwork for when he was right in front of the net, it was impossible to predict whether Versteeg was going to shoot backhand or forehand. Quite frankly, he probably went where the goalie was not. So a note to all goalies who face Versteeg next season in the shootout: Don’t even bother. Skate a few feet to the side of the net and save yourself the embarrassment.
As I’ve mentioned before, these visualizations are not perfect by any means. It was what I was able to create on SolidWorks using available video footage. If there were additional camera angles, more reference points could be used to increase the accuracy. For the time being, I hope that these visualizations at least provide a new perspective on shootout goals.
In summary, the entire purpose of this exercise was to make sure everyone appreciates Versteeg’s nifty shootout goals even more than they already do. The work put into this was purely out of appreciation for Versteeg. It certainly gets me excited knowing he will be with us for at least one more year.
What do you think of the visualization? Is there any other player or similar type of visualization you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments or @mrbilltran on Twitter!