When Jake Goldberg was promoted to assistant general manager of the OHL’s London Knights in early July, his extra duties meant he’d have to cut back on the number of minor midget hockey games he watches each year – from about 400 to around 300.
That’s because other management responsibilities will occupy his time, like organizing buses to take players from city to city, booking hotels, and organizing visas for foreign-born players. He’s also in charge of creating an expanded scouting team and developing an all-new proprietary analytics package to evaluate players.
For Goldberg, a self-professed “student of the game,” being immersed in hockey doesn’t feel like work. “It’s just fun, trying to figure out who’s better than who,” he said.
Goldberg, 26, relishes his new roles with the Knights, last year’s Memorial Cup champions. He’s been with the team for three years, two as an area scout and one as assistant director of scouting.
A lawyer with a strong interest in statistics, Goldberg is part of the new wave of number-crunching hockey guys who can quantify what the average fan sees on the ice – the so-called eye-test – and give management tools to evaluate players.
The move to analytics is becoming more and more accepted in the NHL.
“It’s definitely a growing trend,” but the OHL is behind the NHL in adopting it, Goldberg said. In that respect, the Knights are ahead of the curve, increasing their qualitative edge over other teams.
For Goldberg, that means hiring guys to go out to rinks and record minor-midget games of 16-year-olds so analysts can watch them and record key statistics.
But for the Toronto native, applying statistical analysis to the game he loves was a natural progression.
He grew up in a household where “it was hockey 24/7,” although his on-ice career peaked playing select for the Avenue Road Ducks. He attended Bialik Hebrew Day School and the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto before earning a dual law and honours business degree at the University of Western Ontario. One of his classes dealt with statistical analysis in sports businesses, such as correlating ticket sales to customer demographics, days of the week, packages, and so on.
While still in school, he approached the Tampa Bay Lightning to help evaluate players by using statistics. The team agreed, and four years ago, he and the team’s statistical analyst put together an analytical tool that proved successful.
It also helped him build his resume and give him credibility when he cold-called the Knights, offering to scout for free. As a test, they asked him watch some minor midget players and report on them. His report jibed with their evaluations, and pretty soon, he was scouting regularly for the team.
In his third year of law school, he took in about 125 games. He’d go to classes in the morning, study in the afternoon and watch hockey at night. Remarkably, the demanding pace didn’t affect his marks – he finished at the top of his class.
“I find that when you’re extremely busy, you get more done,” he explained.
In his articling year, at Cassels Brock in its business law group, he upped his attendance to about 240 games.
Despite a hectic schedule, his work never suffered. He was one of a handful of students offered a job after his articling year. While an associate, he went to 405 games, “and still had strong billable hours. I didn’t get much sleep,” he said.
He worked as a Knights scout for two years, then one year as assistant director of scouting, all while studying law and later working. Along the way, he helped scout key performers in the team’s Memorial Cup win.
He left Cassels at the end of July.
As for watching minor midget games, he’s planning to cut back this season to 300, plus another 100 OHL contests. After all, what’s 400 games a season when your work is something you love?