The “spread” has no place in youth hockey

Black Bear Sports Group recently started the Hockey Power Rankings (“HPR”) as an alternative to MyHockeyRankings (“MHR”). MyHockeyRankings has been the only ranking source in youth hockey for many years and originally was used to help families schedule competitive games. Unfortunately, as its power grew, people and organizations have weaponized the use of MHR. Many teams refuse to play scheduled games for fear it will decrease their ranking. Many teams won’t pull a goalie in a close game for fear of giving up an empty net goal which will harm their rankings. many organizations have figured out that playing a small bubble of teams/games protects their strength of schedule which, given that losses do not matter in MHR, artificially increases their ranking. Ultimately this is particularly important for national bound teams as USA Hockey and their affiliates are now using MHR for qualification for district and national at-large selections.

The primary problem with MHR is that its system creates a “rating” for teams that sadly are not based on wins. The higher the rating, the higher the ranking. To simplify things, the rating is based on strength of schedule and goal differentials. The rating difference between teams represents the projected score differential (the “spread”) between teams when they play. If you beat that spread, regardless of winning or losing, your ranking rises. If you do not beat the spread, your rating falls – hence the problem with pulling the goalie and giving up an empty net goal – it could damage your spread if the spread is one goal. Moreover, MHR will not share how the rating is calculated in any fashion, leaving people to wonder if teams start the season equally or if there is a carryover from the previous season. The lack of transparency from MHR makes their rating/rankings even more powerful and dangerous.

The Hockey Power Rankings is based on KRACH – the same formula used by College Hockey Power Rankings systems, one of the rankings used by NCAA Division 1 College Hockey. HPR uses wins and strength of schedule – goal differential is not relevant. We are not trying to displace MHR; instead, we are trying to give alternatives for USA Hockey, coaches and families to make decisions. We believe that teams should not be forced to turn down games due to fear of the “spread.” We hope the HPR allows teams to play more local games, limit travel, and reduce the overall costs of playing the game.

Finally, Black Bear is the largest customer of GameSheet, the electronic scoring system that, as a result of Black Bear adopting it two years ago, has now become the national standard. Black Bear asked GameSheet to provide HPR electronic access to the games that GameSheet produces, similar to the access that MHR has to ensure accuracy of posted scores. GameSheet has some form of agreement with MHR that precludes anyone else from accessing this data. Black Bear asked that MHR allow HPR access to the GameSheet data and MHR refused. Black Bear responded that if MHR will not give access to its data, then MHR could not have access to Black Bear’s data. It is a shame that MHR is acting this way – everyone is suffering because of their decisions. Black Bear stands willing to share access to its data if MHR changes their mind.

In the meantime, we have always believed that choices are better. If people do not like the HPR, they will not come to the site. If they do, we believe youth hockey will be better off.