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Buzzing The Net

In absence of shot statistics, the Vancouver Giants keep their own

From above the ice, a scratch sees a different game than the players on the ice.Scott Cooke didn't play in this one, and none of the unmistakeable stench of hockey sweat prevalent in the hallway is his doing. As such, the area is populated mostly by trainers, equipment managers and stick boys wheeling around water bottles, towels and sweaters as Cooke, calmly, counts up the numbers on two clipboards using a brace board on a stretcher as a make-shift desk and recording them on a third.

Cooke is a right winger who with the Vancouver Giants, who have just beaten the Kamloops Blazers 5-3. The Blazers' Brendan Ranford, stills sweaty, is the only other player in the hallway, bouncing between local TV and radio interviews. The media personalities are waiting for any player who could give them insight into why the Blazers blew a 3-1 lead and lost on home ice with a chance to clinch the WHL's BC division.

None of them ask Cooke, who holds in his hands more information than you could find on the Western Hockey League's statistics pages or officially in the published box score. This gives the calm Cooke more time to add to the internal record of facts, statistics and numbers that the Giants keep.

"Don Hay loves his stats," Cooke told me during the game.

Hay won two Memorial Cups in Kamloops and is honoured as a "Blazer Legend" with a banner at the far end of the rink. The coach of Team Canada's world junior entry this year, also won a third Memorial Cup with the Giants in 2007. Hay has seen a lot of hockey in his day, but still -- like many other teams --  keeps an "eye in the sky" to keep track of the game.

The WHL publishes goals, assists, points and plus/minus stats for individual players. Individual shots on goal, a statistic that is regarded as highly as goals in some circles of NHL analysts, don't exist. Face-offs, or, what the Québec League calls "lancers dangereux" (dangerous shots) don't exist in the WHL either. Teams like the Giants, if they so choose, bank on internal data to get a clearer picture of the game outside of what the box score can offer them. As great as a coach Hay is, no matter how well he sees the game from behind the bench, there is use in numbers.

Who knows how many or which teams record numbers in this detail. Cooke has his clipboards in front of him, making a black tick with his pen indicating the Giants' shot blocks, breakout successes and failures, the number of shots for each player and their shooting locations.

"For the other team I just put down an 'X'," he says, pointing at a small diagram of the ice on one of his sheets. In each offensive zone on the page, there is a line that doesn't exist on the actual ice, that extends from the bottom of the crease diagonally to the face-off dot and travels to the top of the circle. This area, known as the "home plate area" is generally regarded as being the perimeter for scoring chance zones.

Cooke, who has played 32 games this year and alternates in and out of the Vancouver lineup, has three of these rink diagrams in front of him, one per period, and while Kamloops' shots are marked with an 'X' on the page, he's taken the time to record the jersey number of Vancouver players taking shots. When a shot is missed from inside the home plate area, he also counts it.

The numbers, particularly breakout success, provides a different perspective of the game, one that's closer to objective than a scout's emotions after a 3-2 win. Numbers and notes have better memories than the 58-year old Hay, as well, who walked out of the dressing room carrying two packed hockey bags slightly larger than the ones under his eyes. (Perhaps it was fatigue or the road trip, but Hay responds with: "Who's Scott?" when asked about Cooke's role.)

"I value stats," Hay says. "Game-to-game, you know, there's different ways to look at them."

Particularly the breakout statistic, which calculates exactly how much the team has turned the puck over game-to-game when leaving the zone. By calculating how many of the team's shots went for scoring chances, Hay knows exactly what to work on in practices.

"You can use stats a lot of different ways, good and bad, but it really tells the story of the game. We also keep stats that show how everybody contributed to our success and how valuable they are to the team."

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