Awesome. I'm pretty sure some folks around the Oilogosphere might pick a different word that begins with "A", but I'm also quite certain that's the way Vic would want it. In my book though, totally awesome.
I've always been a big fan of hockey, whether it's been playing, watching, or learning about the game. From the time I turned five years old I was playing the sport at an organized level, or at least as organized as you can be at the age of five. As I recall, lying down in front of the net was always a pretty successful strategy in that first year, and most teams employed it at least some of the time, much to the chagrin of the coaches. Over time, we all learned - all of us except maybe Dominik Hasek - that the coaches were right and flopping around on our bellies wasn't the best goaltending strategy available. I learned many more lessons like that one through experience over the next several years - how to shoot, to pass, to receive a pass, to turn sharply, to backcheck, to take a faceoff, and on it goes - but I don't think I've ever learned more about the game itself in a three-year period than I have in the last three years, and the first man to thank is Vic.
There are, of course, some personal reasons for my saying that. I've had numerous monitor-to-monitor conversations with the guy, and they've always been both enlightening and entertaining. He also encouraged me to start blogging again despite not knowing me from Adam even though I'd shut it down after about a month. But personal reasons aside, Vic Ferrari has given the online community a ridiculous amount over the last several years.
He was the first to push the concept of "Corsi" ratings as a tool for evaluating players, using it as a proxy for zone time and encouraging others to do the same; he gave us the Zone Shift metrics, which helped to show even more of the context behind the boxcars; he persuaded many that "shot quality" was nearly mythical in the NHL today and trumpeted the the impact that luck has on the game. And he explained the concepts in such a way that people like me who don't know much math could actually understand. Smart guy. If you haven't read through all of his stuff at Irreverent Oil Fans, you most definitely should.
But perhaps the most significant gift is Vic's selfless programming. He created all of the Time On Ice tools, which have been instrumental in my changing knowledge of the game. When Dennis King began counting scoring chances, Vic thought they'd have value, so he wrote a program to make the task about a million times easier. Now, because it's not so labour-intensive, there are many more trackers online. This, no doubt, thanks to Vic. But that's not the only thing Time on Ice can do. I can look at shift charts after every game, or a graph showing how much time each player spent on the ice against each opponent; I can look up how many faceoffs each player took in the offensive or defensive zone in a game, or in a season; I can look up the Corsi ratings for teams and players with the score tied, or close, or when the team is in the lead or trailing. I can use the tools to do a With or Without You analysis (as Derek did earlier today with his Corsi WoWY on Nicklas Lidstrom). I can do all of this on my own, learn for myself, and help to advance the discussion. I can train myself to watch hockey more sensitively by writing down observations as I watch and then testing them against hard data. And it's all freely available. Jesus.
And for me, that's what watching hockey is about. I want to better understand the game, and to learn while still being a fan. I can't think of any tool that's helped me more than Time on Ice or any person who's helped more than Vic. So Vic, if you're reading, consider this a well-earned and seldom-received, "Thanks".