AIHL: Understanding our place in the hockey world

Have you even found yourself wondering about the AIHL and where the quality of the hockey you are watching sits in the grand scheme of things?  If you have, you’ll be pleased to know that there is finally a way to gauge the league and how it performs against other leagues in the hockey world.  You can find a condensed version of the below information HERE.
 
 

Backstory

The AIHL, which is very much an amateur league in the sense that players receive little to no financial support or incentive, is one filled with proud Australians who view themselves as a very talented group – but there has never been any data to support that pride.  Many people have often doubted its quality, pointing to the success imports have in comparison to local players – but that may be due to a large amount of favourable ice-time being given to import players as the desire of teams to ‘win now’ tends to put even our most talented local players on the back-burner.  But now, the entire Australian Ice Hockey Community can collectively compare themselves against the rest of the world in a way that goes beyond the ‘eye-test’ and personal belief – with good old-fashioned statistics.

For a number of months now I have been um’ing and ah’ing about whether or not putting together a piece like this would be worthwhile, as I felt that any conclusions reached may not have been considered valid by the Australian Ice Hockey Community – or that the players themselves may have seen it as an attack on their ability to play the game.  But a few weeks after the end of the season I found myself having very little to pre-occupy myself with, and the Stats Man within me could no longer be kept at bay – I wanted to prove that the Australian Ice Hockey League was a legitimate league, despite the limited ice time and lack of awareness surrounding our game.

Compiling the data itself took a little over a week, and it is at this point that I must admit that the data is drawn entirely from EliteProspects.com – which itself is subject to errors but I chose to draw from a single source of data for consistency.  Had I chosen to mix in additional hockey databases, I would have run the risk of mixing in multiple collections of incorrect data – so by using a single source, I can say with some confidence that the conclusions reached in my findings are as accurate as EliteProspects itself.


Infographic

Australian Ice Hockey League


 

Methodology

Before setting out on my quest for stats, I felt like I needed to set myself a few ground rules – to make sure the information I was capturing was useful.  Firstly, all information capture is only from players who played abroad the season before coming to the AIHL – their season after playing in the AIHL was not included.  Why is that, you ask?  The simple answer is because I wanted this data to reflect how a players’ performance was impacted by coming to the AIHL from another league, not how well a player performed after having spent time playing in the AIHL (which is what my next piece will focus on).

All the data collected had to pass through two other criteria; the data must be relevant and it must be of an adequate sample size.

Relevant Data

The ensure that the data collected was relevant, I only collected data which was relevant to any particular point in a players’ career.  By this I mean that if a player, whether Australian or Import, played in the AIHL in a particular season – only the season prior would be considered.  This was to avoid looking at the history of a player and using point totals he put up 3 years prior, which would not be reflecting of how the player was performing at the time of their career when they were in Australia.

All the data was drawn from the season prior to or, thanks to the difference in seasons between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, same season as participating in the AIHL.

Sample Size

In all honestly, this wasn’t something I had factored into when I originally set out on my number crunching crusade.  However, after entering about 100 player-seasons worth of data something occurred to me – boy, there sure are a lot of players who only play a handle full of games in some leagues...  For this reason, I decided that if a player participated in less than 5 games in the AIHL or the foreign league that their point totals would not be considered.  This was to avoid the data be inflated by players suited up for 4 games or fewer and put up a Points Per Game Rate that not even Stephen Blunden himself could achieve.


Understanding Equivalency Ratings

The Equivalency Ratings are calculated using the Points per Game posted by each player in both leagues, these totals are adjusted for scoring trends in each league before ratings are calculated.

Equivalency Rating refers to the strength of a particular league in relation to the AIHL; with the AIHL serving as the base for this unit of measurement that means that it is represented by having a rating of zero.  If a league has a rating lower than zero, one could assume that it was not as strong as the AIHL and vice versa.  A piece of data that supports the validity of this rating system is that the multiple tiers of professional hockey in North America (FHL, SPHL, CHL, ECHL and AHL) are actually represented in ascending order using this system.

In addition to the Sample Size constraints put into place in regards to capturing data, there was also Sample Size constraint in regards to Equivalency Ratings before the data can be considered valid – and that is that there must be at least two AIHL Seasons (56 Games) of data collected.  This is purely because a small sample size cannot be trusted as a truly reflection of how a league performs.

It is also important to remember that Equivalency Ratings are merely a reflection of the numbers posted by players.  Equivalency rating does account for the varying scoring affects from league to league, but it cannot account for coaches who double-shift imports in offensive situations or a successful an Australian player playing abroad being given fourth line duties.  There are countless external factors that can impact the Equivalency Ratings, so please keep that in mind as we jump into what has been my most ambition undertaking so far.

 


The Breakdown

And this is the section you all ploughed through the above sections for, to find out how the AIHL stacks up against leagues around the world. Leagues will be listed from weakest to strongest, based solely on the Equivalency Ratings generated.

Belgium Royal Ice Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: -1.341 / Sample Size: 62 Games

The Belgium Royal Ice Hockey League is a league is listed as both amateur and semi-professional, depending on where you look.  This league is the lowest rated league in terms of Equivalency Ratings, as the differential in Points per Game when considering the Scoring Trends makes the AIHL seem like it holds the advantage in terms of competition.  Greg Oddy & Robbie Lawrance both collected an extra Point per Game in the BRIHL than in the AIHL.

The II-Divisioona:
Equivalency Rating: -1.248 / Sample Size: 180 Games

The II-Divisioona, an amateur league, is the 4th Tier of competitive hockey in Finland.  The AIHL has actually had more Australian players participate in this league than foreign players, with players such as Wehebe Darge & The Kudla Brothers (Simon & David) all having a shot in the best amateur league Finland as to offer.

The Praire Junior Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: -0.984 / Sample Size: 71 Games

The Praire Junior Hockey League (PJHL), a B-Level Junior league, may not be a league which many people take a lot of pride in being rated higher than – however it is important to note Canada is an elite hockey nation – with junior leagues that could put many smaller nations top leagues to shame. The CBR Brave’s Harrison Byers is the lone representative in this league.

Icelandic Ice Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: -0.971 / Sample Size: 75 Games

The Icelandic Ice Hockey League, an amateur league which played host to Ben DiMarco for the 2013-2014 Season, proved to be less competitive than the AIHL when DiMarco saw his Points per Game rate plummet from 2.45 to 1.15 after coming Down Under for the 2014 Season.  Regression was expected, as AIHL matches typically see 1.5 less goals per game.

Oberliga:
Equivalency Rating: -0.567 / Sample Size: 199 Games

A Semi-Professional, third tier league in Germany – the Oberliga is a league in which the Australian Ice Hockey League can take comfort in keeping company with.  Third Tier status aside, the Oberliga is nonetheless a Semi-Professional League – a term often given to the AIHL in attempts to promote the league as something grander than the volunteer-run amateur league we all know and love.

National Ice Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: -0.460 / Sample Size: 70 Games

Not to be confused with the National Hockey League, the National Ice Hockey League is the thrd tier league in the United Kingdom and is described as being an amateur league.  The National Ice Hockey League sent over David Manning (Adelaide) and Alistair Band (Canberra) during the 2013 AIHL Season – neither player was a world-beater during their time here, nor were they out of their depth.  Which is to be expected when coming from a league rated slightly lower than the AIHL.

New Zealand Ice Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: -0.289 / Sample Size: 223 Games

New Zealand, our Trans-Tasman Rivals, have their own national amateur league – which is now home to Gold Coast Bluetongues dynamo Mike McRae.  The NZIHL possesses similar scoring trends to the AIHL (3.7 Goals per Team, per Game) however all players who played in both the AIHL & NZIHL saw their point totals drop in the Australian League, presumably due to the stiffer competition.

Western States Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: -0.241 / Sample Size: 57 Games

The Western State Hockey League (WSHL), is an A-Level Junior League in North America which is currently playing host to Sydney Ice Dog’s Tyler Kubara & and Sydney Bear’s Cameron Todd.  Kubara & Todd’s decision to sign with the San Diego Gulls is one that will pay dividends in the future for Australian Ice Hockey, as the playing time afforded to them in a developmental league is surely greater than what is offered here in Australia.

East Coast Super League:
Equivalency Rating: -0.235 / Sample Size: 1567 Games

The East Coast Super League is Australia’s second-tier Amateur Ice Hockey league, and has served as a stepped stone for many current AIHL players.  Currently there it is not common place for players to be called up to or re-assigned, which I personally feel would be beneficial for both leagues.  Regardless of the inability of players to frequently move from one league to the other, the ECSL really is only a step behind the AIHL in terms of the quality of hockey – with imports most likely being the real difference makers, due to their immediate impact on the ice and their ability to create internal competition within clubs for players to work harder for ice time.

Heritage Junior Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: -0.084 / Sample Size: 88 Games

The Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) has a real Melbourne Ice flavour to it, as Sonny Bal & Mitch Humphries are the only players to have come straight over to the AIHL.  The HJHL is a B-Level Junior Ice Hockey League, which again is promising for the AIHL as it provides a level of competitiveness that rivals developmental leagues in the hockey oasis of North America.

Australian Junior Ice Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: -0.065 / Sample Size: 1013 Games

Australia’s premier developmental hockey league, the AJIHL has contributed to the hockey abilities of countless AIHL regulars.  It may seem a little odd to many individuals that the top junior league in Australia may be so closely comparable to the AIHL, however there is a very reasonable explanation for this – adulthood.  The Australian Junior Ice Hockey League facilitates junior players to help them improve their hockey skills over the summer – however, once these players become to old for junior leagues they are afforded fewer opportunities to play the game.  Older AIHL players tend to have to pay-to-play and fit hockey into their daily lives when they aren’t busy with full-time employment – it is the amateur status of the AIHL, coupled with limited availability of ice time for training, that is preventing on-going development for all players; thus creating a glass-ceiling for most of the Ice Hockey enthusiasts of Australia.

British Columbia Ice Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: -0.025 / Sample Size: 142 Games

The BCIHL is a second-tier college hockey program in Canada, which has frequently being the hockey of Newcastle North Star’s forward Beau Taylor during the Australian summer.  Personally, I view the BCIHL as the best comparable league to the AIHL in terms of the quality of hockey put on the ice.  AIHL players are juggling full-time employment and other commitments, while BCIHL players are juggling study and other commitments – it may be an unpopular opinion amongst the Australian Ice Hockey Community, however I believe we need to be realistic when placing expectations on our league in terms of where it stands in the world.

Western Ontario AA Senior Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: 0.117 / Sample Size: 80 Games

The Western Ontario AA Senior Hockey League, or WOAA, is listed as a senior and semi-professional league – which in my opinion should be seen a real shot of confidence that the AIHL is headed in the right direction.  Although the WOAA is not an elite or world-famous hockey league, it is a semi-professional league in which players are actually paid to play in the hockey hot-bed of Ontario.  To me, it is a testament to the dedication of our players that the AIHL is in same range as a league with as many financial advantages as the WOAA.

Federal Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: 0.150 / Sample Size: 414 Games

Another league that the AIHL should be taking pride in being so closely comparable to is the FHL, which classifies itself as a professional hockey league.  Once again, these is a league in which individuals are paid to play hockey – and the amateur players of the AIHL are providing some very stiff competition for any imports who make the journey across The Pacific.  Part of

United State Premier Hockey League (Elite):
Equivalency Rating: 0.322 / Sample Size: 63 Games

Better known as the USPHL Elite, this league is a third-tier A-level junior league in North America.  This Equivalency Rating was possible thanks to Western Australian Defenseman Jamie Woodman, who split the 2014 season between the USPHL Elite, WASL & AIHL.  Once again, the AIHL should not be discouraged by their position in relation to a junior league such as this – as the USPHL is a part of a network of leagues which provide many NCAA players and NHL draftees.  It is important to not that the USPHL Elite comes with only a 63 games sample size, so it is reasonable to expect this Equivalency Rating to drop over time.

Sweden – Division 1:
Equivalency Rating: 0.978 / Sample Size: 295 Games

Deceptively titled Division 1, this is actually the third-tier league of Sweden – a Semi-Professional league one step below the Allsvenskan.  To put into perspective what kind of player you get when you take a player from a league with an Equivalency Rating of 0.978, you need not look further than the most recent AIHL Season in which Victor Gibbs Sjodin was a dominant force the finals.

North America 3 Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: 1.284 / Sample Size: 63 Games

The NA3HL may be rated slightly higher than reality due to only having a 63 game sample size – however, it is still indicative of where the league may sit compared to the AIHL.  The NA3HL is a third-tier A-level junior league in North America that played host to Mitch Humphries (M. Ice) during the 2013 season.

2. Národní Hokejová Liga:
Equivalency Rating: 1.314 / Sample Size: 224 Games

Known as the 2. Liga for short, this is the third-tier competition of the Czech Republic as like most European nations – is the lowest level of Semi-Professional hockey in the country.  The most notable player drawn from this league is former Sydney Bears scoring machine Tomas Landa, who piled on 58 points in 24 games back in 2012.

France – Division 1:
Equivalency Rating: 1.611 / Sample Size: 85 Games

Division 1, as it is referred to, is the second-tier competition in France – it is a Semi-Professional league below The Ligue Magnus.  Jack Wolgemuth (Mustangs) is the most notable player drawn from this league, who went from a 0.5 points per game player in Division 1 to posting 43 points in 27 games in the AIHL.

Eredivisie:
Equivalency Rating: 1.759 / Sample Size: 542 Games

The Eredivisie a semi-professional, top-level league in Netherlands.  The Eredivisie has an Equivalency Rating of 1.759, and for good reason – as players drawn from this league can be directly linked to success.  The Melbourne Ice lured over Jason Baclig & Matt Armstrong (who made stops in the IHL, SPHL & Oberliga) from the Eredivisie in 2010 before going on to win three consecutive AIHL Championships.

British Columbia Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: 2.176 / Sample Size: 98 Games

The BCHL is the highest rated junior league in terms of Equivalency rating, however that may be thanks to the most notable player to come from that league, Joey Hughes, who no doubt inflated the BCHL’s Equivalency Rating by posting 15 points in 5 games after coming to the AIHL – which without a doubt is why this Junior A-Level league from Canada’s West Coast has such a favourable Equivalency Rating.  At this point in time, it may be worthwhile to disregard the BCHL’s Equivalency Rating until more data is made available.

Elite Ice Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: 3.239 / Sample Size: 443 Games

The EIHL is the top league in the United Kingdom, which is considered to be a professional league.  The EIHL has not been a league targeted by the AIHL for talent, however despite this lack of frequency drawing players from underneath her majesty’s eye – the EIHL has given Australia one of it’s most infamous hockey players, Jeff Smith.  Part of why the Elite Ice Hockey League is rated so highly, along with many of the other professional leagues to follow, is because goal scoring is a far less frequent event.  In essence, this indicates that we should actually see players point totals increase relative to the league they are participating in – when in actual fact we are seeing players having much, much more offensive success in the AIHL than predicted.

Southern Professional Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: 3.411 / Sample Size: 731 Games

The Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) appears to have become a particularly popular league for the AIHL, in terms of importing talent.  The SPHL has given then AIHL offensive beasts such as Justin Fox, John Clewlow & Chris Wilson – just to name a few.  The SPHL is the fifth-tier of Professional Hockey in North America and is a league that I predict we will continue to see numerous AIHL clubs targetting when they are in search of an offensive threat (Sydney Bears, take note).

Canadian Interuniversity Sport:
Equivalency Rating: 3.883 / Sample Size: 159 Games

The CIS is the highest level College hockey program available within Canada.  It is thanks to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport League that the CBR Brave were able to have such a successful campaign in 2014 – with Stephen Blunden and Mathieu Ouellette graduating from the University of Ottawa and deciding to come over and create absolute chaos for goaltenders in the AIHL.

Metal Ligaen:
Equivalency Rating: 7.230 / Sample Size: 66 Games

The award for the most hardcore sounding hockey league definitely goes to the top professional league in Denmark, The Metal Ligaen.  The Equivalency Rating for the Metal Ligaen is one that I suspect is a little high due to the relatively small sample size – as Niko Suoranieme (Adelaide) is the only player available to draw data from.

National Collegiate Athletic Association:
Equivalency Rating: 11.682 / Sample Size: 269 Games

The NCAA, a world-renowned developmental college league, is a league I expected to have a much larger sample size available – as many graduates who failed to sign pro hockey contracts in North America may have decided to cross The Pacific Ocean and have a hockey-holiday in Australia.  Maybe Cody Danberg (Newcastle), who absolutely tore up the AIHL, can have a word to some of his college buddies looking for a fresh start.

Central Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: 12.508 / Sample Size: 492 Games

The Central Hockey League, better known as the CHL (not to be confused with the Canadian Hockey League), is a fourth-tier professional hockey league in North America that is a secondary affiliate league for the NHL’s affiliate league, the American Hockey League.  The CHL has given the AIHL game changers like Justin Fox (Perth) and Matt Puntureri (Ice Dogs).

East Coast Hockey League:
Equivalency Rating: 16.533 / Sample Size: 143 Games

The ECHL is the third-tier professional hockey league in North America, and is like the CHL as it serves as the primary affiliate of the NHL’s development league of the AHL.  Players from this level of hockey rarely make their way over to the AIHL, as they are knocking on the door of the AHL and a chance at impressing NHL scouts.  But when these players do decide to spend some time in the Australian Ice Hockey League, they provide some of the most spectacular hockey this country has seen.  A player I will never forget seeing live, Mike Forney, was absolutely dominant in the AIHL – dominant on a level I had never seen before.  It was almost cheating that Perth was allowed to put him on the ice.

Mestis:
Equivalency Rating: 17.802 / Sample Size: 143 Games

The Mestis the another fantastic league that AIHL teams, if given the opportunity, should attempt to recruit players from.  The Mestis is a second-tier professional league in Finland, just being the Liiga.  To this day, it appears that only Canberra has been able to draw over Finish players and they’ve been reaping the rewards.  Anton Kokkonen spent the 2013-2014 season with TuTo before being convinced to come to Australia (presumably by Mark Rummukainen) and adding to the already impressive firepower possessed by the club.

 


Small Sample-sized Leagues

The following leagues were omitted from the above list, I didn’t believe they have an adequate enough sample size for the data to truly represent the level that particular league is at.

  •  III Divisioona     – Equivalency Rating: -0.722  /  Sample Size: 25 games.
  • Division 3 (Swe) – Equivalency Rating: 0.019  /  Sample Size: 36 games.
  • Soumi-Sarja        – Equivalency Rating: 1.201  /  Sample Size: 43 games.
  • MOL Liga             – Equivalency Rating: 1.429  /  Sample Size: 34 games.
  • SJHL                     – Equivalency Rating: 1.496  /  Sample Size: 32 games.
  • Chinook HL         – Equivalency Rating: 1.951  /  Sample Size: 36 games.
  • Division 2 (Swe) – Equivalency Rating: 7.732  /  Sample Size: 38 games.
  • Ligue Magnus     – Equivalency Rating: 7.827  /  Sample Size: 40 games.
  • NLA                      – Equivalency Rating: 47.329  /  Sample Size: 38 games.
  • AHL                      – Equivalency Rating: 70.902  /  Sample Size: 34 games.

 


Thoughts & Opinions

After completing my Equivalency Ratings I was a little unsure about how I felt towards the way things had panned out.  At first I was even a little hesitant to make the findings public, because a part of me felt like players (whether in the AIHL or ECSL) would have been offended, feeling like they deserved to be higher up the list.  But at the end of the day, all hockey players participating in either the AIHL, AJIHL or ECSL are all great players when you consider how young the sport is in Australia.  Ice Hockey really is still a baby in Australia when you compare it to other nations and if anything, our players may be over-acheiving when you consider the fact that the entire league is run by volunteers and played by great guys who at the end of the day have to go home and get ready to go to work the next day.

Australian Ice Hockey is at a crucial point in terms of its development, we’ve just come off one of our most successful seasons to date and we are starting to see the benefits of having a league like the AJIHL in place.  The quality of hockey is on the way up, but for any major progress to be made the league is going to have to smash through the glass ceiling by find major sponsorship or a way to life the amateur label and free players up to spend more time practicing.

In conclusions, thanks to anyone and everyone who’s taken the time to read this entire article or even have a look at the infographic I created – I do this purely to enhance the way we all think about the game and if this article has provided you with at least one ‘well that’s interesting‘ moment than I have done my job.

I look forward to bringing you more ways to look at the Australian Ice Hockey League in the future, until then… GO CANUCKS GO!

 

Please feel free to share your feedback in the contact form below, as without it I cannot improve the way I build, utilize and present my findings to you; the hockey fans of Australia.


 

Awaiting Scoring Affects

The following list of leagues were unable to be given an Equivalency Rating due to a lack of data available online regarding goal scoring trends.  Should you find a website containing a minimum of three years worth of Goal Scoring totals, please let me know in the contact form below and I will be able to generate the Equivalency Rating of that league.

  • All American Hockey League (AAHL)
  • Atlantic Junior Hockey League (AtJHL)
  • Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL)
  • Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL)
  • Empire Junior Hockey League (EmJHL)
  • English National Ice Hockey League (ENL)
  • France U22 Hockey League.
  • Germany 4th Tier Hockey.
  • Germany 5th Tier Hockey.
  • Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League (GMHL)
  • J20 Elit Hockey League.
  • Junior A I-Divisioona Hockey League.
  • Junior A III-Divisioona Hockey League.
  • Junior B2 I-Divisioona Hockey League.
  • Junior A Mestis Hockey League.
  • Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL)
  • Metropolitan Junior Hockey League (MetJHL).
  • Midget Hockey League.
  • Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL)
  • Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League (MMJHL)
  • Mountain West Hockey League (MWHL)
  • North American Hockey League (NAHL)
  • National Collegiate Athletic Association III.
  • Newfoundland Senior Hockey League (NLSHL)
  • Ontario East AAA Minor Hockey League (OEMHL)
  • Ontario Junior A Hockey League (OJHL)
  • Ontario Junior Hockey League (OPJHL)
  • Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League (QJAAAHL)
  • Switzerland Tier 4 Hockey League.
  • UBC Thunderbird Adult Hockey League (UBCTAHL)
  • Western Australian Super League (WASL)

 

Contact

 

Sean Lopez

Sean Lopez

Hockey for me has always been a numbers game and I can't help but want to constantly find more ways to bring a more comprehensive understanding of what is going on in the AIHL to its' fans. I spend a lot of my spare time building up a personal database of statistics, some call it an obsession but I just call it hockey.
Sean Lopez

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