Maybe it was too storybook for the hockey gods to let happen. With the clock quickly approaching zero and the season on the line, St. Michaels Buzzers captain Cameron Searles roofed home a backhand to give himself a hat trick and force overtime.

Or so we thought at first, before the officials ruled that time had expired. Looking back at the tape, the margin of possibility appears to be about 0.06 seconds – impossible to argue one way or another. Instead of pushing the game a little bit further, the shot becomes the last of Cameron’s OJHL career (hopefully not the last of his hockey career – he doesn’t have a commitment yet but there are a lot of schools that he could add talent and leadership to).

Nonetheless, I couldn’t be prouder of the effort he put in, or the rest of this team. While we got swept in our second-round series against the North York Rangers – an incredibly good team with title aspirations – we were extremely competitive for every second of the round, more so than anyone would have given us credit for prior. We picked up our first series win since 2012/13 against the Toronto Patriots and closed out our season with our second-best record in that seven-year stretch.

While it wasn’t the result we wanted it, it was no doubt a result that turned a lot of heads. The team loses a few key players in Cameron, league goal-scoring leader Colton Trumbla, and defensive swiss-army-knife and fan favourite Francesco Luca, but a strong young core remains to step into their shoes; it may not come overnight, but great things are yet to come for this group.

Personally, I joined the group a little later into the season, committing my time to the team just after New Years. The gears began to spin a little bit earlier, though. As many of you know, I started off this season tracking every Toronto Marlies game (more on that in a bit), and I’m always looking for ways to make my methods more efficient. After designing a new version of my tracking sheet in early November, I headed down to St. Michael’s Arena to catch the Buzzers’ afternoon game against the Patriots. I tracked what I had, plugged it into my system, and showed it to Victor Criscuolo, the team’s assistant coach, after the game.

Vic was immediately interested, and I came back a couple of times in the next few weeks to track more games. Soon, I was invited to sit down with team GM and head coach Rich Ricci, we went through what kind of insight my work could bring, and we shelled out a plan for the rest of the year.

I can’t thank Rich & Vic enough for the opportunity to collaborate this season, for a lot of reasons. It added some public legitimacy to my projects – that these weren’t just pipe dreams yelled into a laptop. More importantly, a live environment outside of the online analytics echo-chamber was massive for improving the ins-and-outs of the process; new data points are being explored based on feedback, new ideas are being prioritized, and seeing some of the collaboration come into on-ice action allows for adjustments in a way that hoping that a team you just write about does similar just can’t do.

The lack of TV timeouts and the urgency to get info to the coaching staff during intermission, post-game, and between games meant learning how to make the tracking process simpler yet more robust, and the input process much more automatic; the physical and digital tools I’m working with in March are much improved on what we started with in November and what I was using publicly earlier in the year.

Most importantly, though, I think this whole stretch affirmed that this is the side of the game I want to get myself more involved in moving forward. I’ve said for years that my end-game for a career is hockey-related and that the exacts of it weren’t important. While I enjoy writing, it’s an means to an end to keep involved in the game I love – these past few months with the Buzzers, however, made it clear to me that my heart is in the operations side of the game. I’d like to pursue that as my main option moving forward, and Rich & Vic’s willingness to bring me into the fold kickstarted that.

I’d also like to thank the rest of the team and arena staff for being as welcoming as they were from Day 1 and I learned the ropes of the team and the league – it made a world of difference and established the rink as a home not too far away from home pretty quickly.

Our opposing rinks were also very friendly and accommodating; I did most of our further-away road games via stream, but a specific thank you goes to the Toronto Patriots, North York Rangers, and Toronto Jr. Canadiens, who’s rinks I dropped into plenty of times during the regular season and playoffs (even when we weren’t playing, just to soak in more of the league), and always got a welcome reception.

The players and their families were also great and made me feel like part of the team pretty instantaneously. A specific shoutout goes to our injured players and scratches who helped with some expanded tracking ideas – Joseph Giovenco, Dylan DiTomaso, Kevin Serio, Jack Watson, Brad Somers, Francesco Reda, and Finn Brown all contributed to adding an extra layer to an already robust library

What’s Next?

That all sounds like a goodbye letter, but it’s more of a “goodbye for now and I appreciate the hello” letter. As it stands, I’m looking forward to continued collaboration with the Buzzers and hopefully, we can continue to expand our methods and info-base even further with time to prepare.

With that said, I also remain open to other forms of collaboration in the hockey world: my email is jeff@veillette.me, or you can find me on LinkedIn here.

In the meantime, the end of our season means a return to writing and operating this site in the coming days. To be honest, there was no commitment limitation that prevented me from writing – it was more a matter of focusing my efforts on something new that was worthy of my full attention to build from the ground up, and preventing my own personal burnout.

The Marlies tracking project will resume in the coming days, including catching up to all missed games. I expect that the database that’s available to subscribers will be fully up to date before the regular season ends, if not sooner. I also have a plethora of articles that are in my queue to write; Leafs and NHL thoughts before that’s done, Marlies and AHL thoughts after.

I also plan on spending the next few months getting some personal stuff in order and working on a few more technical skills, now that the time has freed up and I’ve got a greater sense of direction than before. To be honest, I’m really excited about the future – both for this team, and for myself.

Now it’s up to all of us to seize the opportunities ahead. I’m pretty confident that we can.

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