Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract 2017: A Review

If you’ve read 2016’s Stat Shot, or any of Vollman’s previous Hockey Abstract books, then you pretty much already know what to expect from Hockey Abstract, and the 2017 edition sticks to the tried and tested formula. That method is pretty straight forward; start with a question, then look for the answer using statistics.

The foreword by Sportsnet’s Rob Kerr sets the scene well and establishes the dynamic between the reader and authors. Vollman’s own opening is warm and gives an endearing insight into the process behind producing the content that you’ll soon be diving into.  The book’s intent is made clear pretty early on, and although those who don’t believe in fancy stats are unlikely to buy this book, Hockey Abstract is here purely to progress the field and enhance the enjoyment of those who like to understand hockey at a different level by providing relatable content.

It helps to have read Stat Shot and the previous editions of Hockey Abstract, as references are made to previous works; and I highly recommend that you do, but if this is your first foray into the world that Vollman and friends inhabit then you’ll be fine. It’s not a math test either, math has never been my strongest subject and while there may have been the odd formula that left me scratching my head, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment as the text explains clearly what the numbers show.

Hockey Abstract’s biggest strength has always been its ability to take the phenomenally complex, and word it in such a way that even a novice (like myself) can understand. There’s no pretension or assumed level of understanding.

Each chapter is based around finding the answer to the question laid out, but like any good adventure, the real reward comes from the journey, and not the end destination. Hockey is a highly subjective sport and the math involved is mind-blowing, especially considering that a lot of the work is still done by hobbyists. You’ll find that questions provoke more questions, and the answers aren’t always forthcoming.

Tom Awad returns and opens the book well by asking How Good is Your Team, Really? There are explorations on why rebuilds fail and what goes into making a successful power play, through to the role artificial intelligence will have in hockey analytics. I’ll guarantee that there’s something in Hockey Abstract that will pique your interest.

Unfortunately Iain Fyffe doesn’t appear this time around. To fill that void Vollman has brought in an exciting new group of contributing authors for 2017, and each performs admirably. If I were to find one subjective fault, it’s that I didn’t feel the personality of each contributor come across in the different chapters. There were moments when I realised that I’d forgotten which author’s work I was reading. I suppose this is testament to how engrossing the content is and was my only trivial gripe. Most importantly; it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book in any way. I was definitely pleased to see Josh Smith’s wonderful illustrations again. They really are excellent.

So… if you skipped all that and just want to know if you should buy the book, then the answer is yes. It’s a solid piece of work and the team that put it together should be proud. I enjoyed reading it and discovering more about the world of hockey analytics. I highly recommend it.

To purchase this year’s Hockey Abstract, go to


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