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Q&A: Mike Burse of Mike's Mumbles

Mike Burse, creator of Mike's Mumbles -- a website dedicated to advanced women's hockey stats -- has recently launched his CWHL database, which is still in progress. He graciously agreed to chat with me a little bit about the process behind it and where he sees the project going. You can bookmark the website at mikesmumbles.com and follow Mike on Twitter at @MikesMumbles1.

How long have you followed women's hockey? What got you interested in creating a database for it?

I started to follow women's hockey beginning in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. So I grew up as a fan of Cassie Campbell, Jennifer Botterill and Sami Jo Small largely. I followed the women's game heavily during [each] Olympics while letting my interest wane until the next Games. By the time the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver took place I had been writing for Bleacher Report since 2006, and I started to more closely follow the women's game after 2010.

My first women's hockey article on Bleacher Report was posted in May 2009. It was very short but it was the beginning of my deep dive into the sport... Then in October 2010 I was lucky enough to do an interview with Sami Jo Small and from there my interest grew exponentially. As I grew more interested in the sport I realized there was very little coverage of the women's game out there. I felt that they deserved every bit as good of coverage as the NHL players received. So I shifted from Bleacher Report and launched Outlook Hockey as an outlet to provide coverage of the Women's game.

Right around the same time I was lucky to find Jaclyn Hawkins great site, Women's Hockey Life. Between Outlook Hockey and Women's Hockey Life I provided a fair amount of coverage during the summer of 2012 for the CWHL. I was also happy to have some of my work reposted on to the CWHL's website.
In the fall of 2012 I then received the opportunity to write for Sportsnet's now defunct Fan Fuel section about the CWHL and did a series of team previews for the 2012 season. After that I became very busy with my wife and growing family and shut down Outlook Hockey while also stepping away from Sportsnet.

Then in April 2013 I started writing for The Hockey Writers, and this is where my interest in advanced hockey statistics, better known as fancy stats, came to the forefront. I developed a great deal as a writer there and owe creator Bruce Hollingdrake a great deal for giving me the opportunity to write for his site. For THW I mostly covered the NHL, but I was also to do some writing and reporting about the CWHL as well. All this time I kept my personal blog running and posted some basic Excel sheets with VORP, Quality Starts and Point Shares for the CWHL, NCAA, CIS, PWHL and JWHL.

Through the 2013-14 CWHL season I was more active in updating the statistics on a weekly basis and was thrilled to hear the statistics referenced on CWHL broadcasts. During this time I started a new site called WomensHockeyStats.info; however it became too much for me to manage at the time so it was also folded and merged back into my Mike's Mumbles blog.

After using Extra Skater a great deal in my NHL writing, I decided I wanted to create something similar for women's hockey. That is when I converted [Mike's Mumbles] to more of a reference website for advanced statistics. I had considered starting another new site but after doing that twice I decided to stick with my personal blog to create some consistency. So that is how the CWHL database came to fruition.

How long has it taken you to get to this point, and what has the process been like?

In terms of the process for the statistics, originally prior to Mike's Mumbles I manually went into every website and copied/pasted the stats for every team/player in the CWHL. This was not an overly long process for the CWHL, but for the NCAA it would take nearly eight hours to complete one full season of Division I hockey.

In general, the initial set up of the formulas to calculate the statistics would take about one day per league as well. I have become quicker at this as I've gone along.

For now, the CWHL database is displayed through an embedded Excel spreadsheet, and it is still a manual process to update the statistics. I have investigated using screen scraping and other means of hosting the database; however, I do not have any expertise in this area and the cost is too great to pay for it. I have intentions to self-teach some techniques, but my time can be limited.

What is involved when it comes to actually tracking a game? And what role do your volunteers play in this?

Tracking games is a very long and tedious process. When you consider over the course of 60 minutes, there are nearly 1500 entries. That's over 25 events per minute of play to track. There is a great deal of pausing and rewinding involved as well. Unfortunately, due to the single camera angle it can be a challenge to get all the right jersey numbers.

In terms of time, it recently took me over two hours to track a 20-minute first period for zone entries alone. That is why the project is taking so long at this point. It is hard for people to commit that amount of time. But for all those who have there assistance is greatly appreciated. I am always looking for more volunteers to assist. Currently, we have two games tracked. There are many more to go.

Your site says you hope to increase the exposure and discussion surrounding the CWHL with this project. How do you think advanced stats can play a role in giving the CWHL more of a platform, especially when it is such a young league?

With the lack of overall exposure for the league, and the minimal access to actually watch the games, I felt and still feel that advanced statistics can help those who do not get to watch the games have a better feel for what types of players these ladies are.I really look at the statistics as a complementary tool for fans, players, coaches, etc. I subscribe to the thought that my eyes are the first thing I trust, but the numbers might lead me to investigate something with my eyes that I hadn't considered.

How much and what kind of feedback have you gotten so far?

I have received some feedback from various players, coaches and league management. It has generally been very positive and I appreciate any and all feedback I get so that I can constantly improve.

What's your ultimate vision for this project? How long do you think it will be before it gets there?
The ultimate vision...that's a big question. When I first started working on these statistics, I had no grand ambitions other than to provide another tool for fans to increase discussion and enjoyment of the CWHL. But frankly, since I've seen the explosion of analytics in the NHL, I would love to one day work within the CWHL League office or for a team (or teams) providing analysis of statistics to assist them in anyway possible.

I was recently approached by a women's team outside of the CWHL to provide some assistance and direction in regard to tracking and calculating these statistics. I created a custom tracking template and reporting file for [it]. I very much enjoyed doing that and would greatly enjoy consulting more in the future, or even being brought onto a staff for one team exclusively.

Once you track the stats and can see the calculated formulas, the fun really begins. There are so many insights into how the game needs to be played... I enjoy dissecting the data and finding valuable pieces of information for teams to help in their decision making.

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