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Thursday, November 15, 2012
Interactive map tracks NHL lockout moves

By Chris Gigley
ESPN The Magazine

Esri
Two California engineers designed a map that shows where NHL pros are playing during the lockout.
Like every other hockey fan in North America, Kevin Hibma has had about enough of the NHL lockout.

But unlike most -- if not all -- hockey fans, Hibma, 31, is a geoprocessing product engineer at a mapping software company.

Last week, he vented his frustration in a creative way.

Getting Ice Time, which launched last Friday, is the result of nearly 25 hours of research Hibma did on his own time.

The online map tracks the migration of NHL players to Europe as the lockout wears on. Using the technology of his employer, Redlands, Calif.-based Esri, he made something that looks a lot like those airline routing maps in the back of in-flight magazines, but is a lot more dynamic.

Hibma says he got the idea simply from being bored.

“I’m a hockey fan first and foremost,” he says. “What are we supposed to do now? We watch some juniors games, maybe. We go online to see where players are going.”

That’s when he noticed several maps other fans had posted to show where certain NHLers were playing in Europe.

“Those maps were pretty static,” he says. “They showed one team, you click on the logo and see a list of players. That’s it.”

Jim and Kevin of Esri
Herries (left) and Hibma are engineers and hockey nuts.
Hibma wanted to be far more comprehensive. So for about a week, he went home every night after work -- even on Thursday, game night for the company hockey team -- to scour the web for player news.

“I couldn’t find one single site that had all the information I needed,” says Hibma, “so I had to go to all of them: ESPN, TSN, Sportsnet.”

He discovered 210 locked-out NHLers who found roster spots in Europe or with junior or minor league teams in North America. He then used Esri’s geoprocessing tools to draw lines from each player’s NHL city to his current place of employment.

“By the time he showed it to me, he had it all generated,” says fellow hockey nut and colleague Jim Herries, product engineer, cartography. “It’s a good thing, too, because we felt some urgency to put something up quickly in case the lockout ended.”

Herries laughs bitterly at the memory, but at the time hope lit a fire under him. In less than 24 hours, he picked out a template, added Hibma’s data, and Getting Ice Time went live. The reaction since has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We may work in Southern California, but there are a lot of hockey fans who work here,” says Hibma. “We showed them and sent a link to friends we knew were hockey fans. Everyone was into it.”

For hockey fans and media members trying to keep track of expatriated players, the map is a godsend.

Unlike those static maps Hibma mentioned, Getting Ice Time is embedded with a ton of information. Users can click on each arcing line to get not just the player’s names and teams, but also his salary and league experience.

Esri
In addition to data, the map also embeds social media.
And thanks to the social media capabilities of the map, users can post Twitter comments and YouTube videos to provide a real-time read on the collective consciousness of NHL fans.

The diagnosis? Not good.

“The map allows some social media to appear on the map as you zoom in,” says Herries. “The first time I tried it, I happened to be looking at the Midwest and I clicked on a YouTube video in Michigan. It’s some 14-year-old Red Wings fan singing a song bemoaning the lockout."

The clip is still posted somewhere between Lansing and Detroit.

Now, Hibma finds himself torn. Sure, he is happy his dynamic map is up and running. And he's glad that about 1,600 unique users had visited the site since it launched.

“But I definitely don’t want the map to overrule how I feel about the lockout,” he says. “I’d rather the guys be back on ice than have the map out there.”

The map wouldn’t even have to come down, says Hibma. It would become a historical resource.

Then Hibma could go back to watching his beloved Ottawa Senators on television.