Google Sheets & Championships: UMass hockey Director of Analytics Katie Yates made her mark

  • Former UMass Director of Analytics Katie Yates shows off the national championship trophy after the Minutemen beat St. Cloud State to win the 2021 title. Yates is heading to the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers for a position as a hockey analyst. PHOTO BY RICH GAGNON

  • Former UMass Director of Analytics Katie Yates is heading to the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers for a position as a hockey analyst. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer 
Published: 4/20/2022 5:41:34 PM
Modified: 4/20/2022 5:40:17 PM

At this point, most people know the heroes that won the UMass men’s hockey team its first national title. Players like Bobby Trivigno, Garrett Wait and Aaron Bohlinger are local legends, as is the man who built the program into the well-oiled machine it is today — head coach Greg Carvel. 

But behind the superstars are the support staff who made the title run possible, and who make sure that that success can be sustained after the celebrations end.

One of those staff members is Katie Yates, the team’s Director of Analytics for the past two seasons, perhaps the most underrated member of the Minutemen hockey program. 

“Sometimes you don't even know what you don't know,” Carvel said on Yates’ role. “(After games) she stays up through the night, and when I get to the office the next morning, Saturday or Sunday morning, there's a report and it's extensive and it gives enough information that it makes a big difference.” 

By the time Yates left UMass, she had two Hockey East championships and a national title to boot, a good measure of the impact she left on the program. Technically, she’s the winningest member of this current team, as she reminded them after their second consecutive Hockey East championship this past year. Before she came to UMass to work on her dual-master’s degree in Business Administration and Sport Management, she won another Hockey East title with the Boston University men’s hockey team, where she also worked in an analytics role.

It’s been a long and uncertain road for Yates, who almost didn't end up at UMass, and didn’t grow up knowing she wanted to work in sports analytics. Her journey is far from over, but her time with the Minutemen will define the program for many years to come.

GROWING UP 

Yates grew up around sports for most of her life. You could say it’s in her blood – both of her grandmothers were “the most obsessive Yankees fans,” and Yates and her three older brothers were always playing different sports growing up. Though she played PeeWee hockey, a future on the ice wasn’t her calling, so she started looking into ways she could stay involved behind the scenes. 

During her senior year of undergrad, she discovered a direction that interested her while working in a lab that focused on sports biomechanics. As a result, she wrote her undergraduate thesis on the biomechanics of a field hockey shot.

“That sort of got me interested in the idea of applying tech in math and science and sports,” Yates explained. “I didn't really know that was a thing before that. So working in that lab was sort of definitely a big eye opener, as far as that (being) something that you could do.” 

Not done with school just yet, Yates started her post-secondary education at BU, where she took a big chance. She cold-called then-BU head coach David Quinn and asked if she could create a new role for herself as a one-woman analytics department. At the time, analytics were just starting to gain traction in the hockey world – people were beginning to get hired for jobs with NHL teams, but it was still a relatively new field to most.

“It was a huge learning experience because you’re a one-person show and it's still sort of in the beginning stages,” Yates said on her time at BU. “There's obviously a limit to sort of what you can do and spend money on. So it's sort of like me and my computer and what can we do from there.

“It was a huge learning experience in terms of, like from a tech standpoint,” she continued. “I think the first half of the first season was maybe one Google sheet that I went through and manually put data into, and then it just kept growing from there.”

CONNECTING WITH CARVEL 

After a few years learning and working with the Terriers, Yates decided it was time for a change. She sought out some full-time jobs and applied to other graduate programs, casting a pretty wide net in terms of what her future could look like. She had a few promising leads, including a long interview process with another NHL team – and then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and that door quickly closed. Disappointed and unsure of her future in sports analytics, she decided to head to Amherst, where she had been accepted into UMass’ dual MBA Sport Management program.

“I figured worst-case scenario, that gives me a bit of a platform to be able to go into some aspect of sport business, even if it's not staying within (analytics), because I started getting to the point where I was like, I don't know if I'm gonna be able to pull this off,” Yates said. “I had had a bunch of near-misses, so I was maybe ready to go do something else.”

Just like she had at BU, Yates cold-emailed Carvel to see if she could serve in an analytics role for the team. Carvel gave her a call to talk about it, and by the end of the hour-long conversation, he had completely bought in.

“I remember getting off that call and just being so excited that he was excited – from day zero, was excited about having me on, and that made me excited,” Yates said. “You always want to sort of work harder for people who are like, ‘Yes, you're part of the team, we value your contribution, we definitely want to do even more and do better.’”

Though still a one-woman team, the experience and the support that Yates found at UMass allowed her to thrive with the Minutemen. The team-first culture that Carvel and his staff had built was the perfect fit for her, and she found other people who were excited to work with her, like the team’s Sports Performance Coach, Brandon Wickett. Though Yates came on during the pandemic, making things more difficult, she had a couple of undergraduate students working with her this past season. But even with the help, Yates continued to work hard.

“She provides those intangibles that I've been talking about with Bobby (Trivigno) and Colin (Felix) and the rest of them… Katie's really entrenched and she's right in the middle of everything,” Carvel said. “(Her joining the team) has been seamless, she's so professional. It's always about respect and trust, and she quickly earned everyone's trust and respect.”

FLYING HIGH 

Though she added value to the program, Yates’ tenure with the Minutemen always had an expiration date – she was going to be there for two years while she finished her dual master’s. So when Carvel saw a job posting for an analytics position with the Philadelphia Flyers, he dropped everything to show it to Yates.

“I gave him sort of, ‘Oh, I'll go and look at it, I'll go check it out,’” Yates said. “And then literally every day for the next week and a half, any time I would see him he was like, ‘Did you apply?’ He was pushing me on it.”

Carvel knows Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher and had an in with the Flyers analytics department, but Yates didn’t really need it. She was more than qualified for the job. 

“She was a very easy hire from what I was told, and she should be,” Carvel said.

Yates has a foot in both Amherst and Philadelphia for the time being, finishing up her schooling at UMass while getting virtually on-boarded with the Flyers. With the Minutemen hockey season over, she's no longer working for UMass, but she’s been thrown right back into the sports analytics world with Philadelphia. This time, though, it isn't just her and one Google sheet.

“I’m like, ‘Wow, I've never had to deal with sharing code with other people before,’” Yates said. “It's really cool to be able to have other people to learn from what they're doing. It's a huge learning experience, but I feel like that's the weirdest part of the transition is realizing, ‘Whoa, it's not just me and my computer anymore.’ There are four other people who are also working.”

As Yates moves on to the next chapter of her career with the Flyers, Carvel said she’ll be sorely missed by her hockey family back at UMass. Carvel wasn’t sure what to expect when he first agreed to bring her on staff, but saying ‘yes’ a few years back turned out to be exactly the right move for the Minutemen.

“We've had her for two years and that was going to be the length of it, good, bad or indifferent and, boy, she's been a lucky charm for us,” Carvel said. “She's gonna just take another (Hockey East) championship and ride off into the sunset.”


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