The Eagan Hockey Association was in the midst of preseason tryouts, and Stephen Randall was in charge of the scheduling.
Schedules, especially tryout schedules, are a big deal for hockey parents -- in Eagan and most everywhere else. This cannot be emphasized enough.
“There is a zero tolerance policy on getting scheduling wrong,” Randall said.
Back to that tryouts schedule. Randall had worked late into the night, and it was published at 1:30 on a Sunday morning.
“Our first complaint came in 5 minutes later,” he said.
Randall was convinced to take over the Eagan Hockey Association’s scheduling duties and the headaches that come with them seven years ago by, of all people, buddy Thomas Manzella, who was the organization’s president at the time.
When Randall met with his scheduling predecessor, he was presented with a massive, color-coded spreadsheet. Complicated doesn’t begin to describe the system Randall inherited.
“I realized at that point that something had to be done differently,” said Randall, who has a computer engineering degree from the University of Michigan and has spent his career working in IT for multiple corporations as a project manager or consultant.
Randall went to work on creating an algorithm that would generate the association’s schedule automatically. He says the software revealed that $10,000 to $15,000 a year from the association’s budget was being wasted on ice time that wasn’t being used. Seeing firsthand the time and money that could be saved by using the program he had created, Randall and Manzella launched AutoIce, a schedule management tool now being used by multiple organizations.
Last year Randall stepped down from his scheduling position, and the Eagan Hockey Association was among AutoIce’s initial wave of clients.
“A lot of associations still have a draft for their ice time,” said Eagan Hockey Association president John Ferlita. “One hundred people in a room for five, six or seven hours. I can’t imagine that is very efficient.
Ferlita said Eagan has 23 teams of Squirt-aged or older players. Of course, all of those teams want prime ice time – not too early, not too late. Add in Mite teams that for years have had set practice times on weekends, and Ferlita said the association buys 1,232 hours of ice time.
Randall works with Ferlita and the association’s scheduling committee to include custom criteria in the algorithm, such as not allowing Squirt and U10 players to skate after 9 p.m. Teams also are assigned a minimum number of practices per week.
“He plugs in all those conditions - he calls them events - into his program and comes back with a schedule,” Ferlita said. “I don’t think we burn as many hours of ice this way. It saves us a lot of money.”
It cuts down on complaints, too. Theoretically, at least. The pain of early and late practices are spread evenly to teams throughout the association, all based on the criteria plugged into the emotionless, unbiased AutoIce software.
Still, parents will sometime question the equity of the schedules. Some in Eagan have gone so far as to audit the schedules to see if Randall was gaming the system and giving his hockey playing children preferential treatment. No foul play was uncovered.
“I thought, ‘You really have this much time on your hands?’ ” Randall said. “You’ll never please every parent year round. But scheduling this way, everyone shares in the benefits and in the pain.”
The Caribou Cup is a massive youth hockey tournament held in the Twin Cities each summer. This year 128 teams competed at eight venues and a total of 16 rinks. There were 297 games in the event’s four days.
Scheduling was a breeze, said co-tournament director Zach Sikich, who uses the AutoIce system. Sikich said referees, scorekeepers, medical personnel and anyone else working specific games are included in the scheduling process.
“We basically run the tournament operations off (the AutoIce) system,” Sikich said.
Once the Caribou Cup’s initial schedule is completed and released, it’s common for teams to make special requests, Sikich said. For example, a team might request to have its first game pushed back from Friday morning to Friday evening. Or a coach who has two teams in the tournament might ask for his teams’ games to be played back-to-back on the same rink, or, at the very least, at nearby venues.
“We tell (Randall) there is a special request and what it is, and he says, ‘OK, give me a minute,’ ” Sikich said. “And then, boom, it’s like magic and he gets everything done.”
Sikich, like Ferlita, said AutoIce provides huge savings in ice rental costs. Sikich said he makes initial arrangements with arenas for minimum and maximum numbers of hours of ice time that will be used. Then, once the schedule is finalized, the exact number is agreed upon.
“We don’t waste any ice,” Sikich said. “That saves us a ton of money."
AutoIce connects to Sport Ngin through its application programming interface (API), enabling schedules to be loaded directly onto the platform.
For scheduling purposes, each team is assigned a mapping code. Through its API connection with Sport Ngin, AutoIce is able to determine the updated mapping code for each team before loading that team's schedule. Watch the video below to see how it works.
Once the schedules have been created and the mapping codes have been updated in AutoIce, events can be uploaded into Sport Ngin with the click of a few buttons. Watch the video below to see how it works.
Find out more about AutoIce and read case studies with its clients: http://www.autoicescheduler.com