Inside the NHL Bubble

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When the puck drops for the opening face-off, I have to be completely focused on the team I’m tracking. I’m watching for changes happening during the play, so you always have to have one eye on the action and one behind it.

With the holidays coming up, what better time is there to talk to one of our members who is at the forefront of Canada’s favourite pastime: hockey.

Don Bergen, CPA, CA received his accounting designation in the mid 80’s, but did he ever think one day that his accounting designation would help him land a job as an NHL statistician?

“Not in my wildest dreams,” said Bergen with a chuckle.

It all started when Bergen volunteered at the 2007 World Women’s Hockey Championship in Winnipeg. He was assigned to work with the off-ice officials, which also included some who worked the Manitoba Moose games.

“I really enjoyed the experience and had a great time. We reconnected a few months later when there were some openings as a spare for the Manitoba Moose off-ice officials. When a crew member became sick, I was assigned the position of tracking player ice time,” explained Bergen.

Four years later, the Winnipeg Jets and the NHL returned to Winnipeg. As a crew member of the Manitoba Moose off-ice group, he was given the opportunity to apply for an NHL position.

“Three NHL staff came to interview us that summer. I had 30 minutes to convince them why they should hire me, and I believe my CPA training, problem solving, and technology skills helped me during that process,” said Bergen. “And it was an exciting day when I received the letter of offer to join the NHL crew.”

There are 22 members of the NHL off-ice crew, but only 18 work each NHL game. Although many people are familiar with the group that works in the penalty box, including the game timekeeper, penalty timekeeper and penalty box attendant, there are far more off ice officials every game. For Bergen, his duties require him to be up in the press box.

“I primarily work on one of the time-on-ice computers in the rafter level, which is about five storeys above the ice surface. Two hours before the game, we meet to review rules and discuss any issues in the last game that needs attention,” explained Bergen. “When teams start warming up, I check off the players on the ice to confirm team rosters. Next, I watch the line rush team drills to determine the probable line combinations, so I can put that into the computer when the player scratches have been finalized.”

To provide context, NHL teams have 23 players on their roster. They can all go out for warmup, but only 20 can play in the game, so Bergen must make sure the correct players are in the lineup.

“When the puck drops for the opening face-off, I have to be completely focused on the team I’m tracking. I’m watching for changes happening during the play, so you always have to have one eye on the action and one behind it,” Bergen said.

This role is crucial as it helps account for many of the interesting stats and figures that make discussing the game more interesting, including the plus-minus stat.

“It’s important for us to make sure we have the right players on the ice when a goal is scored, so the plus-minus stat is correct and because all the stats are coordinated together. For example, if I don’t have a player on the ice and he gets hit by somebody then we would have an error. Sometimes it can be tricky as a change can be happening as a goal is being scored, so I need to make sure everyone has the right plus-minus and sometimes I will watch replays to make sure it is correct,” explained Bergen.

This past summer, the NHL, like the rest of the world, had to pivot and change their protocols to combat COVID-19. The NHL decided to have two bubble cities, one in Toronto and the other in Edmonton to host the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Bergen volunteered and was selected to work in the Toronto bubble throughout the playoffs.

“We needed to be able to commit for several weeks. Before arriving, I was tested three times for COVID-19 and when I got to the Royal York hotel in Toronto, I had to quarantine for four days,” Bergen said.

The off-ice crew consisted of five members from Toronto, four from Ottawa, one from Montreal and Bergen from Winnipeg. These are the people he would be spending the majority of his “bubble life” with.

“We are a team and we have to work together to be able to provide accurate stats, not unlike a finance team. We really gelled together quickly, and we got into a routine when the games started being played. I would usually work two games per day and in total worked about 50 games in 6 weeks. After the games, our group would go out for a late dinner at a restaurant located in the bubble,” explained Bergen. “Each morning we would get tested and when we had time off, we would use BMO Field to get fresh air and exercise.”

When Bergen isn’t around the rink, he spends his time volunteering for CPA Canada’s Financial Literacy program, St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program and has recently been appointed to the board of directors of the CPA Insurance Plans West.

“I decided to join the financial literacy program because I thought it’d be good to give back to the profession. I’ve taken some of the orientation courses, but with the pandemic I haven’t delivered a session yet,” he mentioned. “I’m looking forward to giving my first session when the pandemic is over.”

Also, Bergen has two Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties) and one of them, Opie is a therapy dog for the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program.

“Opie qualified last March for the program. Both dogs are in training classes, but Opie is in rally obedience training and trials and we have earned our masters title which is one of the highest titles in the program,” Bergen noted. “Opie and I were assigned to the Grace Hospital for the Therapy Dog program, so when the pandemic quiets down, that’s where you may find us.”

In the end, Bergen left us with some great advice for CPA candidates and students.

“Work hard and know the CPA designation provides endless opportunities. Make sure to enjoy the journey. You never know where it will take you.”