On The Couch With Craig: Clay Collins

The seventh in a series of profiles of AZ Coyotes Insider founding members

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Clay Collins loves hockey. I can personally attest to this. If I had saved a log of the direct messages that Clay has sent me during and after Coyotes games over the past few years, it would be lengthy, it would be opinionated and it would be insightful.

Clay loves data. He analyzes it for a living, and I think he would jump at the chance to intern for an NHL team or two on the side, just to learn how they look at things from an advanced statistics perspective. Lately, he has taken to tracking zone exits for Coyotes defensemen in every game. Give him a follow if you want to keep tabs.

Clay has also taken a liking to grape vines. He’s growing two of them right now and we have compared notes on grape types and the value of the leaves in making Assyrian dolma (which my Irish wife makes from our own impressive vine).

I’ll let Clay tell you all about these things and more below. This is his space. Clay Collins is the seventh founding member to take the couch as we continue to build the AZ Coyotes Insider community.

Full name: Clay Collins

Twitter account: @Clay_C10

Birthplace: Mesa, Arizona

Current city of residence: Mesa

Age: 24

Occupation: Data and financial analyst at Salt River Project

Hobbies: Gardening, woodworking and of course, hockey

Little known fact about you: I am a HUGE history nerd. I go to sleep with history podcasts or documentaries playing every single night. 

Describe how you became a Coyotes fan and your involvement with the team over the years.

I really was a Coyotes fan as a child, as I was born in 1996 and they moved here just months later. So as a child, I had Coyotes stuff in my first room and had kid jerseys. My dad grew to love the game in another unconventional place for hockey, Kentucky, when he lived there for a few years growing up. He and my mom would also go to Roadrunners games when they were dating in the early 90s. I played roller hockey until the place where I played closed in 2006, and I really fell off of hockey in general after that.

The Coyotes were really bad and there was limited coverage on them. It wasn't until the 2012 playoffs that by chance I turned on the TV right at the start of Game 1 against the Blackhawks and something just clicked and I was immediately hooked again. It was probably pretty refreshing for my dad that I started to like the sport he liked again. Since then, I have become obsessed with hockey again and I really have been drawn to the stats and advanced stats movements happening in the sport and I really do try to take stock of how the Coyotes fare in that world.    

What are your favorite Coyotes memories and what details do you remember from them?

In the 2012 playoffs, we ended up going to the series clinching game against Nashville in the second round and there was truly no going back for me. We were sitting on the side where the puck came within inches of being a goal for Mike Smith at the end of the game. That one really sticks out of course! 

If you have followed me on Twitter for the last few years, it may come as a surprise to you, but the one player I really gravitated toward that helped me get back into hockey was Oliver Ekman-Larsson. At the time, he was the youngest player on the team (20 years old) and it was his first playoff appearance but he looked so poised and his skating was amazing. He also had the most gorgeous low snapshot from the point he utilized back then and it was so much fun to watch.  

There certainly haven't been as many highlights since 2012 as most of us would want, but I think my next favorite memories were the two times my dad and I went to Edmonton. We have some family friends there, and we watched the Coyotes as the away team in that new and gorgeous Rogers Place. The last time we were there was November 2019 when Derek Stepan won it in OT. Of course, the Coyotes' squeezing their way into the playoffs in the bubble last season was great and I think a really good thing for the younger core guys to experience and I think we are seeing the fruits of that early on this season.  

Tell AZ Coyotes Insider readers more about your current job and your work history.

Currently I am starting my fifth year at Salt River Project and my third year on the irrigation water delivery side of the company. It was actually because of my first year here as an intern that I discovered my love for data analysis. So it was actually work that bled into hockey rather than the other way around, as far as my affinity for hockey stats.

I'm currently a data and financial analyst in the water delivery group at SRP and I help take data and put it into a format and language that can help business leaders and managers make better and more informed decisions. I find that the history of SRP parallels the history of Phoenix and the metropolitan area's growth into the city we have today. We have a 100-plus-year history of getting water and power to grow the city and the agricultural sustainability that was so important to the early history of central Arizona. While it may not be as important in today's Phoenix, it is still the lifeblood and a critical part of keeping the Phoenix area growing and thriving, and I am proud to play a small part in helping to modernize it. 

Tell us about your, ahem, budding interest in gardening. How are those grape vines coming along and what's the endgame?

Ha! My first roommate and I were messing around for a little while making mead (honey wine) to just have almost a science project working in our pantry. I am a big Tool/A Perfect Circle/Puscifer fan. The vocalist of all those bands is Maynard James Keenan and he lives in Jerome, Arizona and runs a vineyard and cellar there, as well as a few stores. He is passionate about the beauty and difficulties of growing grapes in Arizona and it definitely inspired me to try growing a grape vine down here in Mesa.

My first attempt failed badly! When COVID's grip on America started and we all were more or less forced into our homes, I tried to expand on my little garden to keep me sane and give me something to do away from a computer or TV or phone screen. I put together a garden box and added some lights to my little yard to create a nice little outdoor area. Now I have two grape vines, one being a Red Flame Seedless (table grapes) and the other being a Zinfandel (wine grape), and a jalapeño plant and a small aloe vera plant. I definitely plan on growing this a bit now that we are coming out of "winter" here. The next thing I want to grow is a Shishito Pepper plant. The grape vines are still young but I think I may actually get some fruit this year if I manage to keep them alive! So it would be fun to attempt to make zinfandel wine if I get some actual grapes on them! Ultimately though, it is just a nice hobby. 

If you could work for an NHL team, what would be your dream job and how would that mesh with what you do now?

It may be unfair to say this because there are definitely teams in the league (like Carolina and Seattle with its initial hires) that I think are strong in this world, but there definitely seems to be a largely anti-advanced analytics sentiment in the NHL among GMs and coaches and players. Where I think that really stems from is a lack of communication and education on what Corsi is, what an xG (expected goal) is, and so on. I think there needs to be someone on every team that has a strong analytical mind that can also work with translating those into meaningful areas of coaching and systems planning.

I know some teams definitely have that, and I am very interested to see how Lee Stempniak's role for the Coyotes works in something like this. I would definitely say that would be my dream job of being a "data translator" like I am now for business and operations at a utility company to turn the data into a tool for leaders to make better and more informed decisions with all the possible tools we can provide them. I think some NHL teams could absolutely benefit from these stats and internally tracked stats but I think there is absolutely something lacking in translating that into ways that coaches and GMs can actually take in and use to better coach or target players.  

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Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter: @CraigSMorgan