On the surface, Jed Buchholz has what could be a fun job. After all, who wouldn’t want to work for a professional sports franchise?
But the former McFarland athlete has a lot of weight on his shoulders as a sports number analyst for the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League.
Buchholz’ responsibility is to recommend players the Wild should draft or sign out of college or the junior leagues based on analysis using numbers and film. It’s more than looking at the leading goal scorer or the goalies with best save percentage.
“You look more at advanced stats relating to goals scored to shots and put into context the quality of goaltending, rather than looking at everyone equally,” said Buchholz, who went on to play football at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, after graduating from McFarland in 2015.
“That’s where you get a Mark Messier or Martin St. Louis, some special diamond in the rough,” he added. “We try to see if there is a minute difference between two prospects and get the best bang for our buck.”
Buchholz is supervised by the team’s manager of hockey statistics, who provides Buchholz’ information to coaches, scouts and the general manager.
“My role is more fixated on the numbers. Who’s going to do better against certain players and certain types of teams?” he said. “The office at the Wild is really good about that and move away from the old-school idea of you can see everything that happens on the ice and you don’t need to look deeper than that.”
Ironically, Buccholz never played organized hockey in high school and didn’t learn to skate until he was 15. But he said he preferred to watch hockey on television instead of football and other sports. He entered Macalester as an economics major and took an interest in hockey statistics.
One of the more significant people to help him was Murray Cohn, a sports management consultant who used to head all ticket operations for the National Basketball Association. Buchholz got to know Cohn while he was working as an intern for the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL.
“He asked where I was from and what I was looking to do, so he put me in contact with people from the Wild, knowing I was going to school in St. Paul,” Buchholz said. “I met with three people: the head of ticket sales, the head of sports analytics and the head of business analytics.”
After that trio of interviews, Buchholz landed his job with the Wild. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the final weeks of the 2019-20 season and the playoffs, and he said he is looking forward to getting to work when the season is scheduled to resume Aug. 1.
Lessons learned from sports
Buchholz had a solid football career at McFarland and rushed for 454 yards and two touchdowns in his senior season of 2014. Head coach Paul Ackley and assistants Doug Peterson and Eric Johnson were valuable at teaching not just football but also how to grow up.
“Coach Ackley really touched on that a lot. Every Thursday, we would hear Coach Ackley’s sermon on the hill,” Buchholz said. “We would sit and listen after running up and down the hill. He said what we do on the field goes beyond what the score says at the end of the day. I think my time playing sports set me up as a success in every other aspect.”
Buchholz was recruited by Beloit College and Ripon College before deciding on Macalester. The Scots head coach was Tony Jennison, a former teammate of Ackley when they played college football at UW-La Crosse.
Buchholz said he learned valuable time management skills when it came to balancing football practice with his classroom work.
“Football practice was almost like a full-time job. It put a lot of pressure on me and made me focus on managing my time properly. I think it taught me a lot about dedication and determination,” Buchholz said. “Football was temporary thing, but the education I received there was more significant and very useful.”
Buchholz said it took a lot of hard work and luck to obtain his position with the Wild. He believes career opportunities are endless for high schoolers who learn from playing sports and excel in the classroom.
Buchholz is willing to help high schoolers down the right path when choosing a career.
“I always am happy to give anyone a perspective on how sports proved to be a helpful and significant part of my life,” he said. “I want to help young people who may be confused on where they want to go.”