From Pierre LeBrun:
“To me, there’s nine teams in each conference that are so close that I think that’s why you see these lower seeds going like hell right now,” Hitchcock said. “I honestly believe they think they can win the Cup. You’ve got 16 teams that honestly believe — and it’s not fake — they honestly believe they can win the Cup. … It’s just what it is now.”
“After the lockout, because of the proximity of the teams from a salary style, things changed dramatically,” Hitchcock said. “I think the pressure on the home team, the little advantage you expect creates pressure, creates tension, creates tightness. You see teams defend when there’s tightness and it looks like you’ve got five guys staring at the puck. There’s so much tension early in a series [at home]. … I don’t think there’s an advantage now playing at home like there was before.”
Elsewhere in the article, LeBrun writes “this isn’t your father’s NHL.” Well, my father didn’t pay any attention to the NHL, but I remember games in Detroit’s Olympia Stadium, Chicago Stadium and Boston Garden (never made it to the Montreal Forum or Maple Leaf Garden — and MSG has been rebuilt, hasn’t it, since the old days? Must have been). Rinks were different shapes and sizes; now they’re all cookie cutters of one another. The Bruins of the 70s built a team for its short ice surface and squarish corners. Yes, they had Orr, but they also played on an ice surface with essentially no neutral zone; teams couldn’t pick up speed; and they had corners in which you could really get cornered. At Olympia, as a kid I remember being terrified, sitting in my seat, because my feet were above the head of the guy in the row in front of me. I got to play a pee-wee game there once. When you looked into the crowd, it was like a wall of people, and they seemed to be hanging out over you. And at the Red Wings games (like all pro games then, but of course not my pee-wee game) they were all smoking. A smoking wall of angry enemy fans yelling at you and throwing popcorn. For a home team in the playoffs, that’s a home ice advantage.
The organ at Chicago Stadium shook the seats when it played. You felt it up your spine. The new arena has digital samples of the original organ, but it’s no louder than Mony, Mony or whatever else they play over the PA system. I once got to sit in Wurtz’s seats at the glass behind one of the goals (I lucked into the seat, by the way; I have no sources or connections). They were right next to the stairwell from which the visiting team emerged to take the ice. That’s right, the away team was in the basement and had to trudge up a flight of stairs to get to the game. I imagined the Hawks owner enjoying his front row seat of the spectacle of the hated opponents having to trudge up and down stairs several times a night.
I seem to recall a story about the visiting bench at the Montreal Forum being a few inches shorter than the home bench. I mean, shorter as in off the ground, so the visiting team had to work harder to climb over the boards. Maybe someone out there can confirm or deny this. But even if you deny it, I will choose to believe it’s true.
(I’m not going to mention the ultimate home ice advantage of rink security allowing your staff to inspect the curves of your opponents’ sticks between periods.)
Anyway, those are the things I think of when I think of “home ice advantage.” In an era in which hockey arenas are all designed like big shopping malls, indistinguishable from one another in any meaningful sense, all that’s left of the advantage of old is that the crowd itself is mostly on your side. And I’m not so sure that doesn’t cause young teams like the Kings to freak out, anyway. Which is why I prefer playing in the other team’s mall.