What Does Home Ice Advantage Look Like without Fans?

Canadian Teams Continue to Skate in Empty Arenas

What Does Home Ice Advantage Look Like without Fans?

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Home Away from Home: The underdog typically has a rolodex of clichés that help them get mentally prepared for a playoff series. Gotta steal one on the road. Let’s go in there and get a split. It’s a hard building to play in, so we’ve gotta quiet the crowd early. 

Logic stands to reason that having home ice advantage matters. It’s your building and the fans are behind you. While momentum generated by fans isn’t something quantifiable, players, coaches, and others in the game are adamant that the energy in the building can sway the direction of a game. 

Last year, Tanner Pearson, after a road overtime victory, said, “Some people could say it helped there were no fans in the stands. If you’re a home team and you score a late goal, that building erupts. It could have taken the wind out of us.”

Dr. Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist specializing in the psychology of sports, admitted research shows that practicing under the conditions players are used to matters. “How are they generating their own momentum if they don’t have it from the crowds?” he asks. But how true is crowds driving home team success? And what happens if there aren’t any fans in the building?

More Questions than Answers: As the Canadian division continues to play in empty arenas (though Montreal let a few fans in over the weekend), it begs the question if the perceived advantages of having home ice disappear. Two key factors seem most pertinent:

1. The Atmosphere
If games in the U.S. have playoff atmospheres, the ones in Canada appear more pre-season-esque. At the risk of stating the obvious, fans make an incredible atmospheric impact. But does that impact generate an advantage for the home team or simply a better viewing experience? 

2. Last Change
The ability to line match is an inherent strategic advantage, with or without fans. If a series goes the distance, winning that battle four of seven times surely puts a team ahead. Does line matching cancel out not having the crowd behind you?

The Data: With all that said, the proof is in the pudding. Do road teams playing in empty buildings have an advantage?

As of writing, in the 2021 playoff’s road teams in the Canadian division are 6-4. In U.S. divisions, the record is 13-19. 

Looking backwards, the 2020 bubble can be written off as a one-off, but for what it’s worth, both Edmonton and Toronto — the “host” teams” — went out very quickly and quietly. 

In the 2019 playoffs, road teams were 42-45, including five out of seven games in the Stanley Cup final being won by the road team. 

What does it all mean? You be the judge. 

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A Question for the Peanut Gallery

Is having home ice advantage all it's cracked up to be? 

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