by Clark Groome
So much for home-ice advantage. Last Friday and Saturday, the NHL Conference Finals ended with both series having gone to the seven-game limit. Game 7s are always special, particularly in hockey. Teams play at a higher level, the best referees are making the calls and Doc Emrick, a/k/a/ “The Voice of Hockey,” is doing the play-by-play.
This year the two pairings pitted the New York Rangers, the team with the most points in the league last season, against the Tampa Bay Lightning; and the Anaheim Ducks, the team with the most points in the Western Conference, against the Chicago Blackhawks.
New York and Anaheim had home-ice advantage. Tampa Bay and Chicago won. The teams not expected to win will compete for the Stanley Cup beginning June 3.
In the New York-Tampa Bay series the home team won two games (one each) and the visitors won the other five. The Anaheim-Chicago series was closer to what was expected. The home team won four games (two each) and the visitors the other three. The only problem for home-ice-advantage believers is those critical seventh games, widely believed to be pretty certain victories for the home/higher-rated teams didn’t end up that way.
There have been studies done that say that in most sports the odds always favor the home team if the two opponents are competitive. I was curious what a sports professional would say, so I sat down last Sunday and asked Phillies Chairman David Montgomery if he felt there really was a home-field/ice/court advantage.
“I think there is in this respect,” he said, talking about baseball. “You know your own ballpark. You play day games in [Chicago’s] Wrigley Field you know the winds. Coors Field [in Denver], Citizens Bank Park, the Great American Ballpark [in Cincinnati] and Yankee Stadium; They’re all different experiences.
“In the other sports, not so much. I think,” Montgomery said, “hockey would almost be the least. Crowds in hockey react to the action they don’t spur the action as much as in basketball.”
This may be why it is so important to the baseball folk that home-field advantage be awarded to the league winning the sport’s All Star Game. (I’d give it to the team with the best record, but that’s another column.)
And, of course, all rinks, basketball courts and football fields are the same regardless of where they are.
So what’s going to happen when Chicago meets Tampa Bay in the Stanley Cup Finals? Tampa Bay has home-ice advantage but Chicago has Jonathon Toews leading his troops.
It’s likely to be exciting hockey.
I’m not going to make a prediction because I don’t want to jinx Chicago’s Kimmo Timonen, a longtime Philadelphia Flyer and one of the classiest men in the sport, from getting his name on the Stanley Cup.
What I’m pretty sure of is that these two teams are both so good that they could play the games almost anywhere and the best team would come out on top, just like it will in Florida or Illinois.
Anyway, it should be fun.