Home Ice Disadvantage?

I stayed up way too late last night watching the first hockey game I’ve watched this year — Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Detroit Red Wings were up 3 games to 1, playing the Pittsburgh Penguins at home, hoping to clinch the title. The Pens won in the third overtime.

It was a phenomenal game, with great action, dramatic swings in momentum, and otherworldly goal tending (especially by the Pens’ Marc-Andre Fleury, especially in the overtimes).

Reading through this A.P. game report (do you, like me, often find it more appealing to read about an event you’ve already seen?), I was struck by this sentence:

Road teams have won 10 of the past 12 overtime games in the finals and are 15-4 since 1990.

Yes, it’s a pretty small sample set but too large to be completely dismissed. It’s also true that home ice doesn’t necessarily mean all that much in the regular season — a quick look at this season’s final N.H.L. standings shows that both Montreal and San Jose won their divisions with worse home records than road records.

But even so, especially considering how much talk there has been recently of home-court advantage in the N.B.A., I am wondering if anyone out there who understands hockey well can explain this startling fact?

[Addendum: Leonard Newman, an associate professor of psychology at Syracuse University, sent along a fascinating paper from a 1984 volume of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called “Paradoxical Effects of Supportive Audiences on Performance Under Pressure: The Home Field Disadvantage in Sports Championships,” by Roy F. Baumeister and Andrew Steinhilber. It seems that there’s such a thing as “the home choke,” as Newman put it in his e-mail. (He also said that the pattern in baseball, which you’ll read about below, evaporated in subsequent years.) Here’s the abstract of the paper:

On the basis of recent research on self-presentation and self-attention, we predicted that the presence of supportive audiences might be detrimental to performance in some circumstances. Specifically, the imminent opportunity to claim a desired identity in front of a supportive audience might engender a state of self-attention that could interfere with the execution of skillful responses. Archival data from championship series in two major league sports supported this reasoning. In baseball’s World Series, home teams tend to win early games but lose decisive (final) games. Supplementary analyses suggested that the pattern occurs when the home team has the opportunity to win the championship and that it does involve performance decrements by the home team. Similar patterns were found in semifinal and championship series in professional basketball.


The home field advantage in overtime will be smaller than the "normal" HFA because, since you're only playing for one goal, there's not as much time for the home team's advantage to manifest itself. If overtime were a whole nother game, instead of just one goal, HFA would be the same as in the regular season.

The 10-2 and 15-4, I'd bet, are just random occurrences. But there's no betting market ...


"do you, like me, often find it more appealing to read about an event you've already seen?"

Yes, if my team won. If the Steelers win on Sunday at 1pm, I find myself trying to catch highlights on every channel that evening, then reading stories on the major websites on Monday morning.

Brad Peck

Regarding the NBA I am agreeing with the referee theory. Hockey refs seem far less given to rule interpretation swings.


ice is ice


My instinct tells me that the overwhelming majority of those overtime games were won by the team that was the favorite to win the series. In other words, it was a much better team that, perhaps, swept all of their home games without a problem. When they were playing on the road, the weaker team DID have home ice advantage, which is what drove them into overtime. It just didn't help them enough.



What's the stat on overall home vs away playoff wins for the same time period?
And what's the stat for home vs away OT wins in the regular season and non-finals playoffs?

I've got to say that when it comes to a tight OT game in a finals situation it's all mental and the pressure is higher for the home team - the more relaxed team tends to be more open to see the less obvious scoring opportunity.

Or it could just be a fluke.


do you, like me, often find it more appealing to read about an event you've already seen?

I do.....Life goes on Living in memories... I would think..thats the reason..what will be your reason?


Well, yeah, there are a lot of variables in hockey. But the cosmic version is more fun.

I definitely think player age was a factor because Detroit looked really tired by the end despite giving it their best effort. Even my husband and I were tired, and we were just sitting there yelling, not playing no-holds-barred hockey for 100+ minutes.

I think the refereeing was biased in favor of Pittsburgh, but that's to be expected when a team is on the road facing elimination and there are more games to be played in the series. So it goes.


A couple of years ago, I read that the NHL all-start game was cancelled. I asked a hockey fanatic who I work with, why. He said that there weren't any games this season because of the lock-out/strike (I forget which).

Imagine how important it would have been if I didn't live in a hockey town.

By the way, who is the heavyweight champion these days? ... and what is the championship called?


A very quick calculation of the entire season shows that (excluding ties) the home team won 60% of games. The standard error on that is about 1.5%, so we can say that the home team wins between 57% and 63% of the time.

Does anyone know how this compares to other sports?

The data for overtimes in finals is a tiny sample, but it is also the result of data mining. It was only reported because it looked funny. I'm willing to bet a large sume that the next 12 overtime games (i.e. out of sample) will have far fewer than 10 wins for the road team.


Home ice advantage in the playoffs only matters in game 7. If the Pens win tomorrow night then Detroit has the advantage in game 7 playing at home. Everyone on the ice knows what's at stake in a game 7 so you cannot say that the Pens will be more relaxed. Home ice helps the Red Wings because they have the fans behind them.


Having played hockey for more than 2 decades now, you have to wonder if you'd get a bit rattled at your home rink, with fans shouting "we want the cup" in double overtime, with one of the oldest, most historic awards in professional sports on the line. Hearing the fans chanting (as a Ranger fan with nothing on the line) gave me chills. I can't even imagine the kind of stress you'd be under playing in that situation. It seems the visitors would be less distracted by the spectacle going on around them.

It'd also be interesting to see what impact home ice has on officiating. Crowd pressure didn't seem to get to Paul Devorski... as a referee, I'll give him the second goaltender interference penalty, and the 4 minute high stick was blatant, but the first goaltender interference penalty was a pretty weak call (though, in fairness, it was a lesser punishment than the 5 minute kicking major that should have been called).

My guess is the Penguins will win game 6. Their younger roster is plainly better suited to playing again in less than 48 hours.

The real question: If the Pneguins were to win the Stanley Cup, do they make Crosby drink sparkling apple juice from the cup? After all, despite being the team captain, and leading his team to the finals, he won't be old enough to drink until August!



Having played as a goaltender in professional youth leagues in Europe as well as having had some limited exposure to professional league games, I can provide some insights.

Overall, I feel that it doesn't really matter as much in hockey as it might in soccer for example if you play away or at home. Since hockey is a less of a tactical game in terms of being able to play defensively for 60 minutes, players and coaches are less inclined I guess to fall for the myth that in an away game you 'let the home team come first'. Personally, I always liked to play abroad, particularly when the home team was better, and you had already made some good saves and kept your team in the game - then this often got its own momentum where the home team feels more and more pressure to win being the better team on the ice.

Reverting to some fundamentals, the only really proper reason I could come up with is that the journey to the away game could tire you much more than it would when you played at home - as you are out of your comfort zone, you might not get the food that you would like before a game, you might not get the same amount of sleep at the time you are used to before a game, you might arrive to early / too late at the game site causing more uptightness...On the other hand, it had played some of my best games when I really felt tired after such a trip...

At such a skill level like in the NHL, particularly in the finals, particularly in the OT, everything else than just pure randomness (as mentioned by Phil #13) would be rather far-fetched. If Fleury (to whom in OT it very likely didn't matter much at all whether he was in Pittsburgh or in Detroit at that time) hadn't made one of his OT-saves, we would probably begin to argue the other way around.

The beauty of hockey as of other sports is that sometimes it is just determined by randomness.



There aren't a lot of tangible benefits for being at home in the NHL - you get last change, and a bit of an edge of faceoffs by putting your stick down last. So any perk (like most sports) is just psychological. I'm not sure what the regular season numbers are, but I'd guess the home team doesn't win more than 52-55% of the time.

Any playoff stats for "home ice advantage" are probably skewed because the better team gets more home games. If you just took the stats from the first four games, I doubt you'd see a large effect.

As for overtime...that's probably just a fluky streak - I can't think of any real reason for it, other than maybe the home team has more pressure to win at home.


I would think that road-teams have an inherent advantage in the lack of distractions, motivation of succeeding on foreign turf and a there-is-nothing-to-lose mindset.

However, because home advantage comes to the "better" team during the regular season, road teams may be going into games with somewhat of a negative or defeatist attitude (kind of conceding the game to the home team).

So, the 2nd point probably negates the 1st to some extent.

However, in hockey where so many players are from Europe or Canada, every game - home or away - may be perceived as on the road ... which brings us back to the 1st point.



What's interesting about hockey which seems to be a large advantage for home teams is that "home teams get last change". This means that the home team gets to see who the visitors have on the ice before a face-off and can swap players at that point (before the puck-drop). This is either done de facto or the ref actually calls "last change". This advantage is not in any other sport.

Also, in OT games, I think a home team has a larger advantage since they will have extra supplies of things like dry socks, jerseys, food, tape, everything. This matters in a 4-5 hour long game. Maybe this is not as big of a deal in the playoffs where the visiting team brings more stuff since they play more than one game before moving on.


it is mental. the home team typically has the mental edge during the game as they "should win" and get energy from the crowd. as the game goes on and into overtime, that edge shifts to the visitor as they are now almost in a "nothing to lose" situation because technically, they should not be there still, they should have already lost. this translates into the home team playing "tighter" and leads to mistakes. since it is hockey, a single mistake can lead to a goal and the game.

in this game, detroit had it won until the lat .35 seconds and could clinch the cup at home. that increased the anxiety on their part. a pittsburg win would allow them to go back home for the next game....

the margin of error in hockey in overtime is the smallest of all sports...

ms. non-militarist

history speaks- when the greeks sent their military away from home by boat- they were free of the sorts of social attachments that kept the fight down at home- there's a price however- greater distructive potential.


Far fetched try: If home court advantage was a matter of different light installations and other technical stuff it might be true that ice hockey players who look DOWN and not UP are confused less by the unknown environment.

Lawrence J. Krakauer

An observation that seldom seems to be talked about: the result of any single hockey game between two reasonably well-matched teams is highly random.

I know little about hockey, but any game that frequently ends with scores such as 2 - 1 just has to have a high standard deviation. The whole game can hinge on 0.25 seconds of inattention by a goalie, or simply on a bad ricochet. Over many games, the better team will out (although teams do not remain the same over a long period of time), but there's got to be a lot of randomness in any single game.

Yet this is almost never talked about. Sports commentators seem to have a need to create some deep reason why a team won or lost any given game. The recent New England Patriots season is an example. Commentators gave almost a mystic significance to their undefeated record prior to the Superbowl. Yet the games were hardly all blowouts; a great deal of chance was involved. A trivial change in just a few plays could have destroyed the undefeated pre-Superbowl record, but resulted in a Superbowl victory. There was no cosmic meaning.

This inability to tolerate the idea of randomness is hardly limited to sports. When people are afflicted with a serious illness that has no apparent cause, they often ask, "Why me?" Huh? Try "chance."