In a comeback victory last night, the Chicago Blackhawks took Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals from the Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1. The two teams will face off again Saturday night in Tampa for Game 2 of the seven game series. Both teams showed promise as the Lightning dominated for the first period and the Blackhawks controlled the third. The Cup could go either way, so we wanted to take a look at one advantage that is out of either team’s control: home field advantage (or, in the case of hockey, home ice advantage).
With 108 points in the regular season compared to Chicago’s 102, the Tampa Bay Lightning secured home ice advantage for the series, which will give them an upper hand if the series goes five or seven games. Playing at home can benefit players because it may make them more relaxed than if they were on the road. They are in a place that is comfortable and secure—players are able to sleep in their own homes and prepare in their own locker rooms and clubhouses.
Also, when at home, players are playing in front of their own fans. While this may not seem like it has a profound impact on players, think about 20,000 people cheering you on. Or, if you’re the away team, 20,000 people being so silent when you’ve just scored that you could hear a pin drop. With the Chicago win last night, if you’re a Blackhawks fan, you might scoff and say that the fans are unimportant and therefore the Lightning don’t have an edge, but not many of you have stood in front of thousands of people screaming for your success and against your opponent’s. To come back in the third period last night, Chicago used a significant amount of mental focus and determination in addition to the X’s and O’s to overcome the crowd atmosphere cheering against them and take Game 1 of the series.
Premier’s own Dr. Alexandra Wagener was on Minnesota’s local CBS station, WCCO, to discuss why fans are so crucial to a home team’s success:
“We know that we are more aggressive, we have more motivation and we are actually more confident when we’re at home,” she said. “There’s also research to show that when we have the crowd behind us it can influence referee calls to an extent. Be supportive, be excited, and be in the moment. When the players look up, see people on their feet, we see them chanting and cheering—it can provide that extra edge to skate a little stronger.”
In fact, the presence of fans is so important to the Lightning, that this year they are imposing a new rule: All fans sitting in “premium” areas are required to wear Lightning paraphernalia or neutral clothing—absolutely no Blackhawks apparel allowed. Bill Wicket, the Lightning’s Executive Vice President for Communications, told the New York Times that the team is trying to create a “hometown environment for the Lightning players and our season-ticket holders.”
The assistance that fans provide as Dr. Wagener has previously stated helps solidify this fact. The Lightning organization has recognized the fans’ importance, so they are trying to do whatever they can in order to give their team the best shot at winning the Cup. Teams are putting more stock into the mental game, not just one-on-one sessions or workshops with coaches, but trying to channel group mentality within the stadium as well.