The Critical 'I'

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Wednesday, June 11, 2003

HOME-ICE MEANS SOMETHING AFTER ALL
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Back to sports for a bit, and the bestest sport of them all: Hockey! It occurred to me early this morning that, at the start of the playoffs, I pointed out how researchers at the University of New Brunswick came out with a study that confirmed what had been apparent for the last few years: That the highly-touted home-ice advantage going into the playoffs was no advantage at all. How did these findings hold up during this year's postseason?

Lower-seeded teams did very well for themselves. Without working out the numbers (they're readily available elsewhere), obviously the Ducks showed their disdain for home-ice, making it all the way to the Finals as the lower seed and, therefore, the starting road team each series. Of course, the Quackers took out three of their four Western series in sweeps, so you could argue that they never allowed the long-term effects of home-ice advantage to kick in. On the other side, the Devils did prevail in the Eastern Conference Finals against the higher-seeded Senators, capped by winning Game 7 in Ottawa. So for the bulk of the playoffs, the boys at New Brunswick were proven out right.

Then came the Cup Finals, where that theory was blown apart front-and-center. Like a script, every game in the series was won by the home team, and won in pretty convincing fashion (there were a couple of close contests, but in all cases the home teams played noticably better). The home teams were so much better in those games that, by Game 7, I had little doubt that New Jersey was going to win it (although I was hoping for an Anaheim upset).

Not only did the Finals series reinforce the primacy of home-ice, the Devils themselves showed how much it mattered in their run. Not only did they go a record-breaking 12-1 at home, they also became the first team since the 1974 Flyers to win a Cup with a losing road record (4-7). So I guess that, when it comes to championship crunch time, home-ice really does count for something after all.