Columnists, Sports

A Fan’s Perspective: Who has the best home-ice advantage in the NHL?

Hockey season is just a mere week away, and with teams in preseason play already, one item on the agenda is charting out the challenging games on the schedule. Not only must teams and coaches decide how to approach the top teams in both conferences, but they are also forced to tackle the arenas they visit.

One very important factor for NHL squads when it comes to piecing together wins is the fan base. Hockey fans are a breed of their own. Always rowdy, they provide an extra level of excitement that can’t be found anywhere else in sports. While it is mostly the quality of the players that leads to how well any team does, the fans certainly play an important role. The NHL has 30 teams and 30 arenas — each of which has their own set of advantages and quirks. However, three of these hockey palaces stand alone in making the playing environment extremely difficult for opposing teams.

The third greatest home ice advantage in the NHL is Joe Lewis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings. Opening in 1979, “The Joe” has seen its tenants play in six Stanley Cup Finals, winning four in the process. At center ice, superimposed over the Red Wings logo is the word “Hockeytown.” Detroit is not simply a hockey town; it is the hockey capital of America.

The arena – named after former heavy weight champion and Detroit native Joe Lewis – is one of three arenas in the NHL that does not have a corporate sponsor and consistently sells out, with over 908,000 fans packing the rink during the 2013-14 season. With octopi in hand, the Red Wings fanatics make their presence felt at nearly every game they attend.

On the ice, the Red Wings themselves are an exciting — albeit aging — crew, with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall, all in their mid-thirties. Despite the upcoming closure of Joe Lewis Arena and the aging core of their team, fans will make Detroit’s new hockey home – slated to open in 2017 – even more exhilarating and tough for opposing teams.

The United Center in Chicago, Illinois, nicknamed “The Madhouse on Madison,” ranks just ahead of The Joe in terms of home-ice advantage. The Blackhawks have found much success under its roof, winning two of the franchise’s five Stanley Cup trophies.

After a lengthy rebuilding era in the early 2000s, the Blackhawks began achieving success in 2009, led by young standouts Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Following the team’s fourth Stanley Cup victory in 2010, its first title since 1961, Chicago caught a case of hockey fever, and the effect that Chicago’s fans had on their team were easy to see. Over the last six seasons, the Blackhawks have amassed an impressive 149-52-28 record at home.

In the 2012-13 season, shortened to just 48 games due to a lockout, the cumulative home attendance of 522,619 was more than the total accrued during the 2006-07 season of 521,809.

While both The Joe and Madhouse are worthy contenders, the best sporting venue in the big four North American sports exists in Montreal at the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens.

Replacing the fabled Montreal Forum in 1996, the Bell Centre is never a friendly place for visitors to play. Although the Canadiens have yet to win a Stanley Cup under its roof, the team is always electrified by its rambunctious fans, who have sold out the Bell Centre since Jan. 2004.

The Montreal faithful has had a lot to cheer about. Since its establishment in 1909, the franchise has seen 24 Stanley Cups lifted above the ice, with legends such as Guy Lafleur, Maurice Richard and Patrick Roy donning the red, blue and white sweaters. With current players such as Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban and Carey Price, the Canadiens are a skillfully physical team who feeds off the energy its fans provide.

The arena is the loudest hockey venue in the entire world, with decibel levels reaching as high as 135 during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. Simply put, as long as there’s hockey in Montreal, the Bell Centre will be packed and filled with passionate (and hostile) fans.

In spite of how the upcoming hockey season will unfold, it can almost be guaranteed that teams visiting these three arenas will routinely struggle to come away with a victory, and home-ice advantage will certainly play a big role in that. With their fans’ cheers, jeers drowning out their arenas, it would be surprising if Chicago, Montreal and Detroit are left out of the playoffs by the end of the season.

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