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NHL fans: How much do they affect the game?

Get the Rallies Goin'

The art of waving rally towels and the overall buzz and hype in big games gets me. The relationship between the in-game experience and the play on the ice intrigues me. Fans unquestionably have an impact on the game. But, how much truth goes into that idea?

Management, coaching staff and the players themselves are always the number one reason for a team’s success. But, “without fans, there would be no game” said Hall of Famer Brett Hull. The crowd, atmosphere and electricity is always the most memorable part of a big game. A player’s duty is always to thank the fans after a win for their support. The fans are the fuel and the team is the race car.

Organizations across the league have gone through countless changes to their in-game experiences. And team success has immediately followed. The last 10 years have seen Washington, Chicago and now Nashville take on makeovers on and around the ice.

Capital one arena (capitals)

Alexander Ovechkin has reshaped the culture in the nation’s capital. But, the most overlooked piece to their return to prominence is how they “rock the red” on a nightly basis.

It’s not a common trend to change team colors. But, the Caps did so prior to the 2007-2008 season. They have made red stanchions around the arena to reflect the team’s colors. And they chant “rock the red” before every home game.

NHL fans
They Rock the Red in the District of Columbia. Photo Courtesy of Flickr

The Washington Capitals have qualified for the postseason each year since the changes. They have also had one of the better average attendances in the NHL.

Most notably in 2015, the Caps on average drew 19,500 fans per night, which is 110.5 percent capacity at the Capital One Arena. Business has been good for the organization. But, there is definitely room for improvement.

Caps fans have yet to see a conference final in the Ovechkin era. According to espn.com, the Capital One Arena has 100 percent of vendors inside the arena that are in violation of health requirements. The venue was recently renamed (formerly Verizon Center) and could also be revamped.

Change is difficult to execute because arenas are often not owned by the teams themselves. But, more change to the in game experience may be what the Caps need to take the next step.

united center (Blackhawks)

The Chicago Blackhawks are the modern day NHL dynasty. Their success began with the consecutive drafts involving Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. But it’s the deafening crowd at the United Center that makes it one of the toughest environments for the opposition.

NHL fans
Blackhawks celebrate their 1st Stanley Cup win on home ice. Photo Courtesy of Journal Star

Jim Cornelison (Blackhawks anthem singer) started working full-time at the United Center in 2007. It is one of the most authentic and unifying acts in the sport. Silence is golden typically when the anthem is being sung.

But at the United Center, the fans have stood and cheered during the singing since Cornelison took the reigns. Tickets are very expensive in Chicago, but a seat in section 300 has said to feel the same as any other.

An even more iconic song sung at the United center is that of Chelsea Dagger. It is sung in unison by the Chicago faithful after every Blackhawk goal scored. Rarely is a goal song widely known across the league. But, since 2008, Chelsea Dagger is one of the most recognizable facets of hockey in Chicago.

The significance of these facts is simple. The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2007. Season ticket base has increased over 300 percent, and they have sold out 414 consecutive games as of April 5, 2017. The degree of difficulty there is high with United being the third largest arena (in terms of seating capacity) in the NHL. You cannot ignore the correlation between the crowd at the “Madhouse on Madison” and the team itself.

Bridgestone Arena (predators)

The Nashville Predators entered the NHL in 1998. Nineteen years later we witnessed their run to the Stanley Cup Final. And according to Pierre McGuire, “if you haven’t been here, you got to see a game in Nashville”.

The Music City heroes of this past year are still a young franchise that has not yet seen an enormous deal of success. But, this past spring the Preds went toe-to-toe with the champions of Pittsburgh. And all people could talk about was the roaring crowd of the Nashville faithful.

NHL fans
“You can’t stop Preds fans, you can only hope to contain them” – Bob Hille Photo Courtesy of The Sporting News

Small market teams do not usually get this kind of recognition, but this season was different than all others for this organization. They had their highest average attendance in team history, and almost broke the world record for loudest crowd roar during the postseason. The decibels inside the arena during the conference finals came in at 129.4, which nearly reached the Guinness book’s 130.4.

The team’s invigoration from the Nashville crowd helped them achieve the unthinkable. They swept the No. 1 seeded Chicago Blackhawks as an eight seed and carried that momentum all the way to the finals. The Preds even outplayed Pittsburgh for the majority of the series and fell just short.

Every fan wants to know that their crazed emotional investment is impactful. These teams undeniably prove that fact. The troubling times during rebuilds and being a new team in the league is rough. But, I guarantee the fan bases in these markets will tell you the wait was worth every second.

 

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