Home-Ice Advantage Very Real in Boston

By Wayne Whittaker, Boston Bruins Correspondent

The crowd is roaring, the spotlights flashing, the goal horn is blaring, and the repetitive thump of a tired but familiar techno song serenades you to the bench. Congratulations, your team has just been scored on by the Boston Bruins in TD Garden.

Home ice advantage is no myth. In front of their home crowd the Bruins are 8-2 in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, including seven straight victories. For the 17,565 in attendance the Bruins are more than just a hockey team, they serve as an extension of the city’s identity.

Bruins Crowd during the 2011 Stanley Cup FInal
Bruins Crowd during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final (photo courtesy of Wayne Whittaker)

From the moment the doors open in the arena, roughly one hour prior to puck-drop, there’s a systematic plan in place to create chaos and euphoria. It begins with Ron Poster, a Berklee College of Music graduate, and TD Garden organist for the past eleven years. Behind an unfortunate drum machine, Poster plays mostly for his own enjoyment for the first half hour or so. A mix of top-40 pop hits and classic rock songs serve as a soundtrack for fans being ushered into their seats.

Then, while fans are still meandering in the balcony, the 12’9″ x 21’4″ HDX screen begins to periodically show glimpses inside the Bruins locker room. Focused Boston players pretend not to notice the cameras or the crowd’s instant reaction. The energy continues to slowly build.

Following warm-ups, the arena goes dark again. A five-minute video montage set to deafeningly loud butt-rock appears on the massive overhanging scoreboard, and the pre-game traditions begin. It starts with the honorary fan banner captain.

What started in 2009 as a way to engage the fans in the pre-game festivities took on new meaning after the marathon bombings in Boston. Retired Bruins greats were replaced by police officers, first responders, families of victims, and the victims themselves, all showing their resilience and pumping more emotion into a rabid crowd.

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By the time the Bruins take the ice to the deafening crowd-noise, it could be considered an insult to lose on home ice. And if all goes as planned, no one will have to worry about that.

The TD Garden is one of the best buildings in the National Hockey League if the Bruins are winning. As soon as the red light goes on above the opponent’s net-minder, the lights, music, and crowd noise creates a frustrating sensory overload and gives the opposing team no time to regroup or shrug off their mistake.

As much as teams like to say that crowd noise doesn’t have an effect on the game one way or another, nobody really believes it. In the Stanley Cup runs of 2011 and 2013, when the B’s has gone a combined 18-5 in Boston, you can clearly see the effect that the home crowd has. They’re loud, they’re cocky, they’re angry, and they’re leather-lunged.

Look back at the huge momentum swing that took place in Game 7 vs. Toronto. Following Milan Lucic’s goal with 1:22 remaining in the third, the crowd began to come alive. By the time Bergeron tied it with 55 seconds left, it was a vacuum of noise. For James Reimer and the Maple Leafs, there was no hiding from the fact that they had just screwed up very, very badly, and there was no doubt the Bruins were going to win the game in overtime.

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In 2011, the NHL decided to conduct an experiment by reading sound decibel levels during the Stanley Cup Final. Keeping in mind that the level at which sustained exposure may result in a hearing loss is 90-95 dB (and pain begins at 125 dB), the TD Garden recorded levels between 114-119 dB after every Boston goal in the series.

With their team now two wins away from a second championship in three seasons, Game 4 should be another loud and raucous affair on Causeway Street.

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