There are some sports and some leagues that lend themselves to afternoon games. It’s more than common for a football game to be in the afternoon, baseball is at it’s best in the daylight, and basketball is played on many a weekend afternoon. For some reason, though, hockey is not played nearly as often in the afternoon as other sports. For many teams – especially those not on the east coast – an afternoon game is a rare and not necessarily welcome occurrence. Teams can play an entire season without playing before the evening. Because they don’t happen that often, afternoon games in the NHL are something that NHL bettors need to consider in a different way than other games. Here are five factors unique to these games that bettors need to consider:
Does the home team host a lot of home games? – For teams on the east coast – especially those in the northeast – these games are a regular occurrence. Other teams don’t play them nearly as often. There are two reasons to be concerned about this. First, if a team has played the games with any regularity then they will know how to deal with them well. Playing so much earlier than normal can disrupt the player’s routines and the ways they prepare for games, but that disruption is less significant if they have past experience to draw on to determine what works in these situations. Players are very driven by routine and tradition, so a disruption is always a concern. If the disruption is significant because the team isn’t familiar with these games then the disruption could be enough to shrink the home ice advantage. The second factor is the crowd. If the team plays a lot of afternoon games then this game will not likely be any different than any other. If the game is a novelty, though, then the energy of the crowd will be different, and the advantage of the location could be different as a result. For example, in western cities that rarely host afternoon games the crowd will often be much younger when the afternoon games do happen as corporate season ticket holders take their children to the game instead of their clients.
Does the road team play afternoon games? – The same considerations are relevant for the road team as the home team, obviously. It’s hard enough for a team to play on the road in the best of circumstances. If they have to overcome the disruption of an unfamiliar situation on top of everything else then it could be a real issue. This is particularly important to consider if the road team doesn’t play a lot of afternoon games but the road team does.
Is there a time zone factor for the road team? – It can be very hard for teams to play at the best of times when they cross the country. They can face time zone changes of as much as three hours. An afternoon game can magnify the impact of these situations. For example, if a west coast team plays an east coast afternoon game then a 1 p.m. start would feel like a 10 a.m. start for them. That means that they were forced to leave for the arena much earlier than they normally would, and they would have had to eat breakfast well before they would typically be awake. That can be hugely disruptive. On the other hand, if an east coast team travels west for an afternoon tilt then a 1 p.m. start would feel like a 4 p.m. start, and that would barely be disruptive compared to a typical 6 p.m. weekend start.
When did the teams play last? – The impact of an afternoon game is far more significant if one or both of the teams played the day before. That means that the rest period for the players is almost non-existent. The impact of short rest will be more significant for older teams, teams that are banged up, or teams that play a particularly physical style.
Is there a special reason for the game? – In most situations the afternoon game is just a result of scheduling and the preference of the home team. In some cases, though – especially when the games are rare in a city – there are special circumstances that surround the game. For example, two teams in Canada host an afternoon game early each new year as part of Hockey Day in Canada. That’s a TV-driven celebration of Canadian rivalries that can create extra energy and excitement in the buildings – especially because the teams play major rivals on that day. On those days the home ice advantage may be more significant than on a normal day because of the circumstances.