Still in a good place
Hawks aren’t concerned about home-ice disadvantage at oilers’ arena
The NHL can’t catch a break in 2020. In case a global pandemic and the consolidation of 24 NHL teams into two hub cities weren’t enough, torrential rains in Edmonton flooded parts of Rogers Place on Thursday.
“Sometimes you almost have to step back and laugh a little bit,” Patrick Kane said after Blackhawks practice Friday. “Someone doesn’t want this to happen.”
Fortunately, unlike with the coronavirus, it seems the flooding problem will be resolved quickly.
Rogers Place officials reported Friday that the damage was restricted to concourse areas and that cleanup has begun.
“We do not foresee any significant delays or barriers to either Oilers training camp or preparations [and] activities related to our hosting as [an] NHL hub city,” arena officials said on Twitter.
That’s good news for the Hawks, Oilers and the rest of the Western Conference in that their playoff series, scheduled to begin Aug. 1, will be unaffected by this latest natural disaster.
But it also means the Hawks still will have to play their best-of-five series in Edmonton after all, on a rink the Oilers know very well.
There are a few small but unmistakable advantages the Oilers will enjoy. They’ll know how bouncy the boards and glass are and how the summer ice conditions are. They’ll have a sense of comfort in an arena they’ve been in hundreds of times.
On the other hand, the biggest home-ice advantages in a normal regular-season game won’t be at their disposal.
There will be no fans in the building. And the official “home team” in each game will rotate as normal, meaning the Oilers won’t get to use the more spacious home locker room and play matchups with their line changes any more frequently than usual.
Thus, the Hawks don’t seem very concerned about their home-ice disadvantage.
“Obviously, it’s their rink, so they’ll be comfortable there, [but] they don’t have the crowd,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “For the most part, it’s a pretty even playing field. It’s more so how they play and the challenges that presents. They got some pretty good players.”
“I don’t know if it gives them any advantage,” Duncan Keith said. “They’re in their home arena, but at the end of the day, the fans aren’t there . . . I’d like to think it’s [going to] be pretty even.”
Kirby Dach, who hails from an Edmonton suburb, was the only Hawks player to acknowledge any sort of disadvantage in interviews this week.
“Maybe a little bit,” Dach said. “Just them getting to practice in that rink time and time again and knowing how the boards play comes into factor. But . . . there’s not a lot of fans that are going to be there, so the noise won’t be there. For us, that’s a good thing. We’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to experience [the] playoffs for the first time, and that home crowd noise can really play a factor.”
That silence will make for an exceedingly strange first-time experience for every player involved.
And while it won’t provide either side an advantage, it’s the one thing about the hub experience in Edmonton that the Hawks seem most intrigued about.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve played hockey without fans in the building. You’d have to go back to minor hockey, where it’s basically your parents up there,” Keith said. “It’s something that we all have to deal with.”
NOTE: Hawks defensemen Connor Murphy and Olli Maatta missed practice Friday, with coach Jeremy Colliton saying they were “unfit to play” — the NHL’s new universal term. With Calvin de Haan still attending to a family emergency, the Hawks are undermanned on defense. ✶
Goalie Collin Delia keeps a close eye on Patrick Kane during practice Monday at Fifth Third Arena.
Despite flooding Thursday night, Rogers Place still is expected to host Western Conference playoff games.