NHL HOCKEY BETTING: STANDING ON CEREMONY
A common thread that you’ll find in every sport is the pregame ceremony. These are held for many reasons—to honor a championship team, to retire a number, to recognize a tragedy or to memorialize a death in the home team’s ‘family’. Serious handicappers have found good betting opportunities in games that involve ceremonies in all team sports. Since hockey is such an emotional and intense sport it is especially effective to use pregame ceremonies as part of your handicapping process.
THE HIERARCHY OF CEREMONIES
You’ll notice that we specified ‘pregame’ ceremonies as a component of handicapping. There’s a reason for that—sports ceremonies have a certain hierarchy based on their significance. At the bottom rung is the ‘in game’ recognition which isn’t really a ceremony at all. These are used for visiting dignitaries, low level celebrities, retired players, etc: “Please turn your attention to section 12 and welcome back (insert retired player’s name here). The fans cheer, the retired player gives a wave and the game continues without a significant interruption.
There’s also the halftime ceremony which is a bigger honor but one that seldom has an impact on the game. Different teams use these for different reasons—from congratulating contest winners, promoting local charities or as a special experience for a Girl Scout troop selling a lot of cookies. Occasionally, they’ll be used to honor players with retired numbers, etc. In most cases, the teams are in the locker room though in the case of honoring former players they’ll usually be on the ice out of respect. These seldom have any sort of emotional impact on the players involved and if they do there’s likely other signs of trouble. If you’re betting on a team that comes unglued after the local Girl Scouts get congrats for cookie sales they have bigger issues to deal with.
Then there’s the ‘pregame’ ceremony which is what we’re talking about. These are the most significant honor involving a sports team but the specific impact they have has a lot to do with the nature of the ceremony itself.
TYPES OF PREGAME CEREMONIES
–HONORING A RETIRED OR RETIRING PLAYER: The impact of these ceremonies can vary widely with the player in question and circumstances surrounding the retirement. Occasionally, a top level player will make a ‘farewell tour’–we recently saw Kobe Bryant do this in the NBA. This type of ceremony seldom has any emotional impact on either team. Typically, the honoree is respected by all of his peers throughout the league so both teams pay him respect and go about their business.
The emotional impact of other ‘player’ honoring ceremonies vary widely. Here’s what most recreational sports bettors usually miss—the emotional impact is always felt by the home team. Even if the tribute evokes a good emotion like honor or pride, it’s still draining and leaves a team ill prepared to play hockey. One that comes immediately to mind is the Montreal Canadiens’ tribute to the great Jean Beliveau on the occasion of his death. This was an amazing tribute to one of the most highly respected players in NHL history. The ceremony was more of a celebration of his life than mourning his death. After all, Beliveau lived a long life, played in the NHL for twenty years and was respected by the entire hockey world and beloved in Montreal. His name appears on the Stanley Cup a record seventeen times—10 as a player and 7 as a team executive. This tribute was a celebration of the man and the franchise. Montreal came out and played one of their most inspired games of the year, beating Vancouver 3-1.
The ‘square’ thinks that all ceremonies work this way. They don’t. In fact, the Beliveau tribute was the exception rather than the rule. If there’s any hint of tragedy involved—a life or career cut short, for example—the emotional impact on the home team is quite different. It’s just draining and leaves the home team in the wrong state of mind for hockey.
–RECOGNIZING A TRAGEDY: In most cases, these are major events—terrorist attacks, natural disasters, etc.–and teams feel a responsibility to recognize the loss before moving on. In most cases, they have minimal impact on the teams involved in the game. There are exceptions—the one that is most memorable is the New York baseball and football teams immediately after the 9/11 attacks. These are few and far between and even if a disaster happens in a local community it probably won’t have an emotional impact on the home team (they can, however, have a more practical impact like disrupting practice and preparation). You have to be careful with this since the mainstream sports media loves to milk any ‘playing in the wake of tragedy’ angle they can. Few have any real significance.
–HONORING A CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM: This is the situation that handicappers circle no matter the team and no matter the sport. Here’s how it works—it typically happens before the first home game and the championship winning team from a year ago are honored by the fans. Sometimes they’ll be awarded championship rings or the official league trophy. It’s usually accompanied by a multimedia presentation, speeches and a lot of pomp that has one purpose in mind—to convey to the team how wonderful they are.
Meanwhile, the opposing team is either watching from the other end of the ice seething or as has become a more common practice in the locker room seething. They’re listening to the cheers reverberate throughout the arena and the opposing franchise patting themselves on the back. This has the result of leaving the home team drained and feeling great about themselves but facing a seething team that had to sit through the championship accolades. More often than not, the home team loses. If the visiting opponent is a championship contender so much the better but no professional athlete wants to be in this position.
Making this a handicapping ‘perfect storm’ is how recreational players misread this situation. The average ‘man on the street’ thinks this is a strong emotional situation but one that favors the home team. The thinking is that they’ll be swelling with pride and ready to play hard for the greater glory of the team, the city and their fans. It almost never works out that way.