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Hometown Heroes: Do "Local Boys" do Better Against the Leafs and the Canadiens?

Rich Pollock again asked me a great question - the announcers on HNIC are always telling how "local boys" get pumped up for their visits to the 1990s era hallowed shrines of hockey in Montreal and Toronto.  By now, you should know it's safe to assume that everything a hockey commentator says is incorrect until proven otherwise.  So let's look further at this notion.

I looked at every game played over the last seven seasons.  I first counted shots and goals taken by players with no connection to Toronto or Montreal - that is, players born outside Ontario for games at ACC, and players born outside Quebec in Montreal - and compared how they did the rest of the time to how they did visiting the two rinks in question.

This table shows the percentage increase or decrease in each quantity when these players played in each rink relative to when they were playing somewhere else:


G/82 S/82 SPCT
TOR +1.7 -3.7 +5.6
TOR, NO OTT +2.1 -3.2 +5.5
MTL -9.5 +2.8 -12.0


So first, non-Ontario players visiting Toronto: their shot rate went down approximately 3.5%, but their shooting percentage went up, so they scored goals at a higher rate.  I also split out players who were not playing for the Ottawa Senators - after all, Ottawa is technically home too.  Non-Quebec players increased their shot rate in Montreal, but didn't score as often.

What about the hometown players?


G/82 S/82 SPCT
TOR +8.2 -4.8 +13.6
TOR, NO OTT +10.8 -4.5 +15.9
MTL -5.8 +10.5 -14.7


Here we see similar impacts: shot rate goes down in Toronto, but shooting percentage goes up.  In Montreal, shot rate goes up, but goal-scoring goes down.  Combining the two charts, we can see how the local players' performance changed compared to everyone else's:


G/82 S/82 SPCT
TOR +6.5 -1.1 +8.0
TOR, NO OTT +8.7 -1.3 +10.4
MTL +3.8 +7.7 -2.8


So without controlling for anything else, players born in Ontario tend to score more when they play in Toronto than players who were not born there.  The effect is much more pronounced for players who play for teams other than the Ottawa Senators (who actually saw their goal-scoring go down).  Similarly, Quebec-born players see a bigger bump in scoring in Montreal than non-Quebec players.  It's not an across-the-board improvement - sometimes it's more shots, sometimes it's a higher shooting percentage - but the impact is the same.

The only problem - and I'm sorry for burying the lede - is that players don't play enough away games in Montreal and Toronto for anyone to have actually observed this phenomenon.  Derek Roy leads non-Senators with 18 games in Toronto in seven seasons; Antoine Vermette has played 17 games in Montreal over the same period.  That's an expected difference of 1-2 goals...over seven seasons.  The human brain simply cannot accurately assess that kind of difference.  And for every Martin St. Louis, who scored 10 goals in 13 games in Montreal, there are several players with zero goals in as many games. 

So while this effect appears to be real, those announcers who claim that it's true based it on observing one or two players in a handful of games.  They could just as easily have been wrong.