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Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports

An official journal of the American Statistical Association

Editor-in-Chief: Steve Rigdon, PhD

CiteScore 2018: 1.67

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.587
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 1.970

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Volume 10, Issue 2


Volume 1 (2005)

Reversal of fortune: a statistical analysis of penalty calls in the National Hockey League

Jason Abrevaya / Robert McCulloch
  • Corresponding author
  • Professor of Econometrics and Statistics, University of Chicago – Booth School of Business, 5807 S Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, IL 60637, USA
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Published Online: 2014-03-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jqas-2013-0067


This paper analyzes a unique data set consisting of all penalty calls in the National Hockey League between the 1995–1996 and 2001–2002 seasons. The primary finding is the prevalence of “reverse calls:” if previous penalties have been on one team, then the next penalty is more likely to be on the other. This pattern is consistent with a simple behavioral rationale based on the fundamental difficulty of refereeing a National Hockey League game. Statistical modeling reveals that the identity of the next team to be penalized also depends on a variety of other factors, including the score, the time in the game, the time since last penalty, which team is at home, and whether one or two referees are calling the game. There is also evidence of differences among referees in their tendency to reverse calls.

Keywords: hockey; penalties; prediction


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About the article

Corresponding author: Robert McCulloch, Professor of Econometrics and Statistics, University of Chicago – Booth School of Business, 5807 S Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, IL 60637, USA, e-mail:

Published Online: 2014-03-22

Published in Print: 2014-06-01

Source: www.legendsofhockey.net.

Source: www.hockey.tribute.com/77-famous-ice-hockey-quotes.html.

Source: Toronto Star, February 8, 2004. A “shift” is a player’s turn on the ice and generally lasts less than a minute.

Source: Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, October 25, 2003.

For example, looking at the sample boxscore given in the Appendix A, matching penalties occurred at 17:07 of the first period and 0:58 of overtime. For this game, the four matching penalties would not appear in the analysis sample.

One possible explanation is that penalty calls near the end of a period are less costly since the end of the period temporarily breaks up the power play.

Citation Information: Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, Volume 10, Issue 2, Pages 207–224, ISSN (Online) 1559-0410, ISSN (Print) 2194-6388, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jqas-2013-0067.

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