Routines and Rituals – A Look at the Strange World of Hockey Superstitions

Hockey players are a weird bunch. Each with their own special ticks. From the simple little things to lifelong habits, hockey has had its share of special characters. It’s not limited to those few players; some superstitions are imbued into the very fibers of the game. Simple things ranging from equipment rituals all the way up to anthem singers. Hockey is full of weirdos and they make the game special on and off the ice.

I’ve Gotta Do It

We all know that one fan who won’t wash his favorite shirt because the last time they wore it, their team won. While we think that person is a little off, in their mind you can’t argue with success. I personally know guys who, during the Stanley Cup playoffs, won’t wash any article of clothing until the team they cheer for is eliminated.

Players share these same ideals. Some players do simple things like wearing the same style of equipment while others just need to have the same clothes every game. It’s just not enough to wear the same equipment though; if your team is on a winning streak you need to keep the luck going. Players have gone as far as wearing the same equipment without washing or cleaning it, and trust me: hockey equipment can get very funky. The smell that comes out of a well-worn set of hockey gloves is absolutely vile. That “hockey stink” even has its own industry trying to eliminate or mask the smell. But if the team is winning, some players need to keep the good vibes around.

Ice hockey sticks

Ever watch a player tape their stick on the bench? Or do you notice that some players have specific colors or patterns? Hockey players all have their own way of making sure their twig is ready for battle. Watch players tape and retape over and over again just trying to get the right alignment. Each piece must fall into its place or off comes the tape and the process starts all over again.

The hockey stick surrounds quite a few superstitions. Former player Danny Briere used to have a special stick rotation. Briere would have three sticks when playing, making sure that each stick received an equal opportunity to see playtime. If a particular stick had a great game, Briere would reward the stick with a resting period and use the other sticks until he feels the balance had been restored.

Not every player went as heavy as Briere with their stick rituals. Karl Alzner makes sure that he taps his stick in rhythm with the national anthem. He tries to trace the outline of a maple leaf while taping 88 times.

Players don’t just have equipment rituals. Sleeping habits and pregame time habits are a common way to bring lady luck to their team’s side. The pregame meal not only provides the players with the energy they need to play at their peak, but it also is a chance to make chicken parmsure that the players can perform while maintaining habits they believe are linked to their team winning.

Brent Seabrook has been known to eat seven Hersey’s Kisses prior to taking the ice. Other players, like former NHL player Ray Ferraro, used to eat the same meal before every game. Once, prior to scoring two goals in a game, Ferraro had eaten some chicken parm. Every game after that, Ferraro made sure to chow down on chicken parm as he felt it would bring him success. It’s not limited to

It’s not limited to pregame though. During intermissions, Hall of Famer Bob Gainey would down a special elixir. His magic potion was a 50/50 split between water and a Coke. Obviously, it worked out for him as he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.

With Great Power Comes Great Rituals

Vancouver - New York RangersThe best player to ever lace up skates and take to the ice is Wayne Gretzky. “The Great One” holds lots of individual hockey records; he holds or shares 61 in the NHL. Gretzky also had some of the weirdest game day rituals. Before one game, Gretzky decided he needed a haircut. Thinking nothing of it, he got his locks cut and went to the game. Well, his team lost that night. After that, he refused to go again before a game.

Gretzky was also notorious for putting his gear on in a specific order, making sure to place each piece on himself in the same order every single game. Finally, before the game started, he applied baby powder to the blade of his sticks to help increase his scoring ability. Now, I’m not saying that you should dunk all your sticks in baby powder, but it did do wonders for Gretzky.

Gretzky is not the only great player to have such strange rituals. Arguably the best player of the current generation, Sidney Crosby also has his ticks. Crosby’s gameday starts out by not calling his mother before the game. Why you ask? Well, he tends to get injured when he does call her. On three different occasions, he has sustained dislocated shoulder, busted teeth, and a broken foot. After he avoids a motherly phone call, he arrives at the arena. Once there, he will only use tape supplied by the home team to tape his sticks. After he has his sticks taped and all the special lucky juju is in place, no one besides Crosby can touch the sticks. Other players or team members can’t even joke about handling his sticks or off comes the now ruined juju tape and a fresh coat is applied.

Can’t Top the Best

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Out of all the players on the ice, there is a special breed of people that play a certain position: the most unusual and odd member of the team, the goaltender. Goalies are weird, but not just regular weird; they are a special kind of weird. Goalies cover all the superstitions that are above. They also go beyond that with their own special brand of crazy. You can talk to some before games, but others require a more monk style of conversations. Whether goalies like Jocelyn Thibault are pouring water on their head or not leaving warm-ups until making the last save like Hall of Fame Goaltender Ken Dryden, every goalie has their quirks.

Former goaltender Ron Hextall had a rather mild ritual. Before and after every period, he would swing his stick back and forth, banging it on the goal posts and crossbar. This ritual has spread to other goalies since then and it’s more common to see now. Some goalies believe this wakes the posts up to prepare them for the game. While some goalies would see this as abuse, Marc-Andre Fleury not only speaks to his metal post friends. He will also pat the crossbar after they make the save to bail him out. If a puck rings off the post once

While some goalies would see this as abuse, Marc-Andre Fleury not only speaks to his metal post friends, but he will also pat the crossbar after the bar bails him out. If a puck rings off the post once play is stopped or heads the other direction, Fleury will turn and pat the top of the net. Retired goalie Bill Ranford would go as far as refusing to let an official take the puck from him until he flipped it up and had it land on the backside of his glove.

There is only one superstitious goalie who tops them all: former Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche netminder Patrick Roy. Roy had many special priorities about his game.

During the warmup of the period, goalies will skate back and forth to slightly Patrick_Roy_1999rough up the goal crease. This helps provide a little grip to push-off with using their pads. This process creates a little bit of snow that most goalies just push into the net. Not only would Roy outright talk to the posts of his net, Roy made sure not to sweep anything into it. He always pushed the snow out to the sides, because he always wanted to make sure that nothing went into his net. Prior to the game, he also refused to take part any interviews. Once taking the ice, he also refused to skate over any lines; he made sure to step and jump over the lines while not in play. Before the puck was dropped, he would crouch and stare at his net visualizing it getting smaller and smaller. Roy is the probably the biggest character to ever wear the mask.

Special Actions for That Special Time of the Season.

octopusThe Stanley Cup Playoffs is the most exciting time in hockey. Every player steps up and elevates their game as they battle to get 16 wins in order to lift the greatest trophy in all of sports. But, before teams needed 16 wins, they only needed 8. During the 1952 playoffs a fan of the Detroit Red Wings throw

During the 1952 playoffs, a fan of the Detroit Red Wings threw an octopus onto the ice. Each arm represented the 8 wins the team needed to win the Stanley Cup. The good luck charm worked as the Red Wings went on to sweep the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. This has become a tradition during all Red Wings playoff runs. An octopus is even the unofficial mascot of Detroit as a giant purple octopus named Al hangs in the rafters during the post season.

Even singers can bring success to a team during the postseason. During a game in Philadelphia in 1969, the Flyers played Kate Smith’s rendition of God Bless America. This Kate_Smith_Billboard_4started a tradition where, during certain games, the Philadelphia Flyers would play the song to help bring success to the team. At the home opener of the 1973 season, Kate Smith made a surprise appearance and sang God Bless America. The Flyers won that game by defeating the Maple Leafs 2-0. Teams have tried to jinx the good luck of Kate Smith by shaking her hand and giving her flowers after the performance. The Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders attempted this in 1974 and 1975 during the playoffs. The Flyers went on to beat both teams and won back-to-back Stanley Cups.

During the 1980s, the New York Islanders dominated the hockey scene. Winning four consecutive cups early in the decade, they held a firm grip on what defined success for a hockey team. They also popularized a hockey tradition that most players and fans have grown to adopt: the playoff beard. The playoff beard has become a staple during the postseason. The tradition starts with a clean shave before the playoffs get underway. Then, the razors are put on the bench until a player’s postseason ends, whether it’s by losing in the first round or winning the Cup. Teams and fans have taken well to the idea of growing a beard for good luck. Well not every team. During the 1994 playoffs the New York Rangers did not grow beards due to the connection of the tradition to their interstate rival Islanders.

Well, not every team. During the 1994 playoffs, the New York Rangers did not grow beards due to the connection of the tradition to their interstate rivals, the Islanders.

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Hockey has some of the quirkiest, off-the-wall, and downright strange superstitions in all of sports. From pouring water from an old arena onto the new arena’s ice to entering the building in a specific way, hockey has just the right amount of weirdness to make it fun enough for even the casual fan to participate in its silly rituals. There is no doubt that, while some players take it farther than others, there is nothing better than the characters that hockey has shown the world.

 


Jim McBride is the “Beyond the Ice” writer for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can contact him at jmcbride@gnghockey.com.

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