Rituals of the Rink: Unusual Hockey Superstitions & Traditions
Feb 3, 2023
Both sports fans and players are big on traditions. In hockey, that’s taken one step further in the form of superstitions. Hockey is a unique sport, and hockey players are often considered to have more traditions and habits when it comes to their approach to the game and noted toughness. But for both fans and players of hockey, superstition and tradition are two of the most important components of the game. From big burly beards during a playoff run to the march to the ice, the importance of superstitions and traditions in a run to compete for the Stanley Cup® is crucial. Below, we list some of the most notable hockey superstitions that exist.
Playoff beards are common across all sports, but were made famous in hockey. Although there isn’t a recorded start to this tradition, fans of the game credit the New York Islanders® during their dominant run in the 1980s for starting the playoff beard tradition. On the path to four Stanley Cup® trophies during their dynastic run, players would not shave their beards from the beginning of the playoffs through the end of the Stanley Cup® Final. The tradition has since been replicated by other NHL® teams, and also in other sports leagues like the NFL, NBA and MLB.
The Legend of the Octopus is a hockey tradition that started with the Detroit Red Wings® in 1952. In the ’50s, only four teams made the playoffs, so the winning franchise had to win two best-of-seven series to capture the Stanley Cup® trophy for a total of eight wins. The fans would throw dead octopi onto the ice rink because the eight legs represented the eight wins needed. The tradition continues even to this day.
Ever heard of a hat trick? In sports like hockey, soccer and lacrosse, it connotes a single player tallying three goals of their own accord. In hockey, if a player notches a hat trick, fans will often throw their hats onto the rink in celebration. While the origin of the tradition is unknown, many attribute the beginnings to one of two stories. Some say it was when the minor league affiliate of the New York Rangers®, the Guelph (Ontario) Biltmore Mad Hatters were sponsored by Biltmore Hats, who would run a promotion to give away free hats if the club scored three goals in a game. Another story dates back to the 1947 season when Chicago Blackhawks® player Alex Kaleta found a hat that he was fond of in Toronto, but could not afford. The store owner, Sammy Taft, told Kaleta he could have the hat for free if he scored three goals that night against the Toronto Maple Leafs; he scored four.
For NHL® players, all roads lead to the Stanley Cup®. But for each team that plays in the Stanley Cup® Final, they must first win either the Eastern or Western Conference finals. For the East champions, you win the Prince of Wales Trophy, and for the West champions, the prize is the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl. Traditionally, players would avoid touching these trophies until after they won or lost the Stanley Cup®, because superstition says it’s bad luck. However, the 2022 Stanley Cup® Champion Colorado Avalanche broke this superstition when they won the West, and it did not impact the results of their path to ultimate victory.
Also playing into tradition and superstition is the way NHL® players enter the ice rink. Many teams and players dictate that whatever the lineup is during the playoffs remain consistent to avoid tempting the “hockey gods.” Some team captains want to be first on the rink. Some want to be last. Some goalkeepers dictate the order. Many players even take it a step further, avoiding the offside lines until the puck drops. Regardless of order, it must stay the same from game-to-game.
Regardless of sport (soccer, hockey, lacrosse, etc.), it takes a special set of skills (and superstitions) for a player to choose to be a goalie. You must be fearless, have a short memory and yes, be superstitious. Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy made a superstition famous among all goaltenders during the 1986 Stanley Cup® Playoffs. Roy claimed that he talked to the pipes of his goal so they’d be “on his side.” To his credit, it worked. Roy won four Stanley Cup® trophies and the tradition has carried the way for goalies to this day.
Another goalie, Hall of Famer Glenn Hall, would get so nervous before playoff games that he began forcing himself to vomit before each game. The idea was that it would relieve his nerves and improve his on-ice performance. Hall, who got the nickname “Mr. Goalie,” won one Stanley Cup and three Vezina Trophies (given to the best goalie). He totaled 407 wins in goal and was named to the Hall of Fame in 1975. Many players across sports continue this tradition, regardless of how gross, to this day.
The goalie would not release a puck out of his goalie glove after a save until he flipped it in the air and back into the backside of his glove.
The best forward of the 21st century is also one of the most superstitious. Crosby tapes all of his sticks in a precise and unique way. Once he’s finished taping his sticks, they cannot be touched by another person. If they are, he re-tapes them or gets a brand-new one.
The Great One also has a list of great superstitions. Most famously, he would apply baby powder to his stick before games. Additionally, he refused to cut his hair on road games. He would also intentionally miss his first shot during warm-ups, and after warm-ups he would drink these beverages in a specific order: Diet Coke, Water, Gatorade, and another Diet Coke.
The Hall of Fame defenseman had to be the last person on his team to put his game jersey on.
Smith did not play hockey professionally, but she was viewed as a crucial member of the Philadelphia Flyers® success in the 1970s. The franchise would hire her to sing “God Bless America” at home games because the franchise believed it brought them good luck.
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