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Very Superstitious

The sports world is loaded with superstitions but none more so than the hockey world. As playoffs are right around the corner we’re taking a look at the superstitions that have made the playoffs even more colorful. [Cue Stevie Wonder’s “Very Superstitious”]

Superstition: [Def] 1. An irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome.2. a. A belief, practice, or rite irrationally maintained by ignorance of the laws of nature or by faith in magic or chance.b. A fearful or abject state of mind resulting from such ignorance or irrationality.c. Idolatry.

Regular Season Superstitions:

Superstitions, they range from the harmless to the intense. The methodical ways players calm themselves before games is down to an exact science. Before every Penguins game, Maxime Talbot and Marc-André Fleury pretend box in the tunnel before jumping onto the ice. It pumps them up and calms them down. That’s pretty normal. In fact, most teams are very superstitious about the order they enter and exit the ice.  Whether it be the Captain leads or the goalie is in the middle, there is an exact science to the way many teams do this.  

While some superstitions are on purpose, others happen by complete accident. Take Kyle McLaren for instance.  McLaren is so colorblind that his teammates switched his visor to a yellow tinted visor and he didn’t even notice.  Before they could tell him they switched it he scored the game winning goal. He refused to switch it back.

Gear? Conversation? Food? Hotel? Check.

When it comes to their gear, players are meticulous. In fact Sidney Crosby arrives to games very early to prepare all of his sticks, they are taped exactly the same way, you can even measure them out, that’s how accurate he is. If anyone touches his stick or even acts like they will touch his stick he shaves off the old tape and starts anew. He only uses home team tape, so when in Pittsburgh he uses the tape they supply him. When visiting elsewhere he uses their tape. Vincent Lecavalier won’t let anyone touch any of his gear and even he won’t let his stick touch the ground. Ever. Daniél Briére carries three sticks with him at all times. If he has a good game with one stick he rewards it by not playing with it the next game, giving it a rest. Joe Nieuwendyk sprinkles baby powder on his stick’s blade for good luck. He believes that the powder has magical scoring properties. Brendan Shanahan used the same pads he had in Juniors his entire career. He used to duct tape them a certain way so they stayed in place. Must be a Red Wings thing, but defenseman Chris Chelios also had a weird equipment tradition. He had to be the last one of the entire team to put on his sweater. John Tonnelli took a different approach. After being in a scoring slump for quite some time the team’s equipment manager stopped him before he was going out to the ice. The equipment manager spit on his blade and then rubbed it in. Tonnelli broke his slump that night.

What is it about players and not talking? Stéphane Quintal refuses to talk to anyone past 1:30 p.m. on game day. Ask him a question he won’t reply. Call him on the phone he won’t answer. Not a word, nothing. Another weird non-talker? Crosby refuses to talk to his Mom on game days. Every time he has spoken to her on game day he has been injured. And it goes without saying that anytime a goalie gets hot the rest of the players leave him be, interrupting that kind of mental intensity is not recommended.

Another Nieuwendyk oddity? He eats two pieces of toast with peanut butter on it before each game. Nothing more, nothing less. Ray Ferraro ate Chicken Parm before a game once and he went on to score two goals. For two years Ray ate nothing but Chicken Parm before a game because he thought it would help him play better. While it isn’t food, it’s close enough. Stéphane Lebeau would chew anywhere from 20 to 25 sticks of gum before the game. At exactly two minutes prior to the puck dropping he would spit the wad of gum out. Make sure that goes in the trash, or it could be a sticky mess for someone!

It doesn’t stop at food, it goes further to transportation and lodging. Crosby will lift his feet and touch glass if they cross a railroad track while on the team bus. Even teams as a whole are superstitious. The Ottawa Senators will refuse to stay at certain hotels if they stay there and cannot beat the home team. They believe it brings them bad luck and thus stay elsewhere. 

Singin’ & Drinkin’

We all have our favorite tunes, but some players and teams refuse to listen to anything but certan artists on game day. Brendan Shanahan would listen to Madonna songs on game day. Can you picture Shanny singing “Like A Virgin”? The entire Philadelphia Flyers team adheres to one singer in particular. Kate Smith. Every home game since the 1970’s the Flyers have Kate sing “God Bless America” whether live or via tape recording. The first year they used it they went 62-13-3. Karl Alzner of the Capitals taps his stick to the ice 88 times while the Canadian National Anthem is being played. He also traces a Maple Leaf out on the ice to the tempo of the music.

Both Gretzky and Lindbergh had to have certain drinks, at certain times, in certain ways. A few other players and even one team required the correct libations to make it through. Bob Gainey had to have a mix of 50% Coca Cola & 50% water in between each period. In 1950 the NY Rangers were having a bad season. Enter a restaurant manager who made them a secret concoction. They went on to win 13 in a row (not too shabby!)

Playoff Superstitions:

Beards, Clothing & Trophies, Oh My!

There are the usuals: Growing a beard, refusing to cut one’s hair, wearing the same t-shirt until you lose.  Hockey players do whatever it takes to get to that Cup. The Playoff Beard, the thing that most hockey fans think of when it comes to playoff superstitions is said to have started with the New York Islanders in the 1980’s. They went on to win four cups. The year the Minnesota North Stars (now the Dallas Stars) made it to the Stanley Cup Finals it was rumored that none of the players wore a different pair of underwear on game day. On game day they wore their same, stinky, sweaty, disgusting underwear they had worn the previous game. As if hockey equipment didn’t already stink enough! 

One of the most talked about no-no’s in hockey is not touching one trophy en route to the Holy Grail of Hockey Trophies, the Cup, Lord Stanley’s to be exact. So when Mario Lemieux touched the Eastern Conference Trophy both times before they won the Penguins’ first two (back to back) Stanley Cups he reversed that fortune. Fast forward a few years and another young superstar made it to the finals. They lost to Detroit. The next year Sidney Crosby decided to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy, posing with it, picking it up, and making each of his teammates touch it. That year the Penguins beat Detroit for the Cup.  

Goaltending Superstitions:

Pucks? Flip ‘Em! Lines? Jump ‘Em! Gear? Don’t Touch ‘Em! Vomiting? Ewww.

Many goaltenders have unique superstitions all their own. Bill Ranford wouldn’t let the linesman take the puck from him after making a stop until he had flipped it in the air and it landed on the backside of the catcher. Johan Hedberg has to flip the puck three times in his glove before handing it over to the linesman/ref. Eddie Belfour wouldn’t let anyone touch his equipment, growling that he’d “Kill ’em” if they touched his stuff. Félix Potvin made a cross out of tape and would stick it to his locker before each game.

Ryan Miller has a habit of doing a little twirl before he goes off the ice, every time. No. Matter. What. In addition, Miller has to be the last one off the ice, he refuses to leave until everyone else has. Ken Dryden refused to get off the ice until he stops one last puck in the warm-up. His teammate Larry Robinson figured this out and would try & shoot a ‘soft’ one at him to allow him off the ice. Worked for a bit but then Dryden figured it out and would try to stop one before Robinson had a chance to ‘lob one’ at him. Ron Hextall would hit both sides of the post and the crossbar at the beginning and end of every period.

Jocelyn Thibault doused himself in water exactly six and a half minutes before every game. Darren Pang threw up before every game, after his pre-game warm-up he would go back to the locker room and toss his cookies. He believed it made him more agile in the goal. Glenn Hall also threw up before each game. 

Most Superstitious Player?

There are a few players that are competiting for the most superstitious player award.  I lay out their quirky ways, you vote.

Bruce Gardinar
Gardinar started his superstition his rookie season when he asked veteran Tom Chorske for advice. Chorske told Gardiner he was treating his stick too well and he needed to teach the wood to respect him by dunking it in the toilet. Gardinar didn’t buy in and refused to do it. His slump continued and he finally took Chorske’s advice. Then he hit a hot streak and started scoring. Before every game he was in the bathroom, dipping that blade in. After time he stopped dunking it in and resorted to it only if he hit a rough patch. He told NHL.com in 2007, “You tape it, you dunk it, and you don’t touch it. I’d do anything for a couple of goals.”

Wayne Gretzky
The “Great One” had many superstitions. He was meticulous about everything from his hair to his gear. He was so meticulous with his gear that his teammates could tell you the exact order it went on. Left shin pad, left stocking, right shin pad, right stocking. Then pants, left skate, right skate, shoulder pads, elbow pads, first the left, then the right; and finally, the jersey, with the right side tucked into his pants. He even sprinkled baby powder on his stick’s blade beforehand as well. When it came to being on the ice, he was just as particular. Wayne would fire a shot on goal right when he got onto the ice for his pre-game warm-up. Even the angle had to be the same, the extreme right of the goal. When he would get back to the locker room he would have a Diet Coke (not Pepsi), a glass of ice water, a Gatorade, and another Diet Coke. Like many superstitions, Wayne’s hair cuts came from a bad experience afterwards. Wayne got a hair cut on the road and they played so badly he refused to ever get another hair cut while away.

Pelle Lindbergh
Lindbergh would wear the same old smelly tatty orange t-shirt from a Swedish sports brand under his equipment. Every time the shirt started to fall apart, he had someone sew it up. He never washed it. Not once. In between periods, he wouldn’t drink anything but a Swedish beverage called ‘Pripps’ and he would only take a sip if there were exactly two ice cubes in the glass. Only a particular team trainer could only deliver it to him and he would only accept it if it’s in his right hand.

Patrick Roy
It’s well documented that goalies are a different breed.  They take shots at 90 mph and don’t complain.  They’re flexible, thrive under pressure, and are just all around different.  It comes as no surprise that they are superstitious too.  One of the most superstitious goalies out there is Patrick Roy of the Canadiens and Avalanche. Roy was also meticulous with his gear. In the locker room he would lay each piece out one at a time. In the same order he laid them out he would put it on. On the ice was no different, he was just as quirky, in fact Roy refused to touch the blue lines. Every time he went to the net or came from it he would literally jump over the lines. His rookie year he won the cup for the Canadiens, for the next 7 years they would not win. During those 7 years Roy skated the same way around the circles in practice and sat in the same seat in the stands before the game. Right before the playoffs in 1993 when the Habs would win it again, Roy changed the direction of his skating and sat in a different seat. They went on to win the Cup. During the pre-game skate he would then skate to the blue line, crouch down and stare at the net until he visualized it getting smaller. After the National Anthems are played Roy turns around and talks to his posts. He tells them that all three of them are going to have a great game and that they were not going to let any little black things in. He talked to them throughout the game, he said to reporters that forwards talk to each other, defensemen talk to each other, the goal posts are his teammates, “They are my friends.” In between periods he would juggle/bounce the puck around and then hide it. He never spoke to reporters on days he had a game.

Ron Tugnutt
Ron Tugnutt’s game routine begins with a figure-eight skate through the crease,  an abrupt turn up ice in a crouch to face directly wherever the puck is to be dropped. He then comes to a stop 20 feet out from the crease and he suddenly squats then leaps straight up to a standing position. Without a pause, he then rhythmically raps each leg pad with his stick, hops on one foot then the other, and tilts his head to the right as he lifts and touches his left foot. Pausing for about three seconds, he then raises his stick in his right hand up in the air and rubs the taped blade with the back of his catching glove. Finally he drops into the classic goalie’s stance and awaits the face-off. Once the puck is dropped, he accelerates backward to the net, stopping abruptly each time with his shoulders only inches in front of the crossbar. He doesn’t bring a water bottle with him onto the ice.

International Superstition:

When Team Canada won Gold in 2002 for the first time since 1952 they had something up their sleeve, or rather buried at center ice. A “Loonie” or $1 Canadian coin was tucked under the ice they were playing on. Since then they have tried to get a Loonie under the exact center of the rink for every international tournament. Try explaining that to opposing countries & their rink staff!

  1. April 14, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Love reading about quirks!

  2. Margaret Sents
    April 17, 2010 at 7:32 am

    There’s nothing “loonie” about these practices. The game is just as much about mental preparedness as physical skill.

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