NHL Superstitions: The Best Rituals in Hockey

Posted by Kevin Scaringi on Jun 24, 2014
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Certain athletes believe that in order to perform to their highest possible potential, they must follow specific rituals to succeed during competition. These rituals, otherwise known as superstitions, exist for many athletes in many sports, but some of the most interesting and unique cases can be found in hockey. Let's take a look at some of the strangest, weirdest, and best NHL superstitions.

Superstitions are formed when a team or player wants “lady luck” on their side. These NHL superstitions may last the duration of the season, through the entirety of the playoffs, or even throughout a player’s whole career. From getting dressed a particular way before every game, to tossing an octopus onto the ice in Detroit, to the essential playoff beard, these are some of hockey’s finest traditions and superstitions.

Many players prefer to view their NHL superstitions as routines or habits, but that doesn’t make them any less extraordinary. Patrick Roy, one of the greatest netminders of all time, was known to have full conversations with the goal posts and considered them to be his “friends”.  Whatever he was saying to them, it obviously worked.  Roy finished his career as the all-time leader in playoff wins and playoff games played by a goaltender, holds the record for most Conn Smythe trophies with three, and was a first-ballot hall of fame inductee.

Roy certainly was not the only player with odd hockey superstitions. Brent Seabrook, defenseman for the 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, has a laundry list of superstitions and is considered both the most superstitious player on the team as well as the most difficult to room with on the road. Seabrook’s meticulous habits mostly involve different eating and sleeping routines, including eating seven Hershey’s kisses before every game. The most mysterious, however, is his habit of reviewing nine words over and over in his head prior to each game – words that only he and the Blackhawks’ mental skills coach know.

Joe Louis Arena, home to the Detroit Red Wings, is also the birthplace of a very strange NHL superstition: often, fans will throw an octopus onto the ice during Red Wings games. The octopus toss began during the 1952 playoffs when Pete and Jerry Cusimano, brothers and market owners, threw an octopus onto the rink. The brothers claimed that the eight legs of the octopus symbolized the eight wins needed for the Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup (in 1952, there were only two best-of-7 rounds of playoff hockey). The Red Wings went a perfect 8-0 en route to a Stanley Cup, and thus, the Legend of the Octopus was born – and lives on to this day. In fact, during the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals between the Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins, seafood wholesalers in Pittsburgh required identification from customers wishing to purchase octopuses and refused anyone wearing Red Wings apparel so that the octopus would not make an appearance on Pittsburgh ice. Not that it helped, though; the Red Wings defeated the Penguins in six games to win the 2008 Stanley Cup.

One of the oldest and most recognizable traditions in hockey began with the 1980 New York Islanders, who sought to bring luck to their team by letting their beards grow. The Islanders hoisted the Stanley Cup that year… and did so for four consecutive seasons, becoming one of the most successful franchises in the last four decades. The Islanders’ beard-magic clearly worked – as growing playoff beards has since been a regular occurrence among players, coaches, and fans, who choose not to shave their beards until their team is eliminated from the playoffs (or the lucky few that win). We even chronicled this NHL supersition in our top 20 playoff beards.

The second-most prestigious award a team can win during the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the conference championship trophy: the Prince of Wales Trophy for Eastern Conference teams and the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl for Western Conference teams. The winners of these two awards face each other in the Stanley Cup Finals to determine supremacy between the Eastern and Western conferences. However, there is a hockey superstition that these trophies should not be touched – doing so could cause bad luck or misfortune for your team – and symbolizes that the Stanley Cup is the only trophy worth hoisting. In 2010, Mike Richards, then captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, lifted the Prince of Wales trophy and the Flyers went on to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals. The year prior, however, Sidney Crosby, captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, hoisted the Prince of Wales trophy and then raised the Stanley Cup just seven games later.

Does luck have anything to do with these NHL superstitions? Are they superstitions at all, or simply a set of routines that players adhere to so that every game feels familiar? Either way, the highest-producing player in the game today, Sidney Crosby, and the highest-producing player of all-time, Wayne Gretzky, have some pretty strange NHL superstitions. Crosby, with a 1.41 points-per-game average since the 2005-06 season (5th all-time in career points per game), has a number of superstitions that help him continue his success. He was born on August 7, 1987 (8/7/87) and wears #87 on his sweater. He enters the Penguins’ Consol Energy Center and takes a very out-of-the-way route to the home locker-room so that he does not have to pass the away team’s locker rooms. He eats the same pre-game meal at the same time before every game – a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He refuses to allow anyone to touch his sticks after he tapes them before a game, or else he must re-tape them. And if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid seeing Crosby’s now-infamous shoulder pads and jock, the same ones he’s used for a very, very long time now, our apologies for showing you this:

Last, but certainly not least,The Great One’s legendary NHL superstitions and prolific career make him one of the greatest players to ever lace up the skates. Gretzky had the same routine before every game – he would put his gear on in a very specific order: left shinguard, left sock, right shinguard, right sock, pants, left skate, right skate, shoulder pads, left elbow pad, right elbow pad, and finally his jersey, tucking the right side into his pants. In warm-ups, his first shot would always be to the far right of the goal. After warm-ups, he would head back to the dressing room to drink a Diet Coke, a glass of ice water, a Gatorade, and one more Diet Coke. Gretzky was also known for putting baby powder on the blade of his stick. While there is no scientific data that directly correlates baby powder with increased scoring, it clearly worked for Gretzky.

Many teams, players, and fans have routines, traditions, and superstitions. Players enter buildings in certain ways, put their gear on in an exact order, and eat at a specific time before a game. We throw hats on the ice to recognize a player scoring three goals and grow our facial hair when our team is in the playoffs. Hockey has some of the strangest, most unique, and easily recognizable NHL superstitions, and these, among many other reasons, make hockey, as cliché as it may sound, the coolest game on the planet.
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