Justin Bourne spent time with the Reading Royals and Idaho Steelheads last season. (Photo by Allen Picard)
For two decades Pete Rose has been blackballed for gambling on his own baseball team.
Professional hockey players literally do it every single game.
It’s an accepted part of dressing-room culture, like heaping verbal abuse on the nearest human in range. The difference between Charlie Hustle and the hockey hustle is that when hockey players put “Money on the Board,” everybody wins.
Before each game, a few players will saunter up to the dry-erase board in silence and put their jersey number down, with a dollar amount beside it. It means “If we win, I’ll donate this number of dollars to the team pot.”
#12 - $50
For most games, there are three or four numbers on the list. For bigger games, the list of participants gets longer. If the game is big enough, even the coaches might put some money on the board.
The dollar amounts differ depending on which alphabet you use – in the ECHL, most guys put up $25 to $50; in the American League, $50-$100; in the NHL, the numbers just get weird.
One rule is consistent: You’re better off hitting the starting goalie in the collarbone during warmup than writing something as offensive as $10 on the board.
“Oooh, there’s something to play for fellas. T-Rex is risking his next paycheck on a win! I’m definitely blocking shots now…”
If you’re new to the club the rules can seem a bit dicey, but it is accepted that the newest member of the group is expected to part with a chunk of their not-yet-earned money. Doe-eyed rookies who are new to pro hockey – and, therefore, to Money On The Board – always end up being major donors to the team party fund.
“Isn’t it someone’s first game in here tonight?” one of the veterans will ask before a rookie’s first game. Guys are almost fully dressed before the game when these hints start coming out.
“Nobody’s first game in here, eh?” he will continue, waiting for the rookie to put some money on the board. Usually the rookie’s stall-mate has to let the kid know under his breath why he’s the focal point of the room. And then the rookie is appalled and doesn’t believe he has to pay to play.
Here are the basic rules for mandatory MOTB contributions:
• First professional game. Damn right you’re putting on money on the board. And it better not be the team minimum.
• First game with a new team. Just got dealt? Make yourself at home. Contribute to the fund.
• You are playing against your former team. They didn’t want you. You want to beat them, right? Prove it.
• Your family is in the stands. They drove all this way to see you. Don’t you want to motivate the boys?
• Your girlfriend is here. Awww, isn’t that sweet. Look at you, Tiger. You big ladies’ man, you. Seriously, put some money on the board.
And the fun part is, the money doesn’t have to go to the team – it can go to an individual. Unless specified, the money is earned by a team win. But when specified, it can go towards any of the following MOTB abbreviations:
• GWG: Game Winning Goal. A nice bonus to go with winning the game and scoring.
• GTG: Game Tying Goal. Usually added between the second and third period of a game if the team is losing. Always makes for a good silence breaker in the room.
• FG: The game’s first goal. Looking for that jump-start.
• SO: A ballsy abbreviation to write. Aimed specifically at the goalie. I can’t even type it out loud for fear of the wrath of goaltenders everywhere.
Or, you can always write something completely random, based on the specific team you’re playing that night.
Hockey players might have short attention spans, but they have long memories. Sometimes when an opponent runs your goalie and the game is close, retaliation has to wait. You’ll hear coaches and captains alike yelling, “We play them again, settle down, we play them again!”
“Bounty” is a bad word, but you can imagine what might show up on the board the next time that team is in town.
The money is not the important part of the exercise. “Money on the Board” is something that unites teammates.
Sometimes, early in the season, it’s hard to get everyone pulling in the same direction. Jobs aren’t secure, friendships have yet to be formed. This loosens things up a bit.
Plus, the real bonus for the core guys who make it through the year comes when there’s thousands of dollars in the pot for the end-of-season wind-up.
On payday, the team “treasurer” makes his rounds, making you instantly regret you ever thought putting money on the board was a good idea.
And for those rookies, collecting their first paycheck as a professional, nothing makes the guys laugh harder than finding hundreds of ways to funnel it back into the party pot. Especially for those young bucks making maximum cap in the NHL.
“Isn’t it somebody’s second game in here?”
Justin Bourne last played for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. He excelled with the University of Alaska Anchorage before going on to spend time in the Islanders organization with Bridgeport and Utah. His father, Bob, spent 14 years in the NHL and won four Cups with the Islanders. He will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin's blogs at jtbourne.com or follow him on Twitter.