Stop a silly superstition and touch the conference trophies

Mike Richards (Photo by Len Redkoles/National Hockey League)
Mike Richards (Photo by Len Redkoles/National Hockey League)

The NFL can at times be the “No Fun League” (none more so than killing kickoff returns by allowing kickers to boot the ball out of the end zone), but as THN colleague Adam Proteau tweeted this weekend, the NHL is too often guilty for being the “No Happiness League.”

And for the most ridiculous reasons sometimes. Take the conference championships, for example. The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks both celebrated their wins in style, with each team’s owner, GM and players taking the stage together to recognize their accomplishment, along with their worshiping fans, and have some harmless, good old-fashioned fun.

Contrast that with the NHL conference finals, in which winning teams traditionally don’t touch the trophies for fear the hockey gods will wreak their wrath in the Stanley Cup final and kick them back down the mountain just before they’re about to reach top after a lengthy and arduous climb.

In the NFL there is no such silly superstition, no archaic belief of jinxing Super Bowl chances by touching an inferior championship chalice. Even by the illogic of credulous kooks, neither the Broncos nor Seahawks will have an advantage Feb. 2 since each team touched its conference trophy.

Winning is indeed everything in pro sports, but that doesn’t mean teams shouldn’t celebrate their achievements along the way. There are steps to success, each one more difficult than one before, and there’s nothing wrong or wicked about a team kicking back and enjoying the ride.

Since 2001, NHL team that haven’t touched their conference trophy are 7-5 in the Stanley Cup final. Those are flip-a-coin odds, not the proven dictates of fate railing against prematurely putting hands on hardware.

Last year, neither the Chicago Blackhawks nor the Boston Bruins touched their trophies, despite both teams winning in front of their home fans. Instead, they “celebrated” with vanilla team photos, when they could have picked up their respective trophies and paraded them around the ice while their adoring fans cheered in the stands and on their couches.

Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll, said it best with the first thing he said after winning the NFC championship: “It would really be a mistake to not remember the connection and the relationship between this football team and the 12th man – these fans. It’s unbelievable.”

What the NFL does so well is make fans feel like they’re part of their team. Taking the time to celebrate a hard-fought, well-earned smaller trophy on the way to (hopefully) a league’s biggest one is a way for a team to give a small bit of something back to its fans, even if it’s won on enemy ice in front a few hundred travelling diehards while millions of faithful watch on TV, but especially so if it’s won at home.

In 2010, Mike Richards, then-captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, picked up the Prince of Wales Trophy in celebration. As he should have. The Flyers made the playoffs on the last day of the season and were huge underdogs to even make the final.

Yes, Philadelphia went on to lose to Chicago in the final. So what. Was that because Jonathan Toews and Co. didn’t touch the Clarence Campbell Trophy? No, it was because the Blackhawks were the better team and won the Stanley Cup on skill and will, not foolish fate and superstitious silliness.

A year earlier, Sidney Crosby had touched the Prince of Wales Trophy in 2009, after which he and the Penguins went on to win the Cup. He didn’t do so in 2008 and yet lost in the final.

When it comes time in 2014 for the NHL’s conference champions to celebrate being the best two teams in the league, let’s hope they relax and let rationality prevail. The hockey gods are dead. Teams, along with their fans, are free to celebrate in style.

Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the Post-To-Post blogFollow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.

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