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The NHL’s 10 weirdest rituals and superstitions

Jared Clinton
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Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. (Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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The NHL’s 10 weirdest rituals and superstitions

Jared Clinton
By:

Friday the 13th is one of the most superstitious days of the year and not even NHL players are free from the odd good-luck habit. NHL superstitions come in a wide variety, from as simple as being the last on the ice to as crazy as vomiting before every game.

For many, today is just another day, a Friday that means the weekend is that much closer. But for some – the superstitious of the bunch – today is Friday the 13th, a day to beware.

There has never been a proven history behind the significance of Friday the 13th, but some believe it to have its roots in the Christian religion and tied to the Last Supper, when Jesus and the 12 Apostles gathered the day before his death. Others have said it's simply an unlucky number without citing reason. Regardless of the true origin, the superstitious fear has gathered a life of its own, to the extent some skyscrapers won’t have a 13th floor, hospitals a room ‘13’, or airports a Gate 13.

According to the North Carolina Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute, an estimated 17 to 21 million people suffer from a fear of Friday the 13th, known as paraskevidekatriaphobia. But the NHL has had some daring stars in its day. Mats Sundin, for instance, made his name wearing the number for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pavel Datsyuk also wears 13, as do 11 other current NHLers.

However, just because NHLers don’t fear the number doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have its superstitious players. These are 10 of the game’s oddest superstitions:

10. The Lucky Loonie

More a good luck charm than a true superstition, the “Lucky Loonie” came to fame during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. A loonie, the Canadian one dollar coin, was planted beneath the faceoff dot at center ice by Trent Evans, an Edmonton native helping to make the ice for the tournament.

After the Canadian men and women went on to win gold in their respective competitions, the loonie was dug up and given to Wayne Gretzky, the mens team's executive-director.

The superstition – or tradition, depending on how you wish to look at it – has carried through to subsequent tournaments, including the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

9. Left-to-right, right-to-left

A common superstition is the method of dressing. Some players have no preference and will throw their gear on haphazardly, but others are very staunch in their methodology and there’s likely to be at least one player in each NHL dressing room that has to dress left-to-right or right-to-left.

What that means is when the shin pads go on, a left-to-right dresser would place his left pad on first, followed by his right. The same would go for socks, skates, elbow pads, and can even go for pant legs. It seems like a lot of work, but for a lot of players it becomes a force of habit.

8. Last on, last off

The best modern day story about a player that wanted to be last on comes from Pittsburgh, where Evgeni Malkin famously told Sidney Crosby, “Me, three years Superleague.” That was Malkin’s way of telling Crosby, then just a sophomore in the NHL, that he would have to hit the ice before Malkin. After all, you have to respect the veteran players. (1:37 in the video below.)

The same goes for the end of periods. Some players will wait until all their teammates have left the ice before heading to the dressing room. Chicago's Patrick Kane, for example, is often the last to leave the ice following warm-up, while Jonathan Toews usually remains on the ice to congratulate players before stepping off the ice. We never said superstitions had to make any sense.

7. Ken Dryden makes one last save

Not even one of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the game was without his odd good-luck habit.

Dryden, he of five Vezina Trophies and six Stanley Cups, would always need to make one final save before he left the ice. As legend has it, Dryden’s superstition got picked up on by Larry Robinson, who then made it a point to mess with Dryden. If Dryden had a rough game the night before, Robinson would simply float a shot on goal, making for an easy stop. Otherwise, Robinson may mess with him and try to make his last stop a tough one.

But, as these things tend to go, Dryden then caught on Robinson being privy to the superstition and worked to make sure he would make his final save before Robinson came through the order.

6. Fear the beard

Thought to have begun with the 1980s New York Islanders, the playoff beard has become a staple of the NHL, to the point that even video game fans clamor for it to be an added feature to the latest versions of the EA NHL series.

You know the rule, when you’re winning, don’t change a thing. Therefore, when you start rolling through the playoffs, don’t shave because not shaving has been working. It’s hard to deny that the playoff beard hasn’t made for some of the greatest images the sport has to offer.

5. No touching!

The Clarence Campbell and Prince of Wales Trophies are two of the loneliest in all of sports. As tradition would have it, touching the conference championships leads to bad luck (or so some would have you believe) in the Stanley Cup final.

The thought is that teams only go into the playoffs with one trophy in mind, so anything less than the Stanley Cup is not worth hoisting. It makes for an odd scene, with the players gathering around the conference title instead of celebrating their accomplishment, but it’s part of league lore that will stand the test of time.

4. Stan Mikita’s famed cigarette toss

Stan Mikita’s superstition was born out of habit, really. Mikita, a smoker, would have a cigarette between periods and then toss the butt over his left shoulder before returning to the ice for the next frame.

While you’d be hard done by to see an athlete in today’s game smoking a cigarette between periods, it worked for Mikita. He finished his career with 1,394 games played, 541 goals and 1,467 points. Quite the career for the man they called ‘Stosh’.

3. Patrick Roy’s thin red friends

It will be forever argued who the better goaltender was – Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur – but one thing that’s for sure is that Roy had the most notable superstition. Some think that Roy’s head movements were a superstition but that’s far from the case. In Michael Roy’s book Patrick Roy: Winning, Nothing Else, he states that the movements stemmed from his goalie mask irritating his skin. That’s all that was.

However, Roy did have one superstition that is a bit more famous: he would talk to his posts. During stoppages in play, he would speak to them and once told a reporter, when asked about his habit, said his posts answered by coming through with two stops in the game.

2. The Great One fuelled by Diet Coke

First, you have Stan Mikita smoking cigarettes. And then there’s Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player who has ever lived, guzzling down a Diet Coke between periods.

He would actually follow up the Diet Coke with ice water and then a Gatorade. On some occasions, it’s said he even followed the Gatorade up with a second Diet Coke. Dentists around the world are cringing just thinking about it, but it worked wonders for The Great One.

Gretzky isn’t the only player known to indulge in the carbonated beverage from time to time, though. During the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinal, CBC cameras caught Zdeno Chara taking a swig from a bottle of Coke on the bench.

1. Mr. Goalie gets the nerves out

This one isn’t just legend, it’s true and has been confirmed by the legendary Glenn Hall himself. It was said that before games, Hall would vomit to get himself prepared, and, in an interview with the Vancouver Province in 2011, Hall said he actually believed if he didn’t do it he wasn’t giving all of himself to the team.

After vomiting, Hall said he would feel like he could play better. But it wasn’t just before games. In a book by Tom Adrahtas called Glenn Hall: The Man They Call Mr. Goalie, Hall added, “If I weren’t up for a game enough to get sick before it, I felt I wouldn’t play well. It was no big deal. I would have a glass of water and throw it up while it was still cool . . . On game day, I ate only because I had to, and then I’d throw it up at the rink.”

When it comes to odd superstitions, Mr. Goalie takes the cake.

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The NHL’s 10 weirdest rituals and superstitions