The 25 Best Traditions in Hockey
All sports have traditions that help make them what they are. Hockey is no exception.
Start with the fact that the game is played on ice and originated in Canada, and you have two reasons for many of the traditions in the NHL today.
Here's my list of the 25 best traditions in hockey. Keep in mind these all apply to the NHL, although they could apply to other leagues and levels of hockey as well.
Some will be specific to one arena or team, but most will apply to the game itself.
Feel free to comment on these or add any I may have missed.
25. Tapping a Goalie's Pads
You see it before every period of every game. All the players skate around the ice a few times. Then the starters are alone on the ice.
Before the game begins, almost every player goes up to the goalie and taps him on the pads. It is done for good luck and to signal that the goalie is ready for action.
It's a small tradition, but one that signals that a game is about to begin and is unique to hockey.
24. Organ Music at Games
While hard rock music has become a tradition at hockey games in recent years, the traditional music involves the organ.
There are certain traditional tunes that are not necessarily unique to hockey, but that do set the mood for hockey and are often played at games.
Here is a clip from Chicago Stadium, which had arguably the most famous organ in the NHL. You can't help but listen to it and not feel ready for a faceoff.
23. The Crowd Singing 'O Canada' in Vancouver
There are some great national anthem traditions in the NHL. But one of my favorites takes place in Vancouver.
After performing the first verse of "O Canada," singer Mark Donnelly extends the microphone to to the crowd and allows the fans to sing the next verse.
The sound of the 17,000-plus fans honoring their country fits perfectly with the tension before a big game and is a great hockey tradition.
The performance being shown in this video is from the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
22. Kate Smith Sings 'God Bless America' in Philadelphia
During their Stanley Cup title year in 1974 and 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers called on singer Kate Smith as their good-luck charm.
When a recording of Smith singing "God Bless America" was played, the Flyers rarely lost. They lost even less often on those rare occasions when Smith appeared at The Spectrum in person.
The Flyers would call on Smith in big games and the tension in the building was palpable. It was the start of a great tradition in Philadelphia.
Today, Lauren Hart does a "duet" with a recording of Smith at many Flyers home games, adding a new wrinkle to a familiar custom.
21. The Zamboni
The Zamboni is closely associated with hockey. Before each game and in between periods, the Zamboni cleans the ice and resurfaces it so it's smooth and ready for another period of action.
The Zamboni has been immortalized in song and romanticized in hockey lore. In many cities, kids can ride on the Zamboni if they win a contest.
In other sports, there isn't any similar romantic notion about the people who clean the playing surface. Nobody waxes poetic about the guy who uses towels to clean sweat off the basketball court or paints the yard-markers in football.
But in hockey, all fans know the Zamboni, which has become a part of hockey culture and tradition.
Hockey is the only one of the four major North American professional team sports that doesn't eject players for fighting.
Love it or hate it, fighting is a part of the game. Teams like the 1974 and 1975 Flyers have almost fought their way to championships.
As Conn Smythe said, "If you can't beat 'em in the alley, you can't beat 'em on the ice."
The frequency of fighting may ebb and flow during different eras in the game's history, but it has never been completely eliminated from the NHL and probably never will be.
19. Don't Touch the Conference Title Trophies
Hockey players tend to be a superstitious bunch. One of the prevailing superstitions is that the captain of the team that wins the conference final never touches the trophy.
The logic is that the conference trophy is not enough and the team doesn't want to jinx its chances of winning the Stanley Cup in the next series.
Here is Zach Parise last year after the Devils beat the Rangers to win the Eastern Conference. Notice that deputy NHL commissioner Bill Daly is touching the trophy, but Parise won't get too close to it. Of course, this didn't help as the Kings downed the Devils in six games in the Final.
18. The Starting Goalie Leads the Team onto the Ice
If you get to a hockey game in time for the pre-game skate, you can always tell who the starting goalie is going to be. That's because he is the first player to step onto the ice.
This tradition establishes the goalie as the leader of the team as it heads into battle.
17. Tapping Sticks on the Ice
It's tough for hockey players to clap during a hockey game. They are wearing gloves and carrying sticks and, well, it just doesn't really work.
So, the tradition in hockey is that to applaud, hockey players will tap their sticks on the ice (or against the boards if they're on the bench) to signify approval.
When you see it, you know it's a hockey thing, a sort of hockey sign language that any player will immediately recognize.
16. Throwing an Octopus on the Ice in Detroit
This tradition started in the days of the Original Six. Back then, you needed eight victories to win the Stanley Cup and an octopus has eight tentacles.
It continues to this day in Detroit. During the playoffs, fans throw an octopus on the ice.
It isn't done in baseball or football and is unique to Detroit, but it screams hockey tradition and means the playoffs are under way.
15. Raising Sticks After Scoring a Goal
You can always tell when a goal is scored in hockey because the players on the team that just scored raise their sticks in triumph.
It's been going on in hockey longer than I can remember and it's almost automatic in today's game, unless a team is trailing by seven or eight goals late in a game.
This is another tradition that is unique to hockey.
14. Goal Horns
When the home team scores a goal, the reaction is swift and immediate. The red light goes off and each arena has its own slightly different noise that fills the stadium.
The best known was arguably in Chicago Stadium. But the goal siren or horn is usually followed by a goal song, which often changes from year to year.
Either way, the goal horn is a hockey tradition that fans associate with a joyous celebration.
13. Drowning out the National Anthem
Another great hockey tradition in many arenas is fans cheering so loudly that they drown out the singer while he or she sings the national anthem.
This is more likely to take place before playoff games. Blackhawks and Rangers fans are particularly well-known for pulling off this feat.
It raises the electricity and intensity in the arena and is a great hockey tradition.
12. Passing the Stanley Cup from Player to Player
Another NHL tradition takes place just after a team wins the Stanley Cup. The hallowed trophy is passed from player to player, often in order of seniority/importance to the team.
Each member of the winning team gets to skate around the ice carrying the Cup, something they've dreamed of winning since they first put on a pair of skates.
This is a beautiful tradition to watch. The joy apparent on each player's face reminds us why we love this game so much.
11. Captain Gets the Stanley Cup
Another tradition associated with winning the Stanley Cup is that the captain gets to skate around with it first.
To begin the celebration ceremony, great players like Denis Potvin, Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Steve Yzerman took the Stanley Cup from the commissioner or league president.
Being a captain is more important in hockey than in any other sport, and it pays off for that player when his team wins a championship.
10. Sudden-Death Overtime in Playoff Games
Sudden-death overtime has long been a part of the NHL playoffs.
There is nothing more intense and exciting in sports than overtime in a playoff game where fatigue, skill and luck combine to decide a winner.
Fans hold their breaths each time the puck enters their team's defensive zone and don't exhale until it's cleared. The game can end at any time on anything from a spectacular play to a tricky bounce of the puck.
Score the game-winner in overtime of a key playoff game and even an average player can become immortalized. Bob Baun, Mel Hill and Stephane Matteau are among the players who earned their place in hockey lore by scoring big overtime goals.
9. Trophies Given to Players Each Year
Sure, other leagues give out an MVP Trophy. But no pro sports league gives out trophies quite like the NHL.
The Hart Trophy (MVP), Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP), Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) and Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year) are among the unique hardware handed out by the NHL at the conclusion of each season.
That many of these trophies are named after great names in the game's past (Rocket Richard, Georges Vezina, etc) only adds to the flavor of the award.
8. Singing Two National Anthems
The beauty of having 23 American-based teams and seven Canadian-based teams is that there are often two national anthems played before a hockey game.
Hearing both the Canadian and American national anthems just sets the mood for a hockey game.
Nobody sang the two anthems better than Montreal's Roger Doucet, who set the stage for so many great games at The Forum over the years. This video shows Doucet signing the two national anthems before a game between the Bruins and Canadiens.
7. The Playoff Beard
It all started with the New York Islanders during their run of four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983: the playoff beard.
Hockey players usually stop shaving once the playoffs get underway. For the two teams that advance to the Stanley Cup Final, most of their players will not have trimmed their facial hair in nearly two months.
The result is team unity and a look of determination during the most intense and difficult time of the year.
6. Each Winning Player Spends a Day with the Stanley Cup
They certainly don't do anything like this in football or baseball or basketball. In hockey alone do the winning players on a championship team get to spend 24 hours with the ultimate trophy in sports: the Stanley Cup.
This tradition started fairly recently, but it's a great one with an already rich tradition. The Cup has found its way onto fishing boats and very high mountaintops, and visited both bars and hospitals depending on where the player in question requests it to go.
It has also visited many countries as players from all over the world have the trophy visit their hometowns.
At each stop, the Cup gets the white-glove treatment from its handlers before the player takes it over. It's a warm tradition that adds personal significance to winning a championship and allows fans to embrace the trophy in a unique way.
5. The Winter Classic
It's a relatively new tradition, but the Winter Classic, played on New Year's Day, has given the NHL a showcase event on American television during the regular season.
Playing an outdoor game is an event that harkens back to pond and river hockey played by kids throughout Canada and the northern U.S. It also allows for record crowds at historic venues like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, which add a new flavor to the game.
4. Hockey Night in Canada
Hockey Night in Canada is an institution like no other. It started with Foster Hewitt calling games on the radio in 1931 before switching over to television in the 1950s.
Every Saturday night, hockey fans across Canada and the United States gather around their television sets to watch a doubleheader, one game on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.
Ron McLean and Don Cherry are now the stars of the show, which continues to draw big ratings throughout Canada.
3. Throwng Hats on the Ice After a Hat Trick
The hat trick has been a big deal in hockey for as long as I can remember. Scoring three goals in a game is a noteworthy performance and usually (but not always) leads to victory.
The great tradition surrounding hat tricks is that after a player scores his third goal, fans toss hats onto the ice in celebration.
Sure, this delays the game a few minutes while rink employees do a quick sweep/clean-up. But it's worth it to fans of the home team, who get to enjoy a unique celebration.
2. Engraving Player Names on the Stanley Cup
No other championship trophy in North American pro sports engraves the names of every winner onto the trophy itself to be immortalized forever.
Winning players get their names permanently etched into Lord Stanley of Preston's donation to hockey when their team wins the Cup. That means that even the most humble fourth-line player gets his name on the Cup next to Howe, Beliveau, Richard, Hull, Orr, Gretzky, Lemiuex and Lidstrom.
When a new ring of names is used up, an older one is "retired" to the Hockey Hall of Fame, keeping those names among the game's immortals.
It's a grand tradition that personalizes the Stanley Cup like no other trophy in team sports and helps make it the special award that it has become.
1. The Playoff Handshake
Hockey is a tough, physical game, especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs where the level of competition and intensity rises to unprecedented heights.
But at the end of a hard-fought series in which personal grudge matches often arise over the course of seven games, hockey players engage in the best hockey tradition of all: the post-game handshake.
Both teams line up and exchange handshakes. The winners are congratulated while the losers are praised for their effort.
This famous photo of Boston's "Sugar" Jim Henry and his black eye shaking hands with a bloodied "Rocket" Richard symbolizes the intensity and the ultimate sportsmanship behind this unique tradition. No other sport does it quite the same way.
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