All sports have traditions that go beyond the actual field of play. The Indy 500 winner drinks milk after the race, dotting the script “i” for Ohio State football and the Masters' green jacket are just a few examples.
Hockey seems to go deeper in tradition than other sports. Beyond player traditions, hockey really encourages and embraces fan traditions as well.
Traditions seem to start the same basic way. An event happens, perhaps out of the ordinary, immediately following that the team wins or a player has a very good game or maybe evens wins a championship. Fans figure that they are on to something and a tradition is born.
Here are some of the more fun and unique traditions in hockey.
Tossing an octopus onto the ice in Detroit is perhaps the most famous of the hockey traditions. This began in 1952 when only eight playoff wins were needed to secure the championship. Two brothers, Jerry and Pete Cusimano, tossed an octopus on the ice with the idea that each leg represented a needed win in the quest for the Cup.
The legend has grown and now a large stuffed octopus, which is appropriately named Stanley, hovers over the ice. Al Sobotka, the zamboni driver, made a name for himself when he would pick the octopi up and twirl them around his head to the delight of the fans.
The NHL has tried to stop this tradition a few times. They threatened to fine Sobotka for his on-ice display, they have demanded the police ticket throwers and so on. Little do they know or understand how deeply this tradition runs in Detroit.
There are rules regarding the octopus toss and you would be surprised how well Detroit fans follow them. For instance, the octopus must be boiled so it doesn’t stick to the ice. It should never be thrown during play—after the National Anthem, after a Detroit goal or at the end of the game are the preferred times.
In 1985 the Blackhawks were down 0-2 to the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs. The fans were electric waiting for Game 3 to start. Their pregame excitement spilled over into the National Anthem as the amped crown kept cheering.
The tradition grew from there and has become bigger than just rooting for the team. Since the Gulf War in the early '90s and reaffirmed after 9/11 it has become a display of patriotic pride.
In 1996, a Florida Panthers player killed a rat while in the locker room with his stick. He then went out and scored two goals in the game. It wasn’t long before fans starting throwing rats onto the ice after every Panther goal.
It got a little out of control and the ice would be littered with plastics rats after a Panther goal. The long time delay for cleanup forced the NHL to ban this tradition before it became too deeply rooted.
Listen to a hockey game and you are bound to hear home fans heckle the opposing goalie. Now this is not some lame baseball nut trying to yap at an outfielder, or some yahoo in the stands of a basketball game trying to get in a player’s head. Instead this is a slow, taunting, whiny, almost nasally chant of the opposing goalie's name.
The chant is generally given after a goal gets by a keeper, which helps remind the goalie that they just let one in, in case they forgot of course.
The playoff beard seems to have started with the great New York Islanders teams of the early '80s. Once the playoffs started the team would grow a beard. There must have been something to it as the team won four straight Stanley Cup championships. Once their run of championships ended so did the playoff beard.
The ’93 Canadiens and ’95 Devils brought the playoff beard back. Since then it has grown into a yearly rite of passage. Fans have jumped on board and grow their beards until their team either wins the Cup or is eliminated.
As seen in the picture, even women can get into the tradition. There are websites out there that sell knitted beards in the color of your favorite team.
The "white out" started in Winnipeg with the Jets. It started in response to the "C of Red" by the Calgary Flames. When the two teams faced each other in the 1987 playoffs Calgary fans showed up to games with red shirts showcasing the flaming "C" of the Flames.
To counter, the Winnipeg fans showed up to the games in white. While the “C of Red” was fairly popular, the white out was nearly unanimous in participation. The Jets went on to beat the Flames in that series and a tradition was born. Every home playoff game since has seen a massive sea of white in the stands. Many other teams in various sports have adopted similar themes.
The Jets moved to Phoenix and became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996. The white-out tradition moved with them and is still alive today.
While not tied to any one team, the tossing of hats out onto the ice after a player has scored three goals in a game has been around for many years. No other sport has any type of congratulatory moment between fan and player such as this.