15 Great Traditions That Separate Hockey from Every Other Sport

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor ISeptember 21, 2012

15 Great Traditions That Separate Hockey from Every Other Sport

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    The NHL is one of the world's greatest and most unique sports. It may not be the world's most covered sport, but it has several amazing traditions that set it apart from the NBA, MLB and NFL.

    From the Stanley Cup itself, to the tossing of hats for a hat trick, to the three stars for every game, these traditions help to make the NHL a sport rich with history and passion.

    Here are 15 that help the NHL stand out from all other professional sports.


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    Fighting is one of the only traditions in major professional team sports exclusively linked to the NHL.

    There have been many different eras and many different types of players, but fighting has always been a part of the game.

    Fights have helped players police themselves, given fans enjoyment and players a sense of pride. 

    Over the years, many critics have asked that fighting be eliminated from the sport. But it has remained and helps to set the NHL apart from the other major sports.

Local Team Traditions

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    The throwing of octopi on the ice in Detroit is an amazing local NHL tradition.

    The eight legs of an octopus symbolized the eight wins needed to win the Stanley Cup back when the tradition began.

    However, there are other great fan traditions that help separate hockey from every other sport.

    The throwing of victory rats, for example, is also something that has become a great local fan tradition for the Florida Panthers. The Panthers were able to revive it when they made it back to the playoffs this past season. The team's fans made it rain plastic rats once the Panthers sealed a victory.

Playoff Beards

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    The growing of playoff beards unites players and fans alike. Fans ditch their razors as long as their favorite team is still alive in the playoffs.

    The same rules apply to the players, who keep the beard as a sign of their achievement. Once they win the Stanley Cup, they finally get to shave their lumberjack beards.

    On a side note, as long as the NHL remains locked out, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell of the Philadelphia Flyers told Spike Eskin of CBSLocal.com that they will be growing "lockout beards."

Commemoration of Founding Teams

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    The Original Six—consisting of the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs—is a defining feature of the NHL.

    As the NHL's original members, the history and the rivalries between these six teams give the league much of its depth and character.

    The other major sports have founding teams, but the NHL is the only league that puts an emphasis on the founding members, especially when Original Six teams match up during the season.

Conference Trophy Protocol

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    When an NHL team wins a conference trophy, the captain of the winning team has to decide if he should touch or avoid the trophy.

    Hoisting the Stanley Cup as a champion is the only thing that matters, so team captains often decide to forgo touching the Prince of Wales or the Clarence Campbell trophies.

    Before his Pittsburgh Penguins lost in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008, Sidney Crosby decided not to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy. So before winning the Stanley Cup Finals in 2009, Crosby decided to touch it.

    The jury is out on whether touching the conference trophies is good or bad luck, but it is one more ritual that makes hockey special.

Players' Names Appear on the Stanley Cup

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    The Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in professional sports. It is also the only trophy that includes players' names on the actual trophy.

    In all other professional sports, only team names are listed. That alone makes this tradition amazing and unique. There are thousands of names on the Stanley Cup, and they add to its tradition and prestige.

    Plus, there is only one Stanley Cup. It is special and amazing that the Los Angeles Kings hoisted the same Stanley Cup that was hoisted by players like Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Gordie Howe, Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux and so many other all-time greats.

Each Player Gets a Day with the Stanley Cup

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    When the Stanley Cup is awarded, each team and its players celebrates with it on the ice. But after the season is over, the real fun begins.

    Each player from the winning Stanley Cup squad is entitled to spend a day with it and do whatever they want with it. Throughout the Cup's history, there have been several different ways of basking in its  ambiance.

    Stanley Cup champions have acted like children by eating ice cream sundaes out of the Cup. It has ended up in a canal and even been used as a beer cooler.

    Spending a day with the Cup has become an amazing tradition.

Celebrating by Drinking from the Stanley Cup

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    Drinking from the Stanley Cup is probably the greatest tradition in all professional sports. 

    When you consider how hard it is to win the Cup, finally being able to drink the sweet nectar of success from Lord Stanley's goblet is a pretty amazing tradition.

    Once you have taken a drink from the Cup, the desire to win it again and re-experience that moment has to be great.

The Winter Classic

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    The Winter Classic is a great hockey tradition that sets the NHL apart from all the other major sports.

    It started in 2003 with the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens faced off outdoors in the Heritage Classic a cold winter day in Edmonton.

    That gave birth to the Winter Classic, which has become one of the best events in the NHL.

    When you add the outdoor elements, the excitement of the build-up by HBO 24/7, the alumni game and the actual game itself, the Winter Classic is an amazing young tradition and one that makes the league unique.

Three Stars of Every Game

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    Most professional sports have a player of the game, but the NHL recognizes three players after every game.

    After every NHL game, the three stars of the game are named and take a celebratory spin on the ice.

    The tradition started when a company named Imperial Oil became a chief sponsor of the CBC during the start of the 1936-37 NHL season.

    The sponsorship made sense because Imperial Oil sold a brand of gas named "Three Stars." In an effort to promote its product, the network would award the game's three stars.

    To this day, the tradition lives on in the NHL.

Tossing Hats for a Hat Trick

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    This is one of the most common traditions in the NHL today. Players are considered lucky when they score one goal, even luckier if they score two and it's worth a special celebration if they score three in one night.

    After a hat trick, the fans launch their headwear onto the ice, and the building usually goes nuts—unless the recipient is a member of the visiting team, like in the video above.

Sudden-Death Overtime

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    Overtime is an amazing part of the NHL, but nothing beats the intensity of sudden-death overtime. In baseball, there are extra innings. In the NBA, there are extra overtime periods, and in the NFL there are different rules for different situations when it comes to scoring in overtime.

    When you look at the NHL's playoff format and its reliance on sudden-death overtime, there are no words to describe how quickly you can go from a steady heart rate to almost keeling over because of cardiac arrest.

    It is truly an amazing part of the NHL's appeal.

Handshakes After Playoff Series

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    Handshakes are an important tradition in the NHL.

    After a lengthy playoff series in which tons of blood, sweat and tears are shed, both sides still line up to acknowledge one another, even though it may be awkward for the losers to embrace the winners.

    It is a tradition that separates the NHL from the other sports.


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    The NHL is the only sport that has its entire playing surface smoothed throughout the game. In baseball, there are groundskeepers who make minor alterations to the field, but that isn't on par with what the NHL does.

    Using the Zamboni to resurface the ice between periods is an amazing tradition. Most arenas often have honorary Zamboni riders, which allows fans to interact with the sport.

The Uniqueness of the Stanley Cup Trophy

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    The bumps and blemishes on the Stanley Cup set it apart.

    Throughout the years, winners of the Cup have engaged in various hijinks while Lord Stanley's hardware was in their possession. As a result, dings and dents have appeared.

    The Cup has been continually repaired, but it remains the original. The NFL's Vince Lombardi Trophy, the NBA's Larry O'Brien Trophy and MLB's Commissioner's Trophy are new every year.

    That Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick hoisted the same Stanley Cup this year that Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas hoisted the year before is a pretty cool tradition.


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