NHL Playoff Traditions: Why the NHL Is the Most Celebrated League

Keith SheltonAnalyst IMay 18, 2009

The NHL Playoffs have more tradition than any sport under the sun. I am certain of this.

Who doesn't love tradition? It's what makes the sport you love even greater than it already is. So here's my list of eight NHL Playoff traditions, pointing out to the sporting world why our sport is better than yours.

1. Sudden Death Overtime

Overtime exists to some degree in every sport's playoffs. However only the NHL and NFL allow sudden death. Baseball will go into extra innings, but if a team scores at the top of the 15th inning, the opposing team will always get the chance for a rebuttal.

In the NBA, there is timed overtime and whoever remains on top at the end of the overtime period wins or if its tied, another overtime period will be played.

The NFL allows teams to decide via coin toss whether they'd like to be on offense or defense and then 15 minute overtime periods are played until one team scores. This just doesn't seem right.

Where as in hockey both offense and defense are being played at all time by each team, in the NFL the team that starts on offense can score first without the opposition ever getting a chance.

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The NHL has 20 minute long overtime periods, that are continuously played until someone scores. The more overtime periods there are, the greater the chance that a lucky bounce or bad deflection will decide the game. (We just hope it's not the refs!)

What the NHL overtime has that the NFL doesn't is edge of your seat nail-biting action. Knowing that at any moment this game could end. Imagine that for hours at a time!

2. The Handshake

This is definitely something unique to the NHL. Take the recent series between Detroit and Anaheim. These two teams absolutely hated each other. There was fighting, there was trash talk, there was hard fought chippy action, there was suffocating defense. Both teams were beaten and bruised by the end of this series with venom spewing throughout.

And then the teams lined up, looked each other in the eyes, and went down the line shaking hands, as per NHL tradition.

It's one of the greatest things about hockey and a terrific display of sportsmanship, that even after a grueling seven-game series between hated rivals, the two teams can still respect each other enough to shake hands, call it a good series, and move on.

3. Throwing Things on the Ice

To put it bluntly, NHL fans love to throw things on the ice. It's not just for the hell of it though. There is a reason behind the madness.

The greatest scoring feat in baseball is the grand slam or hitting for the cycle. basketball has the triple-double.

Hockey has the hat trick, and it occurs whenever a single player scores three or more goals in a single game. It doesn't happen often and fans love to commemorate the feat by throwing the hats on their heads on to the ice as the crowd erupts.

In 1996, Florida Panthers forward, Scott Melanby killed a rat in the locker room. He then went on to score two goals in the game. Noticing the phenomenon, Panthers goalie, John Vanbiesbrouck coined the term "Rat Trick"

The very next game, a Panther fan threw a plastic rat on the ice to celebrate a Panther goal and as the season went on, hundreds of plastic rats were seen on the ice after Panther goals.

It just so happened that 1996 was the year of the rat in the Chinese zodiac and the Panthers made the Stanley Cup Finals that year.

In Game One against Colorado, Avalanche fans threw rat traps onto the ice to protest the plastic rats thrown by Panther fans.

In Game Three, the Panthers scored and the rats came down once more, prompting Patrick Roy to famously declare that there would be no more rats. He kept his word and shutout the Panthers for the remainder of Game Three and Game Four.

Detroit has the tradition of throwing octopi on the ice. This tradition dates all the way back to 1952 when only eight wins were necessary to win the Stanley Cup instead of the 16 wins today.

The owner of a local fish market, knowing that Octopi had eight legs, thought eight legs, eight wins. He threw an octopus onto the ice at Olympia Arena during Game 1 of the playoffs and the Red Wings went on to sweep both of their opponents and win the Stanley Cup.

It's been a yearly tradition ever since.

4. The Stanley Cup

It's the most recognized and oldest trophy in all four major sports, but it's not so much the trophy, but what is done with it.

There is a tradition that no player will touch the trophy until they have rightfully won it. To do so would be a curse on that player and their team. That extends to the conference trophies, the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl and the Prince of Wales Trophy. Very few players will lift those trophies when they are won. That is not the prize that they seek.

In 1896, the Winnipeg Victorias began the tradition to drink champagne from the trophy.

In 1950, after the Red Wings won the Cup, captain Ted Lindsay was handed the trophy. he lifted it above his head and began skating around the ice with it, beginning a new tradition.

Captains now are always handed the trophy first, and since Ted Lindsay, every captain hoists the heavy Stanley Cup above their heads and take a lap around the ice before handing it to another player of the captain's choosing, so that they may do the same.

Since 1995 when a team wins the cup, each player from that team is given a day with the Stanley Cup to take it wherever they wish. Last year after Detroit won, Dan Cleary became the first player from Newfoundland to win the trophy. He naturally took the Stanley Cup to his remote town of 600 and became a legend in his hometown.

Some winners of the Stanley Cup have baptized their children in it. Clark Gillies allowed his dogs to eat out of it. Ken Daneyko ate cereal out of it, while Darien Hatcher used it as a beer cooler at a party.

The Cup has also seen plenty of abuse over the years. In 1905, an Ottawa Senators player tried to drop-kick the trophy across the Rideau Canal. He missed, and the Cup couldn't be retrieved until the next day.

In 1924 the Stanley Cup was abandoned on the road by the Montreal Canadiens. It was found in the basement of Lester Patrick who coached the Victoria Cougars. His sons had scratched their names into the trophy with a nail and urinated on it.

In 1940, Patrick's sons names were properly engraved as they won the trophy as members of the New York Rangers.

In 1961, the Montreal Canadiens were losing the final game of a playoff series to the Chicago Blackhawks when a crazed Montreal fan broke into the case holding the trophy and tried to run out of the building with it before he was arrested.

He told the judge that he was only taking the Cup back to Montreal where it rightfully belonged. Chicago has not won the cup since that year.

The stories and lore surrounding the Stanley Cup are endless.

5. The Winter Classic

This is a more recent tradition. In 2003 the NHL set up the Heritage Classic, an outdoor game at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. the Edmonton Oilers faced off against the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL's first outdoor game.

It was a huge success, drawing over 57,000 fans.

The NHL revisited the idea of an outdoor game in 2008, pitting the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Buffalo Sabres on New Years Day. It snowed, and it was beautiful. It was how hockey was meant to be played and the NHL announced it was the first Winter Classic, to be played every year on New Years Day.

2009 featured two original six teams, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. Goalie Ty Conklin has played in all three outdoor games, starting for Edmonton, Pittsburgh, and Detroit, winning with Pittsburgh and Detroit.

Fenway Park is expected to host the 2010 Winter Classic.

6. The Zamboni

OK, so what's so great about a tractor like vehicle that sprays water onto the ice and resurfaces it at every intermission? Ummm everything?

The Gear Daddies even wrote a song about it.

"Now ever since I was young it's been my dream, that I might drive a Zamboni machine. I'd get the ice just as slick as it could be, and all the kids would look up to me."

There might not be a more celebrated behind the scenes service worker for any league than the Zamboni driver.

The Zamboni driver is a respected member of the community? Why? I guess because hockey fans just like Zamboni's for some reason.

7. Fighting

What other sport actually allows fighting other than the NHL? None of them. There's plenty of it in the playoffs too.

Where would hockey be if players that got under each other's skin weren't allowed to drop the gloves and have at it? The fans love it. At any level to witness a hockey fight, is to witness something awesome.

Just imagine how hard it must be to fight while keeping your balance on skates!

8. Chants

One of the most time honored traditions. Throwing the goalie off of his game.

Whether it's a chant of "Osgoooood Osgoooood" or "Buuuulin" NHL fans never cease in thinking that drawing out the goalie's last name will rattle him. It's fun though.

Some chants come and go but remain timeless. For instance, Dennis Potvin formerly of the New York Islanders was allegedly known as a wife-beater. The New York Ranger fans would chant "beat your wife Potvin! beat your wife!" probably one of the most hilarious chants I've ever heard.

The Rangers and Islanders had chant battles back in the day, with the Islander fans chanting "The Rangers suck!" and the Ranger fans responding with "Potvin sucks!"

Wendel Clark was often mocked by opposing fans who chanted "Wendy"

The Calgary Flames fans often chanted "whiiineer whiiiiner" whenever Wayne Gretzky came on the ice.

Every arena has their different chants and it's a necessity to know them if you plan on going to a game.

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