As professional athletes, NHL hockey players will do whatever it takes to be successful on the ice. On top of their on and off-ice training and preparation, many players throughout NHL history have adopted strange, often disturbing superstitions in order to ensure their on-ice success.
Oddly enough, some of the best players to have played in the NHL are those with the wackiest, most unexpected superstitions. Superstitions aren’t limited strictly to players, as whole teams often follow specific rituals to help their team win.
Inanimate objects can’t talk. Oh, wait, what’s that, Patrick? They can?
You read that right; Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy had conversations with his goalposts, although all they ever had to say back was “ping.” Roy did this because he felt it helped improve his game and that he would play better with the goalposts on his side. Literally.
The superstition began during the 1986 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Hartford Whalers. Roy said it started by accident during the national anthems:
They (the goalposts) helped me, and I played a good game. In overtime a guy took a slapshot and hit the post but we won.
What exactly would Roy say to his posts?
Come on guys help me out. Before the game I give them direction. The goalposts are always with me. They talk back to me. Some nights they say ‘bing’. But some nights they have a bad night, too.
As crazy as it sounds, Roy’s superstition would help pave the way to a fantastic career. Roy went on to win four Stanley Cups and three Vezina Trophies.
No More Nerves
Likely the most disturbing superstition in NHL history belongs to Hall of Famer Glenn Hall, also known as “Mr. Goalie.”
Hall would force himself to vomit before each game in a physically disturbing ritual, especially later in his career. Why? Similar to Roy, he had the superstition that doing so would improve his on-ice performance.
I got the feeling I wasn’t giving everything I had if I didn’t go through it. I also felt I played better. I felt if I wasn’t wired, I wasn’t playing well. I’d get up in the morning and I couldn’t wait for game time.
Hall felt that to live up to his own high standard of play, he had to find a way to cope with and relieve the pressure of playing hockey games of massive significance. Clearly, his decision to do so paid off in the long run, as he not only raised the Stanley Cup but won three Vezina Trophies and was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975 with 407 career wins.
Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour was a tremendous goalie in his NHL career. Inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011, he won a Stanley Cup, two Vezina Trophies, and 484 games in his career. Along the way, Belfour had, like many, a superstition.
Belfour’s superstition was attached to his goalie equipment. He refused to let anybody except for himself touch any article of his equipment. The superstition was so strong, in fact, that he was known to threaten those who came near or touched his equipment.
If you touch my stuff, I’ll kill you.
Obviously not serious regarding the threat, it’s clear just how specific he was about who touched his equipment, as he felt he played at his best when only he had touched it. Belfour was also known to completely disassemble parts of his equipment, such as his glove if he had a bad game or let in a soft goal.
The Great One and Baby Powder?
That’s right, one of the many superstitions of Wayne Gretzky was applying baby powder to his stick before games.
Gretzky could be the most superstitious player in the league’s storied history. Does this mean that superstitions lead to success? I would say no. But for the “Great One,” they certainly didn’t hurt.
On top of his use of baby powder:
- He refused to ever have his hair cut while on the road. The one time he did have it cut, his team lost horribly.
- He always put his equipment on in a specific order. His bottom half left to right and top half left to right.
- In warm-ups, he would purposely miss his first shot on net wide right.
- Following warm-ups, he would drink beverages in a particular order: diet Coke, water, Gatorade and another diet Coke.
It is hard to argue with these odd rituals considering Gretzky won four Stanley Cups, countless awards, scored 2857 career points, and has a place in the Hall of Fame.
Sidney Crosby, the Perfectionist
When I say perfectionist, it is not a reference to his game on the ice but Crosby’s superstition with his hockey sticks.
With his sticks, each must be cut to a specific length and taped in a specific way. Once they are taped, no one can touch them, and if they do, Crosby is forced to fully re-tape the stick, feeling that the stick will not perform as it should unless handled by him alone.
Crosby’s other superstition is not calling his mother on game days. The three times he has done so have resulted in three significant injuries; a dislocated shoulder, broken foot, and shattered teeth.
Hands Off the Hardware!
One of the best-known superstitions in NHL history is the choice teams face after winning either the Eastern or Western Conference Finals. Presented with either the Prince of Wales Trophy or Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, the winning team will have to decide whether to touch the trophy in receiving it or not touch it.
A ridiculous superstition, players believe that receiving or touching the Conference Trophy is a bad omen and decreases a team’s chances of winning the Stanley Cup. Yet throughout NHL history, this seems not to be the case, as teams that chose to touch a conference trophy tend to go on to win the Stanley Cup approximately 50% of the time.
In 2008, Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins elected not to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy and lost in the Stanley Cup Final. A year later, Crosby chose to pick up the Trophy, and the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Other Odd Hockey Superstitions:
- Chris Chelios: Last person to put on his jersey before a game.
- Jocelyn Thibault: Would pour water on his head six and a half minutes before a game.
- Joe Nieuwendyk: Ate two pieces of toast with peanut butter before every game.
- Brendan Shanahan: Wore his junior hockey shoulder pads in Detroit, listened to Madonna pre-game.
- Karl Alzner: Taps stick 88 times, traces maple leaf outline before national anthems conclude.
This article was originally written in December 2014.
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Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.