Those who’ve seen the New York Rangers play this year are likely aware of their new habit of gathering at center ice after each home game to salute the fans. The team stands, en masse, sticks raised in the air, pointing to the different sections of the crowd. It’s a gesture very familiar to anyone who’s ever followed European soccer or been to Medieval Times.
And the Rangers aren’t alone in this Ode to the Obscure. If grand, sometimes unexplainable gestures are what you’re into, the National Hockey League is the league for you.
Probably most famous of all hockey customs is the post game handshake. This touching gesture pays homage to hockey’s proud square dancing lineage. Originally the practice would see the opposing teams meet at center ice, accompanied by the referee (the caller) and his linesmen (fiddlers). A couple of Sashays and Dosey Dos and, before long, the game became a distant memory. Sadly the practice had to be changed after the Habs-Red Wings debacle of ’32 when the two teams could not agree on whose left the ref was referring to in Â“Allemande LeftÂ”.
Of course, not all the customs are reserved for after the game. In one of the most enduring legends in hockey, it’s said that Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall threw up before every game he played. What’s not mentioned is the absurdly questionable culinary abilities of Hall’s wife, who often put grapes in the pot roast and made soup out of motor oil.
NHL players are notoriously superstitious people, often having developed a consistent game-day routine that must be strictly adhered to. Breaking from the pattern was tantamount to blasphemy.
Take Arnie Boonheffer, who played for the Maple Leafs from 1949-55. One day on his way to a home game against the Bruins, he unfortunately ran over a stray one-eared cat while driving through a back alley in the west end of Toronto. That night Boonheffer had three goals and four assists. From that day forward, Arnie repeated the same routine every single day, which eventually won him the 1951 scoring title, but also sent the city’s rodent population into the stratosphere.
To some players, the superstition revolves around the systematic style in which they get dressed for the game and the attire they wear. Kjell Mikaelsson, a marginal player in the 1980s, insisted on wearing pink lingerie under his equipment. It turned out to be no help in keeping him in the NHL then but has today turned him into Sweden’s leading online retailer for cross-dressing Scandinavians.
Some of the most successful players in the league have also been some of its quirkiest. For example:
Derek Sanderson baked brownies before every game. He felt his creations gave him super powers to help fend off the evil spirits in the Boston Garden, although no one ever actually saw this Â“spotted elephantÂ”.
Ron Duguay would comb his long locks exactly 200 times before each game, 100 times between periods and 50 times on the powerplay.
Mark Messier would only listen to music sung by the women he was dating, which seriously brings into question that whole Minnie Pearl phase.
Patrick Roy would often talk to his posts during games, but stopped after rumors of a bizarre triangular relationship between himself, his posts and the Zamboni in Phoenix caused him to spiral into a ten game losing streak.
Red Kelly often went fishing in the Detroit River prior to home games. If he caught a salmon he knew he wouldn’t be on defense. If he caught a cadaver he knew he wouldn’t be on the jury.
Marcel Dionne also was prone to throwing up before games, but with those old Kings jerseys, no one noticed.
Guy Lafleur smoked only menthol cigarettes on breakaways.
Even today, players are carrying on great traditions of their own. Patrick Lalime will not catch a puck on days ending in a Â“YÂ”, Alexei Yashin always arrives at the rink dressed in an oversized trenchcoat and Brian McGrattan won’t eat gravel on game days.
Apparently quirkiness is defined by an era, which should really drive home those points you probably were told many years ago: make sure that chinstrap is tight and when blocking shots, don’t lead with your head.
Charlie Teljeur, creator of THN’s hockeysockpuppettheatre, brings you Loose Change every Tuesday and Thursday, only on thehockeynews.com.
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