Hockey isn't just a game, it's a culture. It can affect our clothing, our diet, even our taste in music (hello out there, Stompin' Tom). Cheering on the local squad is part of the experience, but there's a whole world of hockey out there. These rites of passage should top any diehard's checklist.
WEAR YOUR COLORS IN ENEMY TERRITORY
How deep is your fandom? Anybody can wear a jersey to a game, but it takes guts to wear your colors on the road. Rachel Gardner is a Flyers fan from the suburbs of Philadelphia, and she’s worn the Orange and Black to several different arenas, including archrival Pittsburgh’s.
In 2011-12, wearing a Max Talbot Flyers jersey, she watched coach Peter Laviolette nearly get in a fight with Pens peer Dan Bylsma after a big hit on Daniel Briere, but she and her Philly compatriots also got to cheer for a lot of Flyers goals in a 6-3 win. “I’m quiet by nature,” Gardner said. “But we were definitely out of our seats.” Gardner actually likes the Consol Energy Center, and nothing untoward happened in the stands despite her jersey. Her dad is a Sidney Crosby fan, and she says Pittsburgh’s arena has cool photo ops (there’s a huge goalie mask in one part of the concourse). There’s nothing like taking part in a rivalry: “It’s always the best hockey.”
TOUCH THE STANLEY CUP
Since 1988, Phil Pritchard has guarded the Stanley Cup and taken it around the world. Countless fans have waited in line for their moment with the chalice and there are rules. Here’s a checklist:
- Hoist it over your head -- No.
- Kiss the Cup -- Yes.
- Drink from the Cup -- No.
- Take a selfie -- Yes.
Now, if you’re at a party with Jonathan Toews and he lets you hoist or drink from the Cup, then lucky you, Pritchard says. There are guidelines for players too, but they’re less black and white. “What we usually tell the guys,” Pritchard said, “is that as long as it’s respectful, it’s good to go.” Getting back to the fans, Pritchard’s favorite part involves a superstition among some diehards: “A lot of fans won’t touch it until their team wins it,” he said. “They’ll wait in line for two hours to see it, but won’t touch it. That’s cool to me. That’s a true hockey fan.”
VISIT AN OLD BARN
As great as modern, state-of-the-art arenas can be, there’s something to be said for the rinks that have hosted games for decades. And really, you need to do it fast: Moose Jaw has already lost the ‘Crushed Can,’ and the fate of Gatineau’s Robert Guertin Arena seems to change every few months. The history and old-school feel of such places (Cornell’s Lynah is another good one) can’t be replicated.
VISIT THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME
Every religion has its places of worship, and hockey’s greatest shrine has a pretty nice setup. Though it is housed in an old bank in Toronto, the Hall of Fame feels like a church in some parts. All the major trophies are there, all the names of the inductees, too. The sweaters and memorabilia are to die for, but for curator Pritchard, his favorite section is the World of Hockey, where artifacts from the 75 or so countries that play the game are displayed. “It’s Canada’s gift to the world,” he said.
CHANT WITH FANS IN EUROPE
In NHL arenas, DJs prompt fans to get loud. In Europe, the partisans are self-starters. Chants are popular. Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan played for Mora in Sweden during the lockout and agrees taking in the European game experience is a must. “It was incredible. If you’re up by one or down by two, it’s the same chant. It lifted me up as a player.” Many of the chants are clever, such as Djurgarden’s “Matte Alba har ingen nasa.” It’s the Swedish equivalent of “Potvin Sucks,” referencing an incident 30 years ago when Djurgarden’s Hakan Sodergren high-sticked rival AIK’s Mats Alba so badly he broke Alba’s nose. The translation of the chant? “Matte Alba doesn’t have a nose."
WATCH A GAME FROM THE GLASS
We don't all have the funds to watch an NHL game from the front row, but if you ever get the chance to catch a high-level match from that vantage point, do so. Much like the folks who cowered from an on-screen locomotive when cinema first reached the masses, you will flinch when a puck dings off your pane of glass or two powerful athletes crunch up against it. It’s visceral and very cool.
HEAR THE CANNON IN COLUMBUS
Last season, the hockey media descended on Columbus for the NHL All-Star Game. The city showed well, but a few reporters left with jangled nerves thanks to the cannon that resides in Section 111. It’s loud, for sure, but it’s also a unique aspect of going to a game at Nationwide Arena. The cannon debuted in 2007 and was built to be a Civil War-era model. It fires every time the Blue Jackets take to the ice and after every home goal. And yes, you can have your picture taken with it.
HEAR THE VICTORY BELL AT LAKE SUPERIOR STATE
NCAA teams have some of the coolest traditions around, and Lake Superior State is at the top with the ringing of the victory bell. After every Lakers home win, fans rush to the Hoholik-Husband Victory Bell outside the nearby Norris Center, waiting for the players to run by, still wearing all their gear (except skates). Each player rings the bell, led by the game’s hardest worker or top player. Other traditions at schools such as Michigan include chants of “It’s all your fault!” when a visiting goalie gives up a goal and fans holding up newspapers out of mock boredom when the enemy lineup is announced.
GRAB A DOG IN MONTREAL
Montreal is a city know for its food, from smoked meat sandwiches to poutine and possibly some healthy stuff, but we’re not sure on that last one. And leave it to Montreal to elevate the hot dog to must-have status. There’s something about the steamers in the city that replicate that local rink vibe, where a hot dog was so good after your house league game. Local chains such as La Belle Province and Lafleur’s are great, and grabbing a hot dog before, after or during a Habs game just seems right. If you prefer your pork pulled, head down to Carolina, where Hurricanes fans are known to barbecue some mean tailgating grub.
GO TO THE WORLD JUNIORS
The World Junior Championship has become one of the biggest sporting events in Canada, bringing in huge TV ratings and an outsized amount of attention on a group of teenagers wearing the Red and White. But there’s a reason the tournament is so popular: the New Year’s Eve game is always against a huge rival (usually USA or Russia, though this year it’s Sweden) and the medal round is a single-elimination nailbiter. But folks don’t just watch on TV – they head over to Europe in droves when the tournament is there, too. Organizers in Helsinki have reported strong ticket sales from Canadians for this year’s tournament, while tour groups such as Destiny and Azorcan arrange tickets and itineraries for hundreds of Canucks who want some holiday hockey action. Even when the showdown is in North America, the locals come together to support underdogs such as Denmark or they make it a border battle. The atmosphere in Buffalo when Team USA faced the Canadians back in 2011 was insane and will return when the city hosts again in 2018.
This is an edited version of a feature that appeared in the November 23 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.