May 1, 2013 2:11 pm
Updated: May 1, 2013 3:39 pm

The superstitious world of the NHL playoffs

TORONTO – Whether it’s the classic playoff beard, a special meal or not washing your jersey, superstitions are an undeniable part of the NHL postseason.

With the playoffs underway, superstitions are sure to surface in locker rooms as well as the homes of die-hard hockey fans alike, some more odd than others.

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“There are pre-game rituals, and then there are pre-competition routines which we encourage,” said Judy Goss, a sports psychologist and mental performance lead with the Canadian Sports Institute Ontario. “A player controls a routine but a ritual controls a player.”

Goss, who works with Junior A teams in the Ontario Hockey League, said routines are about making the player feel comfortable before a game. A superstition, however, can hinder an athlete’s performance.

“A player could say ‘I ate two Big Macs before a game, and I played great.’ Therefore I’ll eat two Big Macs before every game,” Goss said. “It made them feel comfortable, but did the Big Macs help the player perform well? Probably not.”

Starting Wednesday, when two of Canada’s four Cup contending franchise step onto the ice, there’s likely to be more than a few superstitious fans undertaking playoff rituals and routines in the hopes of giving their team an extra edge.

“I think fans like superstitions because it helps them feel like their part of the team,” Goss, who is a Toronto fan, said. “It has no effect on the game’s outcome but it makes them feel engaged.”

As for the four Canadians team that made the postseason this year, each carry a unique history of superstitions.

Liam McGuire, a hockey historian, says that of all the superstitions any club has held, the Leafs ‘Pyramid Power’ during the 1976 quarter-finals may just be the oddest.

After the Leafs fell behind 3-2 against the Philadelphia Flyers, coach Red Kelly placed miniature models of plastic pyramids under the bench and a larger pyramid in the dressing room to “unlock success,” McGuire says.

Kelly had heard about the supposed healing power of the pyramid and placed several small pyramids under his daughter’s pillow to cure her migraines. Kelly transferred the idea to his day job to help the Leafs avoid elimination.

“I took the six sticks I was going to use and put them under the pyramid,” Darryl Sittler told the Associated Press in 1976. “I still get vibrations from this stick.”

Sittler scored five goals and had an assist in game six as the Leafs won 8-5 to tie the series. The press ate it up.

“This was at a time before the Internet, before social media, and this story went viral,” said McGuire. “Every single news broadcaster, CBS, NBC, CBC, picked up that story. It went around the world.”

Alas, Pyramid Power, as it was labelled by the papers and networks, was short-lived as the Leafs lost in a bitter game seven.

The Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators have had their own superstitions – and superstitious players – as well. McGuire points to Yvon Lambert, who  landed in Montreal from Detroit in 1972.

“Every single pre-game he would be the absolutely last man off the ice. And did this for his entire career with the Habs until he was traded to Buffalo.”

In Ottawa many years later, Senators player Bruce Gardiner’s game was in the toilet, according to the historian. The forward sought an appropriate remedy.

“Gardiner couldn’t score,” said McGuire. So: “He started dunking his stick in the toilet before games.”

Some Vancouver fans are supporting their team this year by adhering to a strict game-day ritual: wearing the Canucks jersey all day on game day. Oh, and making sure they’re well hydrated.

“I drink beer and I always wear my jersey. As soon as I wake up, the jersey goes on, and I wear it all day, whether we win or lose,” said Jon Morrison in an interview with BC Living. “I can’t take it off; if I take it off we’re doomed.”

Other famous superstitions around the NHL of course include tossing an octopus on the ice during Detroit Red Wing home games, and Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy’s long conversations with his goal posts.

Rumour has it that the Great One himself, Wayne Gretzky had to drink a Diet Coke followed by a glass of ice water, a Gatorade, and second Diet Coke after every warm-up.

© Shaw Media, 2013

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