Established in 1917, the National Hockey League has expanded and evolved to become one of the most popular professional sporting events in the nation. Known as one of the toughest and most brutal contact sports, the world of hockey is not only one gripped by boisterous fans and modern ice rink gladiators, but also one brimming with traditions. What’s more is that these customs are anything but conventional. Here are 15 of some of the most fun and bizarre traditions in the NHL.
1. The Hat Trick
This is just one of many examples of the mainstream hockey tradition of chucking various items onto the ice. While the hat trick is not strictly limited to hockey, NHL fans have turned it into a phenomenon of their own. After a single player scores three goals, fans celebrate by tossing hats onto the ice. While the origins of this tradition are uncertain, many suspect that it stemmed from the players themselves acquiring free hats.
2. The Rat Trick
In October of 1995, Scott Mellanby of the Florida Panthers killed a rat in the team’s locker room and then proceeded to score two goals that same game. When fans learned about the locker room fiasco, they celebrated goals scored in ensuing games by bestrewing the ice with toy rats. This tradition persisted during the Panthers’ 1996 playoff run but died quickly after a ban was issued against throwing the plastic rodents onto the ice. Deemed “the rat trick”, the Panthers’ 1996 playoff run forever lives on as The Year of the Rat.
3. The Legend Of The Octopus
One of the most infamous moments in NHL history took place in 1952, when brothers Pete and Jerry Cuismano threw an octopus onto the ice at Olympia Stadium in celebration of the Detroit Red Wings making the playoffs. The eight tentacles represented the eight wins needed to qualify. That same year, the Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup over the Montreal Canadiens. Since then, the octopus has become a quintessential symbol of good fortune in Detroit.
4. Christmas Teddy Bears
Christmas cheer is certainly not reserved outside of the ice rink. While more common in the minor league, dedicated hockey fans will throw teddy bears onto the ice after the home team scores a goal. Often times, the plush bears are later donated to children’s charities.
5. Fish, Snakes, And Sharks
To conclude a diverse range of oddities that have littered hockey rinks across the league, there have also been other instances of fans throwing catfish, rubber rattlesnakes, and even leopard sharks.
6. Towel Power
Coined by the Vancouver Canucks in 1982, the term “Towel Power” refers to the waving of rally towels by fans in support of the home team. The tradition originated when head coach Roger Neilson waved a white towel over a hockey stick as a symbol of mock surrender during the Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks after Neilson was unhappy with the officiating. In the immediate aftermath of the stunt, Neilson was ejected from the game and fined $1,000. Today, however, the tradition lives on in the form of fans pumping up their team. In 2011, a statue was erected of Neilson waving a towel outside of Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
7. A Day With The Cup
After an NHL team has accomplished the penultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup, each player is awarded the opportunity to spend a day with the revered trophy. Means of celebration vary widely. While some players opt to display the trophy in their hometown others choose to use it as a kitchen utensil, such as Los Angeles Kings’ captain Dustin Brown. Following the Kings’ championship victory in 2012, Brown used the Stanley Cup to serve chocolate milk to his two sons.
8. Playoff Beards
In hockey, No-Shave November exists as a playoff tradition that started in 1980. The rules are simple: when a team qualifies for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, players can’t shave their beards until they are either eliminated or proclaimed champions. The tradition has become so central to the league, that the NHL has even encouraged fans to grow beards in an effort to raise money for charity.
9. Three Stars
Originating in 1937, the NHL adopted the tradition of awarding three stars to the three best players at the end of the game. The ceremony was originally enacted as a promotional effort to advertise Three Star gas.
10. Fight Club
Aside from the WWE and MMA, fighting is generally condemned across most professional sports. For the NHL, however, fighting is condoned and often times welcomed. The league even developed its own fighting etiquette. When two players tear off their gloves to square off, the refs allow the pummeling to continue only until one or both players fall to the ice. When a fight breaks out, many arenas sound the same bell played at the beginning of a boxing match. At the end of the “round”, both players are sentenced to the penalty box but not before they are applauded by both the fans and their team-mates.
11. Do Not Touch The Cup
Whether it’s an omen of bad luck or strictly because only winners are considered worthy, NHL players refuse to lay a finger on the Stanley Cup until they’ve claimed the championship. While there isn’t a clearly defined punishment for engaging in such a rebellious act, no player wants to risk being subjected to an innominate curse.
12. Tapping The Goalie Pads
As superstitious as it is customary, players will tap the pads of their goalie prior to a game. The respectful gesture is meant to instill goalies with confidence and boost morale.
13. Sudden Death Overtime
Unlike overtime in numerous other sports where there is a designated period of time for both teams to break the tie before the game is officially declared over, in hockey, both teams play indefinitely until one scores a goal – hence the name, “sudden death.” In a sport where scoring is more rare than common, overtime in the NHL can prove exhaustively long. The longest NHL game ever recorded went to six overtimes, lasting a gruesome 217 minutes.
14. Cheering Through The National Anthem In Chicago
In 1985, the Chicago Blackhawks were struggling in the Conference Finals. Down two games to the Edmonton Oilers, Chicago fans, in a giddy attempt to get their team pumped for Game 3, cheered throughout the entirety of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The rowdy applause worked, as the Blackhawks went on to win 5-2. Since then, Chicago fans have carried on the raucous, and what some consider controversial, tradition.
15. Line of Handshakes
For a game filled with brawls and unruly fanbases, the NHL also demonstrates some of the most exceptional sportsmanship of any professional athletic event. In the playoffs, at the end of a game besieged with brutal hits, slams and jeers, both teams line up and one-by-one shake each other’s hands. This tradition is one of the highest importance in the NHL. It signifies that even with a longstanding history of throwing cephalopods and engaging in boxing-style close combat, that the game of hockey always preserves respect and gratitude.