In a sport where fighting is legal it should come as no surprise that the NHL is a breed apart. Sure baseball has the infield fly rule, football has a man whose sole job is to kick a ball through the uprights, and basketball players have to dribble the ball to move with it – unless they take their two (or three?) free continuation steps to the basket. None of them trump the unusualness of professional hockey.
How strange is hockey? It’s the only sport where players salute the fans with sticks, the only game where you get punished with a timeout, the only game where you play overtime with less men than you started with. Oh, and if you don’t you win, the game is decided the game with a skills competition (shootout). You get a point for going to overtime and losing! But that’s not even the half of it. Oh no, hockey has all kinds of strangeness. That’s just the beginning.
10. Celebrating by Throwing Stuff on the Ice
Go to any arena and throw something on the ice, field or court and you’re instantly banned from the place. But if one player scores three goals (a hat trick) it suddenly is allowable to toss your hat onto the ice! Not only is it allowed, but there’s a person(s) in each hockey arena assigned the skate out and pick them up. Want to get weirder? During playoff games in Detroit fans throw octopuses onto the ice because the eight arms (used to) represent the number of wins a team needed to reach the Stanley Cup finals. In one game in 1995 there were 36 octopuses thrown onto the ice. But it doesn’t end there. Other cities have seen fans toss lobsters, rats, steaks, a shark, rubber snakes and salmon (among other paraphernalia) tossed onto the ice during hockey games.
9. The Chicago National Anthem
One of the most reverent scenes in any sport is the signing of the national anthem. Most often this is marked by a period of stoic and respectful silence. Not in Chicago and not during the playoffs. In one of the more unique and entertaining traditions, Blackhawk fans cheer and sing loudly throughout the entirety of the national anthem – a tradition that began in 1995 and continues to this day.
8. Multiple Hall of Fames
The Hockey Hall of Fame is located in Toronto. The US Hockey Hall of Fame Museum is located in Eveleth, Minnesota. One is the national shrine of hockey. The other is the national shrine of American hockey. Confused? So are we. The “official” Hall of Fame is the Toronto one.
7. Playoff Beards
It’s become something of a tradition in other sports to grow beards during a playoff run, but of course this tradition originated in Hockey. It’s believed this tradition started with the Islanders in the 1980s. Speaking of the Islanders…
6. Unusual Superstitions
Superstitious players are found in every sport, but hockey players are unusually strange. Joe Nieuwendyk was famous for putting baby powder on his sticks. Ray Bourque changed his skate laces during intermissions. The Canadiens’ Daniel Briere carries three sticks and if one isn’t working he likes to, “give it the night off.” Wayne Gretzky used to drink a Diet Coke, ice water, Gatorade, and Diet Coke (in that order) each intermission. Bruce Gardiner used to dunk his skate blades into the toilet before games. Many players refuse to wear a visor of facemask even if it will save eyes or teeth. And you could write a whole novel on how different players tape their sticks. But, the worst? Without question it’s the 1975 New York Islanders, who attributed their success to carrying around a giant bag of elephant dung.
You might never find a more unusual breed of athlete than a hockey goalie. They’re superstitious at the best of times. Some are just downright weird. Patrick Roy used to kiss and talk to his goal posts and believed that skating backwards to the net and turning around when he reached it somehow shrunk the goal. Ilya Bryzgalov, newly acquired by the Minnesota Wild, had some interesting quotes about the universe when he was with the Flyers. Manny Legace used to use older generations of equipment instead of the modern stuff. Damian Rhodes dyed his hair blonde before home games. Ron Tugnutt used to skate in unusual figure eight patterns that featured a variety of unusual steps. And Curtis Joseph once attacked a referee.
4. Post Game Handshakes
This is only strange because hockey seems to be the only sport which embraces this wonderful tradition. After playoff series the teams line-up and shake hands and congratulate one another, no matter if you were beaten and battered, as long as you’re conscious you participate.
3. The Stanley Cup
The Stanley Cup is easily the best trophy in sports. Yet it’s also a bit strange. Once the cup was presented to the captain and the winning team had their picture taken with it, but those days are long gone. Now each player on the winning team gets to hoist the cup and skate around with it. And if that’s not enough, they also each get an off-season visit from the cup for a day. Off-season visits usually result in the trophy being used in a number of unique ways. Everyone gets their name engraved on it. It moves around. And of course, there’s only one and it’s been repaired numerous times over the years. It’s not so much strange as it is awesome.
2. Not Touching…Anything
You don’t touch the conference trophies – ever! You don’t lay a finger on the Stanley Cup until you win it. And as Justin Bieber learned in Chicago, you never, ever step on the logo in the center of the locker room.
It’s not hockey unless there’s fighting! You’ll spend five minutes in the sin bin for dropping the gloves. Retaliating for an unnoticed cheap shot will earn you two minutes in the box. High sticking will also get you two minutes, unless there’s blood, then it’s four. If you’re really on your worst behavior you might get a game misconduct – which is a ten minute major and ejection. Everything else seems fair game. In some truly bizarre instances, whole teams and goalies have fought. Somehow through the chaos a game is played and everyone seems ok with it. There are usually no fines or suspensions – because, you know, that’s hockey.