The NHL Playoffs are full of traditions. Some are fan based, and others the players uphold, but all of them are great. In the NHL traditions are as much part of the game as the score. Teams, and their fans have different traditions some are for luck, or out of respect, and others are done in celebration. Three traditions that I find among the best are: The Handshake, The Playoff Beard, and Fans tossing animals on the ice.
The Playoff beard is legendary among sports traditions. Started in the 1980’s by the New York Islanders. Players start to grow their master piece once they know they will be playing for the Stanley Cup. Once a players starts to grow the Playoff beard ,that player can not shave until their team is no longer playing in the Playoffs. One exception is allowed; to change a teams luck, players may trim their beard after a loss. While this tradition is mainly player generated some fans have taken to growing a playoff beard hoping to increase their favorite team’s chances of winning the cup.
Animals on the ice
Unlike any other sport; fans of the NHL are not only allowed to toss items on the ice, but during the Playoffs it is encouraged . Two teams come to mind right away they are the Detroit Red Wings, and the Florida Panthers. In the Playoffs fans of the Detroit Red Wings toss octopus on the ice in celebration . The Octopus tradition started on April 15, 1952. Two Detroit brothers, Pete and Jerry Cusimano threw the eight-legged cephalopod on the ice at Olympia Stadium. Each tentacle of the octopus was symbolic of a win in the playoffs. There were only the only six teams, back then, and eight wins (two best-of-seven series) were needed to win the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings swept the series that year, and the Octopus has come to be the good luck charm ever since.( NHL.com). In South Florida, Florida Panthers fan toss plastic rats on the ice. The Rat-Trick as it has become know as came about during the 1995-96 season, when the Panthers advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. That season, Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the locker room prior to the team’s home opener with his stick, then scored two goals with the same stick. Panthers fans responded by throwing plastic rats on the ice to celebrate goals (nesn.com). It is truly a sight to see fans of these two team tossing an octopus or plastic rats from their seats to the ice surface, and the best part is the players and officials know it’s coming.
The third (and my personal favorite) tradition I want to talk about is the handshake. The post game handshake pre-dates the NHL, and is among the most deeply rooted traditions in professional sports. The handshake is a show of sportsmanship, it only happens after a playoff series. Two teams battle, fighting, hitting, taking cheap shots only to meet at center ice and shake hands out of respect for the game. It is the only time in a NHL season that players put aside the pure frustration that builds up. The handshake is official end of that season for one team. There is an implication that the slate has been wiped clean, and we will meet again next year.
Hockey at it’s very core is a pure game, a game born out of traditions. The NHL season is nearing its end. The reaming teams will continue to carry these traditions until the last horn blows, and the last player leaves the ice. This is hockey. This is how the game should be played.