Players are slaves to pregame rituals

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

They'll tell you they have no idea why they do what they do.

They can only say that if they don't do it, it simply doesn't feel right.

Does it help athletes perform better? All that matters is that the athlete believes it does.

Athletes at all levels of sports follow routines. They may be as simple as basketball star Michael Jordan wearing a pair of his North Carolina blue shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform. They may be as wacky as pitcher Turk Wendell who used to brush his teeth between innings and chew black licorice.

If an athlete happens to find success doing the same thing day in and day out, you won't be able to pry him away from his routine with a crowbar.

London Knight Rob Schremp wants to be last off the ice after warmup, periods and games. He likes to take the puck and give it to a fan as he exits the ice.

The king of routine, though, is teammate Corey Perry.

"I do them before I get dressed, as I'm getting dressed and before I get on the ice," said Perry.

The routine starts when he gets out of the car.

"I walk in the same door. I get dressed the same way. I've been doing it since I've been in the OHL," said Perry.

If you get to the John Labatt Centre early or travel on the road, you'll find Perry standing on the ice dressed in his black hockey underwear and shower sandals. He'll be stickhandling, doing tricks, working some magic with the stick and the puck.

In out-of-town buildings you'll hear the occasional "get off the ice" from an arena worker.

"I'm in my own little world," said Perry. "I just think about the game and what I'm going to be doing that night. It's just a little quiet place. It's my time to be alone and not be bothered by anybody."

He heads into the dressing room to get dressed. He always gets dressed the same way. Everything is done left, then right. The left sock goes on, then the right sock; the left shinpad, then the right; the left skate, then the right.

"I know it's weird," said Perry.

Perry is always the last player to take to the ice for the pregame warmup. Just before he goes through the gate, a John Labatt Centre usher hands him a puck. It's the same puck he used earlier during his quiet time.

"Normally it's the same girl there every game but if it isn't, it's whoever is working," he says.

He has no superstitions when it comes to getting off the ice.

Then just before the game . . .

"I wait for the three-minute time check," said Perry. "As soon as I get it I put on my sweater. I don't know why I do it but I do. I take the same bottle of water. (Trainer Don Brankley) comes by and does the tiedowns on my sweater. I'm always the last one to get that done. Then I wet my hair and wet my face, put on my gloves (left first, then right), tap both doors and go out."

He'll be the last player to take to the ice unless he's in the starting lineup and has to be introduced.

Psychologists will tell you that athletes do precompetition routines to help them focus for what's to come. It also gives them a sense of control.

Perry will tell you the same thing.

"It makes me mentally prepare for the game," he said. "If I don't do something it won't screw up my game but it just makes me more comfortable for the game. It's nothing I have to think about. I know in my mind it's time to do this, time to do that."

There's one other thing. Written on the tape on his stick is "1G, 2A." It's been on his stick since he can remember. Not surprisingly, he doesn't know why it started.

"It's my game stick. It doesn't mean anything. I just always put it on my No. 1 stick," he said. "When you are doing well, you don't want to change anything."

Perry may break the Knights' all-time points-scoring record tomorrow night. He trails Chris Taylor by two points.

No wonder he doesn't want to change a thing.


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