Going Cup crazy

STEPHEN RIPLEY, SUN MIEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:08 PM ET

In all of sports, few athletes are as superstitious as hockey players.

Whether it's a lucky T-shirt under their gear, a meticulous pregame warm-up routine or a magic toonie buried in the ice, players always seem to believe some higher power is responsible for their success or failure. And when the playoffs roll around, the rituals become even more bizarre.

In some cases, such as the 10 examples on this list, certain rituals take on a life of their own and become intertwined with the lore and traditions of the game.

10. Pyramid power

In addition to being a Hall of Famer, an eight-time Stanley Cup winner and a Member of Parliament, former Toronto Maple Leafs bench boss Red Kelly was apparently a bit of a kook. That much became apparent during the 1976 playoffs, when he attempted to harness the supernatural powers of the ancient Egyptians by placing small pyramids under the Leafs bench and in the dressing room. It didn't work, as the Leafs lost a seven-game quarter-final series to the Philadelphia Flyers.

9. Year of the Rat

During their improbable run to the finals in 1996, fans of the Florida Panthers celebrated goals by throwing hundreds of rubber rats onto the ice. The "rat trick" ritual had been born earlier that season, when winger Scott Mellanby killed a rat in the dressing room, then went out and scored two goals in a Panthers victory.

8. Towel power

The tradition of Vancouver Canucks fans waving white towels during playoff games began in 1982, when the Canucks faced the Blackhawks in the Campbell Conference final. Angered by what he thought was a bad call, Vancouver head coach Roger Neilson hung a towel from a stick and stood on the bench, waving it at the officials in mock surrender.

7. No hard feelings

After seven hard-fought games filled with fights, facewashes, high-sticks and unseen cheap shots, players from each team invariably line up to shake hands at the conclusion of each playoff series. Sure, some hard feelings still linger -- witness Martin Brodeur refusing to hug it out with Sean Avery last year -- but for the most part, it restores a veneer of civility and respect to a game where such qualities are often in short supply.

6. God Bless America

Kate Smith was a radio star of the 1930s and '40s whose fame lived on, thanks to her iconic rendition of Irving Berlin's God Bless America. Noticing an improvement in their fortunes on nights when they played her recording in place of The Star Spangled Banner, the Philadelphia Flyers began inviting Smith to sing before big playoff games in the mid-'70s, when they won back-to-back Stanley Cups. Smith died in 1986, but the Flyers continue to honour her memory, posting a remarkable 77-21-4 record in games in which her song is played.

5. Day with the Cup

In its 116-year history, the Stanley Cup has been used by victorious players as a flower pot, a peanut dish, a urinal, a dog bowl, a baptismal font and a prop at a strip joint. After decades of such abuse, the tradition of letting every player on the winning team spend a day with the Cup was finally formalized in 1995 by the Hockey Hall of Fame, which now makes sure a representative is always on hand to keep it safe.

4. C of Red

In their 1986 Smythe Division series against the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames fans began the tradition of all wearing red clothing, creating a "C" of red in the Saddledome. Fans in Winnipeg hijacked the ritual a year later, creating a "whiteout" as the Jets bounced the Flames in the first round of the 1987 playoffs. Since then, several teams in hockey and other sports have adopted the practice.

3. Do not touch

In recent years, a couple of superstitions have arisen regarding trophies. One says no player must touch the Stanley Cup until they've actually won it. The other says it's bad luck to touch or hoist either the Clarence Campbell Bowl or Prince of Wales Trophy -- awarded to the Western and Eastern Conference champions, respectively -- as neither is the trophy the players really covet.

2. Detroit Octopus

On April 15, 1952, brothers Pete and Jerry Cusimano threw an octopus onto the ice at Detroit's old Olympia Stadium to celebrate the Red Wings' sweep of the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final. At the time, the eight-armed cephalopod was the perfect symbol of playoff success, as it took eight victories to win the two series en route to the Cup. Even though it now takes 16 wins to capture the Cup, the tossing of octopi remains a postseason tradition for Wings fans.

1. Beards

From Jesus Christ to Osama bin Laden to Joaquin Phoenix, men teetering on the fine line between determination and fanaticism have been known to wear full beards. Such is the case in hockey, where for three decades players have put down their razors at the start of the playoffs, refusing to shave until they can hoist the Stanley Cup.

Disagree with our picks? E-mail yours to topten@sunmedia.ca.


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