I'm pretty sure that if you followed hockey in the last five years, the image of Mike Commodore is one that you remember fondly. As you may recall, the Carolina Hurricanes were the 2006 Stanley Cup Champions, and Commodore was quite famous for his crimson locks and bright red beard. If you've been watching hockey in the spring at any level, you know that superstitions take on a life of their own as players don't want to change any aspect of their lives in order to keep a winning streak alive. Because of this, all sorts of traditions get started in the NHL, and Teebz's Book Club has a whole book of them today. TBC is proud to present Hockey Superstitions, written by Andrew Podneiks and published by McLelland & Stewart Ltd.
Andrew Podnieks has written more than 50 books on hockey, including Honoured Canadiens, Celebrating the Game, and Lord Stanley's Cup. Mr. Podnieks has played a major role in researching international hockey for various institutions including the Hockey Hall of Fame, the IIHF, and Hockey Canada. The Canadian author has provided Hockey Canada all of the statistics and historical info on all of Canada's teams at of the IIHF major tournaments since 2003. You can check out his website, which features all of his books, by clicking here.
Hockey Superstitions is broken up into two distinct parts: Group Superstitions, and Player Superstitions. Group Superstitions are the "Universal Tribalism" that is exhibited by teams and/or groups of players rather than the individual. Player Superstitions are obviously more of a personal tradition or superstition that individual players exhibit.
The first section, Group Superstitions, looks at how superstitions originated at the NHL level, as well as some of the more common superstitions we know. Things like player beards in the playoffs, not touching the Prince of Wales or Campbell Conference Trophies, and never touching the Stanley Cup until a player has won it are discussed by Mr. Podnieks. However, he also brings to light the many traditions that aren't as well-known. Some of these include team mascots, coaching attire, fan and media superstitions, Kate Smith's ability to influence the Flyers to win, and, in particular, the New York Islanders' superstition of elephant dung. Yes, you read that last one correctly - elephant dung. The first 55 pages cover 28 superstitions, and they really go to show how many susperstitions are or were part of the game.
The second portion of Hockey Superstitions is all about the individual player supsertitions. Some of these superstitions are displays of obsessive-compulsive behavior, but others are simply incredible in terms of how important they were to the player. For example:
- Peter Bondra used five sticks during the pre-game warmup, and number them. He would decide during this warmup which would be his "game stick". If he scored in the first period, he would continue using the stick. However, if things weren't working very well, he'd grab one of his other numbered sticks to use.
- Ray Bourque would change his sweaty equipment between periods, but he would also re-lace his skates during the intermission and discard the previously-used laces.
- Shane Doan writes "29:11" on each of his sticks. Dona's religious beliefs have spread to a superstition with his sticks, and the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 29, verse 11 is very important to Doan.
- Kyle McLaren, who is known for wearing a yellow visor, actually began his superstition because of a joke. McLaren is color blind, and a teammate swapped his clear visor for a yellow one. McLaren didn't notice until after the game in which he scored the game-winning goal! He did change back to a clear one in 2007-08 to see if that would change the fortunes of the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs, but his superstition started because of a prank!
As you can see, there are a vast number of superstitions that players have used. Mr. Podnieks covers over 100 players on approximately 110 pages, so you know there will be interesting anecdotes passed on about a vast number of players from across all the NHL's various eras.
I have seen a number of superstitions in hockey dressing rooms over my time, and I know they drive a player in his preparation. Mr. Podnieks covers a lot of superstitions that embrace teams and players, and presents them in short, anecdotal passages. The information contained on the 179 pages of Hockey Superstitions is excellent, and Hockey Superstitions certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval. While this book may be more suited for spring reading, there is nothign wrong with examining the traditions that drive players today.
Just as a note before you navigate away from this site, Hockey Superstitions goes on sale on November 2, 2010. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy from McLelland & Stewart Ltd., and a huge thank you goes out to them for sending me this excellent book. Look for it at your local bookstore next week!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!