Hockey players are the most superstitious of all professional athletes

Blackhawks goalie

Photo: The Hockey Writers

The number 13 doesn’t seem to scare hockey players the way it once did.

When Mats Sundin joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1995 and took it for his own, he was only the second player in the team’s 78-year history to wear it on his sweater. He knew it was supposed to be bad luck, and he didn’t care. “I’m not superstitious myself,” said the man who’d go on to become the Leafs’ all-time leading scorer. “I don’t think anything you do on the ice has anything to do with what number is on your back.”

A host of other NHLers might beg to differ on that. Hockey players have been cited as some of the most superstitious of all professional athletes. In this, the league’s 100th year, a look at some of the ways in which hockey’s greats have warded off bad fortune:

  • The great Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings: “I had certain undershorts. If I wore the shorts and we won the game, I’d put them away, and the day of the next game, I’d get them back on again.”
  • Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr wouldn’t leave the dressing room without patting every one of his teammates on the shoulder before a game.
  • Hard to say whether Glenn Hall’s habit of throwing up before every game was a superstition or more of a gastrological issue. “I think hockey is a wonderful game — to watch,” the Chicago Black Hawks goaltender once said. “But I hate every minute I play. I’m sick to my stomach before the game, between periods and from the start of the season to the end. There’s no such thing as an easy night for a goalie, not even if he never gets a shot to stop during the whole game.”

If nothing else, his evacuations seemed to have a settling effect on his teammates. When they heard him in the bathroom, one said, that’s how they knew he was ready to play.

  • Frank Brimsek tended Boston’s nets in the 1940s. Then as now, Bruins’ colours were black and yellow, but Brimsek wouldn’t play in any but his lucky red pants.
  • New York Rangers goaltender Dave Kerr had a confirmed aversion to spinach, but ate it all the same before every game.
  • Leaf great Busher Jackson took comfort in quantity: why carry one rabbit’s foot when you could stow three in your equipment?
  • Orr’s Bruin teammate Phil Esposito put his faith for good fortune in a black shirt he insisted on wearing backwards. Because? The first time he did so, he happened to score three goals. He also re-taped his stick ahead of each game, black tape. He wouldn’t leave the dressing room with it, though, until a trainer had doused it in baby powder.

Not that Esposito wasn’t open to change. On the winter’s night in 1979 when he registered the 800th assist of his career, he looked to his feet. “I guess I’ve got to keep my socks inside out for every game,” he said afterwards.

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