Anything for a Win: Game Day Supersitions and Rituals by @MedinaMarie_PI - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Anything for a Win: Game Day Supersitions and Rituals by @MedinaMarie_PI

As far back as I can remember, I was always involved in something competitive. Be it a sport, dance, or pageantry, it seemed everything revolved around some sort of competition and I loved it. I fed off it. To be quite honest, I still do. I love challenging myself to do and be better in whatever I am doing.

More often than not, those involved in something competitive will have some sort of "go to" lucky charm, ritual, or superstition they believe will help (or not help) gain the upper hand. For me, it was always using the same equipment (bat/dance shoes), walking the same path to the dugout, or doing my stretches in a certain order and reminding myself that I always have someone to prove wrong that helped me get game or performance ready. Please do not even ask about pageant preparation rituals; we don't have the time to discuss those.

In sports, hockey players and even hockey fans in general seem to be some of the most superstitious of them all. They keep to a certain Code of Conduct tighter than anyone. For example, I will not say or post on social media the word "shutout" before or during a Penguin's game and I get furious at people who do. Sure as shootin', the opponent will score within two minutes if someone saying or posting it on Twitter. It drives me batty.

If it means getting a win, players and fans will carry on with the same routine game in and game out until something drastic changes. That is just the way they are.

It got me thinking, where did these rituals/superstitions start? What does it do for their mental state? How do they feel when they can't complete their ritual for some reason and does it really effect their preparations so much that it effects their game performance?

With the help of an unnamed source and some other willing volunteers, I was able to dig into the minds of hockey players of different levels (amateur/college/pro) and what I found out was very interesting.

Stick Tape
One of the most common rituals I found was that players (roughly 90 per cent) had to re-tape their stick before every game, even if the stick was barely used. While this may not seem important to some, having a good tape job can determine how the puck sticks on and comes off the blade. It can also determine the amount of grip you have on the stick overall. Sidney Crosby, for example, will spend at least 20-30 minutes making sure his sticks are taped exactly how he wants them and will unwrap and re-tape over and over again until it is correct (he also has a peeve about balls of tape being all over the locker room).
 Crosby is meticulous when it comes to taping his stick

Of all the players spoken with, I found only one who didn't re-tape before a game- fellow PI colleague, Chris Barron. He has played recreational league hockey since 2012 and currently plays for the Haymarket Killer Bees.
"I always arrive to the rink at least an hour in advance of my game. I never sharpen my skates on a game day and I never re-tape my stick on a game day. I re-tape after games, not before" (Chris Barron of Pens Initiative).

It is amazing what food can do for someone's mentality. Think about the last time you went all day without eating and how you felt. Irritable, grouchy, and just plain hangry (hungry + angry). Now picture trying to play a hockey game at your best with a rumbly tummy telling you that all you had that day was coffee. You are not going to be fully engaged. So eating before a game can be beneficial...unless you are Brad Matus.

Matus, who plays for the South Hills Amateur Hockey Associate, or SHAHA, cannot eat before a game. He says, "I never had a meal about two hours before the game. the advantage I feel like, 1) not getting sick on the ice and 2) I had something to look forward to after the game. I feel like, if I did eat, it would always be on my mind just because I feel like something would happen because Id get sick then hurt my team."

Big and heavy meals seem like a trend however. In my research, the most popular meals before games involved chicken, pasta and sometimes a salad. All meals must be exactly the same as the game before and eaten at the same time as the last as well.

"8am-wake up and eat the same breakfast everyday. Bagel, peanut butter with a banana. Second breakfast after 10am pregame skate is an omelette with toast and an apple with chocolate milk. Pregame meal; chicken parm always with a Caesar" (Tanner Burton, former ECHL Wheeling Nailer/ Brampton Beast now playing for ALPSHL S.G Cortina Hafro).

Music revs up the savage beast
Another common game-time ritual for many sports players involves music. Listening to the right music can change a person's entire mind set. It can take a sad person and give them hope. It can take someone nervous and give them power and courage.

"Gameday I usually take the same route to the rink every time. On the way there, play the same pump up music. Sit in the locker room in my stall with my eyes closed, listening to music for big games (especially playoffs). When I'd be in my stall listening to music, no one was allowed to talk to me" (Anonymous- Canadian League Hockey Player).

The Pittsburgh Penguins usually have the radio or stereo playing. Brian Dumoulin is known to be the team DJ though I do raise an eyebrow at his musical choices every once in a while (especially when it involves Justin Beiber).

Other ritualistic behaviour
No two hockey players are the same, yet they are alike in many ways. Each has their own "thing" that they have to do to feel ready to perform at their best. Here are a few other tidbits I found in my research.

- A hockey player from a Canadian Midget AAA team who asked to remain anonymous said when the question of what he does to get ready for games is that he has to play NHL Hockey video games before playing in actual games (get's him rev'ed up).
- Phil Bourque (yes, the ol' 2-9er) would wake up every game day at 8:21am,"because 8+21 equal 29 and obviously that was my number."  He also was known to get his car washed that afternoon and take a nap.
- A D-1 AHA player (who will respectfully remain nameless) said that he has to have a giant cup of coffee about three hours before each game and shower after all dry-land warm ups. He also never let the blade of his stick touch the floor after it was newly tapped.
- Nikita Pavlychev (Penn State D-1 Hockey and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect) also has to have an afternoon nap before a game and he takes it very seriously.
"So usually my games are at 7pm. and by 1:30pm I am always in my bed whether it's home or in hotels bed when game is away. My pregame naps are usually two/ two and a half hours long. It makes me feel better rested going into the game. If I no not have a chance to or simply cannot fall asleep, I feel very tired and less energetic when I have to on the ice".
- Jake Martin (Providence Bruins) is very particular. He has to put on his gear in a certain order during his game day routine. Martin is so particular about this ritual that if he misses a single step, he takes everything off, and restarts even if he is almost in full gear.

The reasons for these routines or rituals, or how they got started in the first place, are anyone's guess. The general consensus is that they all stemmed from having a great game after they just kept doing that something in the hope of getting the same result each time.

And yes, it does have a mental effect. 85 per cent of the players polled said that when their routine
was not followed to the hilt, they felt off. They felt something was missing in their preparation and it effected them on the ice. They just could not get themselves wrapped into the game at hand and it would show. For the small percentage of players that said it didn't effect them, Tanner Burton again offers an idea as to why:

"If, for some reason I couldn't do my routine, I would say to myself 'okay, life throws hiccups at you and you have to adapt'. I would try and do the routine to the best of my ability but I would say 'okay, I'm going to be "liquid" today, go with the flow of what today is throwing at me. And I would accept that and adapt...for the most part. Everything is fine. You can't let excuses or hiccups take you away from your job. If you forget your workbooks or work hat, you borrow someone else's or buy a new set."

Sweet dreams boys
So the next time you see Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin or any Penguin player having a bad game, take it with a grain of salt. He literally may not have gotten his nap at just the right time that day.  

(Special thanks to Chris Barron, Brad Matus, Cassie Andres, Jake Martin, Justin Zerishnek, Phil Bourque, Tanner Burton, Nikita Pavlychev, Will Hirsch, Chris Thorburn, those who asked to remain nameless and many others who offered their insights and quotations).

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