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8 NHL Playoff Traditions and Superstitions

The NHL is one of the oldest leagues in sports- and with years of history comes years of traditions and superstitions.

One thing that makes hockey so awesome is the long and storied traditions and superstitions that players and fans observe. It happens all season long, from players’ game-day routines, to fans’ lucky team underwear. But, the most serious superstitions and traditions only come out at playoff time.

So this week I’m taking a look at all the superstitions and traditions that have emerged over the past 131 years of Stanley Cup competition — and believe me, there’s some doozies.

trophy superstitions

There are a few superstitions when it comes to hockey’s championship hardware, and here are some that you might hear about in the coming weeks.

all of the nhl's finest trophies lined up across a table

conference championship trophies

Every time a team wins a conference championship, the first question anybody asks is “will they touch the trophy”?

Hoisting the conference champs’ trophy is seen by many players as bad luck — the logic being that it’s not the trophy you want to win, so it’s nothing to celebrate.

This superstition goes back to 1997, when Flyers captain Eric Lindros refused to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy en route to their Stanley Cup Finals appearance against the Detroit Red Wings. It didn’t really work, though, and Wings swept the Flyers in four straight to win the Cup.

But, even though the Flyers got swept after not touching the conference championship trophy, the superstition caught on. And there are some reaffirming examples.

The Vegas Golden Knights, for instance, did touch the Clarence Campbell Bowl in 2018, and promptly lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Washington Capitals. Fast-forward five years, the Knights learned their lesson, kept their hands off the Bowl in 2023, and ended up winning the whole enchilada.

On the other hand, Sidney Crosby put his hands all over the Prince of Wales Trophy in 2016 and 2017, and things worked out pretty well for the Pens after that, winning Lord Stanley’s mug in both years.

nhl conference trophies

the stanley cup

The other trophy that hockey players can get pretty superstitious about is the big guy itself, the Stanley Cup. A lot of players believe that it is bad luck for players to touch the cup before they have won it in competition. That’s led to some pretty hilarious moments, like when Mark Messier chased PK Subban around with the Cup trying to get him to touch it. You can hear Mess say “you’re not a player anymore, the superstition is over”. But, I for one think this superstition should extend to regular folks, too. But, I for one think this superstition should extend to regular folks, too, if only because it adds a layer of sanctity to the Stanley Cup. I was at the HOF on an empty day back in 97 and my girlfriend at the time was taking a picture of me with the cup. Security walked away and for a second I thought of lifting it up, even tilted it a bit, but decided not to. I’m sure that little lapse of judgment is why Winnipeg has still never won. Blame me.

playoff traditions

Many players observe individual and team traditions and superstitions during the playoffs. Here are a few of the most iconic.

the playoff beard

One of the longest running Stanley Cup traditions/superstitions is the playoff beard.

It all started with the New York Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s. None of the Isles wanted to change anything after meeting with so much success, so many of them would stop shaving while they were playing well. That led to some scraggly faced champions like Butch Goring, Bryan Trottier, and Bob Nystrom.

It all happened organically with the Islanders, with no coordination or intention, but after that other teams made a point of growing the playoff beard. The first documented intentional playoff beard campaign was the 1985 Detroit Red Wings who ended up getting swept in the first round by the Black Hawks, three games to none. So much for pleasing the beard gods.

I love the playoff beard, because it makes the players look like they’ve been to Hell and back. And, truly, they have been. When you think of all the storylines that develop over the two months of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and all the battles they endure, it would be ridiculous to expect the players to not look a little haggard.

the team photo

One of the best moments of the playoffs is when the Stanley Cup winning team gather haphazardly around the Cup to take a sweaty, jubilant team photo. There’s always one guy who has to quickly leave an on-ice interview to make it into the picture in time.

This tradition was actually started by Wayne Gretzky in 1988, who herded up all his Oilers teammates for a photo with the Cup because he felt that one was special. Turns out it was special because it was his last.

Re-live the final moments of the 1988 Stanley Cup Final, the post-game celebrations, and the first ever team photo with the Cup on ice!

the cup pass-off

Another tradition started by the Great One in Edmonton, after a team wins the Stanley Cup, the team captain is the first to hoist the trophy, and then passes it off to all his teammates so that they can take a lap as a champion. Before Wayne passed the trophy off to his teammates it was only the captain who would hoist the Cup.


Possibly the most famous Cup pass-off of all time?

fan traditions

Players aren’t the only ones with playoff traditions. The fans get into the action too, developing their own traditions, like these:


oilers fans in their nhl playoff tradition gear

the winnipeg whiteout

In Winnipeg, Jets fans dress in all white for the Winnipeg Whiteout. This tradition began in the 1980s when NHL home teams wore white. So, the fans wore white to show that they were with the home team. But, while the NHL switched to dark home jerseys in 2005, the Winnipeg Whiteout holds strong. I’m always hoping True North asks the NHL for permission to wear the white jerseys at home for the playoffs. Bettman’s a good guy, I could see him allowing that.

The Winnipeg Whiteout is the first example of a colour themed dress code for fans, but it has inspired a few imitators. In fact, when the Jets 1.0 moved to Phoenix, the Arizona hockey fans continued the whiteout playoff tradition. Similarly, the Calgary Flames have the Sea of Red

Re-live the history of Winnipeg’s legendary playoff tradition. Often imitated, but it’s never quite the same!

the octopus

Easily the grossest fan tradition, Detroit Red Wings fans have been throwing eight-tentacled sea creatures onto the ice since 1952. The octopus’ eight legs represented the number of wins that a team needed to win the Stanley Cup back then. I’m glad they stuck with the octopus even though it now takes 16 wins to get your team the cup. Don’t need people throwing two spiders on the ice!

Other teams have put their own spin on this tradition. The Nashville Predators faithful like to toss catfish on the ice to support the Predators (and to mock the Red Wings). Likewise, Florida Panthers fans are known to toss thousands of plastic rats onto the ice, a nod to former Panther Scott Mellanby who famously took care of a rat in the Panthers’ dressing room with a quick clapper.

Hear the story of the octopus from the man who started the now iconic Detroit tradition!

the rally towel

In the 1982 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks took on the Black Hawks in the conference finals, and found themselves on the wrong end of a lot of controversial calls. Fed up with the refs’ shenanigans, Canucks coach, Roger Neilson waved a white towel at the end of a hockey stick in protest, as if to say “we surrender”. That move bolstered the team and its fans, and the Canucks went on to win the series, making their first appearance in a Stanley Cup final.

Although the ‘Nucks lost the Cup to the New York Islanders, the rally towel tradition continues to this day. There’s even a statue of the late Roger Neilson waving his makeshift flag outside of Rogers Arena in Vancouver.


tradition is the name of the game

I love seeing all the traditions that fans and players come up with. It just makes the game so much more rich the more players and fans pour their souls into the sport. New NHL markets like Vegas and Seattle are starting to forge their own heritage and lore, and hopefully we’ll get some new traditions as the PWHL battle through their first postseason.

This is the most wonderful time of the year — I don’t care what Andy Williams says. The energy, the intensity, the ridiculous fans and their ridiculous homemade Stanley Cups — it’s all so awesome.

I’ve got a lot more thoughts on the NHL playoffs, so be sure to sign up for the 4 Shots with Keener newsletter below to keep up. Every Friday you’ll get a burst of hot takes and hilarious musings on the world of hockey and hockey jerseys, so smash that subscribe button, will you?

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