5 Wearing Unusual Numbers
Hockey fans can’t look at the number 99 without thinking of Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest player ever. If they flip it upside-down, they get No. 66 of Mario Lemieux, who might be second-best. Hockey players aren’t afraid to stand out in the crowd with an unusual sweater number. It may have symbolic meaning, such as Czech star Jaromir Jagr’s 68 representing the Prague Spring in his home nation. It may be the year a player was born, or a take on a favorite number already worn by someone else. It may even backfire, as one-time first overall draft pick Brian Lawton found out when he opted for No. 98 — just one less than the Great Gretzky — only to turn in a far-less-than-great career.
4 Throwing Hats
It’s not just Detroit fans who throw things onto the ice. When a hometown player nets three goals in a game, dubbed a “hat trick,” you can expect to see hats of all shapes and sizes littering the playing surface. The practice is so common that some teams have a place where fans go to pick up their hats after the game. Others feature a special display of the hats tossed after a particularly noteworthy hat trick. And, of course, woe to the goalie who has given up the trick; he not only has to wait for the ice to be cleared, he’s often the target of the missiles themselves.
3 Painting Masks
The full-face masks that hockey goalies wear have turned into true works of art. Gone are the days of plain white shields. Now masks are multicolored and pay tribute to anything from a hometown to a player’s nickname. Goalies like Curtis “Cujo” Joseph and Eddie “the Eagle” Belfour liked giant animals, while the New York Rangers’ Mike Richter painted a Statue of Liberty that was so popular it eventually became an alternate logo for the team. Musicians, movie stars and many a city landmark give true character to the least-recognizable player on the team.
In most sports, “brawls” amount to little more than pushing and shoving. Not in hockey. On the ice, fights are a near-everyday part of the game, even in the safety-conscious 21st century. Teams still carry enforcers, whose skill with their fists is often greater than their skill with the stick. And outside of a goal, nothing gets a crowd going like a good fight. Hockey fights are such a tradition that there is an unwritten code among players that covers who fights whom, and when a fight is fair and when it is uncalled for.
1 Kissing the Cup
There are the players who refuse to shave until their team is eliminated from the playoffs, and the opponents who line up and shake hands at the end of a series. But there is no greater tradition in the playoffs than when the team that wins Lord Stanley’s Cup passes the trophy from player to player as each man takes a lap around the ice. The cup is the Holy Grail for players, many of whom refuse to ever touch it unless they have won it. That may explain why each man plants a big smackeroo on the trophy during his victory lap–it represents the culmination of a career-long quest.