From playoff beards to lucky flip-flops: The power of superstitions


Playoff beards worked for Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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First aired on Day 6 (11/5/13)

When it comes to hockey superstitions, we all know about the playoff beard. But did you know about Patrick Roy's tendency to talk to the goal posts? Or Gary Smith's mid-game showers? Or Peter Kleeman's habit of breaking his stick after every goal he scored? Or Phil Esposito's lucky flip-flops? These are just a few of some of the stranger superstitions that hockey superstars have developed over their careers and Andrew Podnieks outlines even more in his book, Hockey Superstitions: From Playoff Beards to Crossed Sticks and Lucky Socks.

A superstition's staying power is directly related to success. If you do something and you win? Obviously it worked. Do something and you lose? Well, it looks like the superstition's good luck has worn out. Superstitions are designed to keep an athlete focused and boost their confidence -- two keys to a successful performance on the ice.

However, superstitions aren't always a good thing. Scott Gordon, a former goalie who is now an assistant coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, actually developed so many superstitions he became distracted by them and didn't play well no matter what. "So he simply abandoned all his superstitions," Podnieks told Day 6 host Brent Bambruy in a recent interview.

But when a superstition gets adopted by the mainstream, it loses all meaning. After all, "the funny thing about the beard is that every year the beards work for one team and don't work for 15 teams," Podnieks points out. But that doesn't matter. Because next year, those 16 teams will all grow their beards again -- and for one of them, the playoff beard will give them the power to win. And that, it seems, is enough to keep this superstition alive.

But where did the beard, the most pervasive and successful hockey superstition of all, come from? It's origins are murky, but it gained notoriety in the 1980s after the New York Islanders won four Stanley Cups in a row after donning post-season facial hair. And Podnieks believes you can thank Bjorn Borg for that. The Swedish tennis star grew a beard for every Wimbledon in the late 1970s and the practice was adopted by other Swedish athletes -- including a few Swedish players playing with the Islanders at the time. "Before Borg, I don't know of any beard stories related to sports and all of a sudden, you go from Borg to the NHL," Podnieks said.

Of course, that's just speculation. Another one of Podnieks' speculations? That one day, one team will skip the playoff beard. And if they win, well, hockey players may have a new superstition.

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