Is lucky underwear behind the Jets' success? Fans use superstitions to ease playoff stress

The continuing success of the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL playoffs gives fans plenty to celebrate, but it also creates plenty of tension as every puck drop potentially brings the team closer to elimination.

U of Manitoba sociology prof says superstitious practices give sports fans a feeling of control

A sociologist says people identify with their team, but can't do anything to affect the outcome of the game. That's where superstitions come in. (Bert Savard/CBC)

The continuing success of the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL playoffs gives fans plenty to celebrate, but it also makes them sweat as every puck drop potentially brings the team closer to elimination.

To ease that tension, some fans have turned to superstition — and they aren't afraid to admit it.

"I wear the same pair of underwear," said Marlene Ewonchuk at the Winnipeg Jets whiteout street party on Tuesday, after the team beat the Nashville Predators in a nail-biting, come-from-behind 7-4 win.

Jets fan Al Brown also chooses to support the team by consistently donning the same pair of shorts.

"Since the playoffs have started, I haven't changed my underwear. I've worn these same Adidas compression shorts to every game," he said.
Al Brown says he has worn the same pair of underwear since the NHL playoffs started. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"I just want to stay in this as long as the Jets do. I want to support the team."

Not all Jets superstitions are undergarment-based. Before the start of the second round of playoffs, Bruce Smedts, the owner of the White Star Diner on Kennedy Street, told CBC News some fans had started a superstition which involves going to his downtown diner to have a burger and drink before every home game.

University of Manitoba sociology professor Daniel Albas says people adopt superstitious practices as a way of easing stress in situations where they lack control.

"Usually humans are quite creative and have pretty good memories, and if they've done unusually well, they try to think, 'What was there associated with that great performance?' And they pick one of the objects present and repeat it," he said.

Albas and his wife, Cheryl Albas — also a University of Manitoba sociology professor — conducted a 13-year study of the superstitious practices of U of M students before writing exams. They found that students used a wide variety of practices to bring themselves good luck, including carrying or wearing special objects or colours, or being in a particular spot.

"To the degree that you start to engage in a practice that you think exerts some control over your environment, you're much more likely to keep on repeating it, because it's reinforcing and it helps you perform your role," Daniel Albas said.

Sports fans identify with their favourite teams and become emotionally invested in their success or failure, he said.

"With hockey, we're not certain the Jets can do it. And we identify so closely with the Jets — because we identify with our city, and that city is a part of us — that we are at one and we are trying to control the environment as best we can," he said.

Paul Bodnarchuk shows off his lucky Patrik Laine socks. For Bodnarchuk, combating the stress of the series means wearing the same thing he has for all the Jets' successes this post-season — same white pants and jersey, same spiked white wig, same face paint and same socks. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Even though there is no scientific evidence to support superstitious practices, people come up with them because they are "cognitively quite complex beings," Albas said.

Winnipeggers will find out whether their team's luck continues Thursday night, when the Jets face the Predators at Bell MTS Place in Game 4 of the second-round playoff series. Puck drop is at 8:30 CT.

The Jets lead the series 2-1.

With files from Austin Grabish