Puck clean-up tradition unites Canadian women's hockey team

Almost three decades after the first women's world hockey championship in Ottawa, the tradition of picking up the pucks at the end of every pre-game warmup has become ingrained in the Canadian team.

Practice goes so far back that players struggle to pinpoint its origin

Canada celebrates its 1-1 goal scored by Sarah Nurse against the U.S. during the 2019 IIHF Women's World Championships in Espoo, Finland, Saturday April 6, 2019. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva / The Associated Press)

Tradition and ritual are building blocks in a hockey team's culture.

Almost three decades after the first women's world hockey championship in Ottawa, certain rites are ingrained in the Canadian team.

Pushing your chairs back under the table after a meal and uniformly tucking your helmet under the same arm as your teammates while standing on the blue-line is just what you do.

So is picking up the pucks in and around the net and putting them in the bucket at the end of every pre-game warmup.

While the opposition's net is almost always full of pucks waiting for an arena worker to skate out with a bucket and collect them, a handful of Canadians are on their knees plucking pucks from their own crease and putting them in a pail to be skated to the bench.

It's a minor hockey moment on an international hockey stage.

"Of course rink staff could do it, but we're using them, so we should be picking them up," Canadian defender Jocelyne Larocque said.

The practice goes so far back on the Canadian women's team that players past and present struggle to pinpoint its origin story.

Now Canada's assistant coach at the world championship in Espoo, Finland, Caroline Ouellette says it was always clear to her from her first game in 1999 to her last in 2015 that if she was among the last players to leave the warmup ice, those pucks had to be put away.

"I think I learned it from girls who played before me," Ouellette said. "I hopefully inspired others to do the same."

Margot Page (1990-94) and Vicky Sunohara (1990-2007), who played in that first world championship in 1990, and Cheryl Pounder (1994-2007) confirm it was always done.

How it started and why it continues is like asking them why they breathe in and out.

"No clue," Page told The Canadian Press in an email. "Perhaps we just did it since no one else did."

"I think when I came on the team in 1994 . . . it's what you did," Pounder said. "It was instinctual.

"I remember having fun around the bucket. There's a lot of camaraderie around the bucket."

'It's not beneath us'

From assistant coach to head coach to general manager, Melody Davidson's stewardship of Canadian teams dates back to 1994.

She transitioned out of the job of Hockey Canada's director of national women's teams last year into the role of head scout. Former player Gina Kingsbury (2001-2010) took over as director.

Davidson confirmed cleaning up pucks when you're done with them has been an unspoken rule passed from one generation to the next on the team.

And you get the feeling if players forgot to do it during her tenure at the helm, they would have heard about it.

"It's not beneath us to pick up pucks," Davidson stated.

'A sign of respect' 

While its genesis seems lost in the mists of time, the players say the custom shows in a small, but significant way, their gratitude for playing hockey.

"I think it was always a sign of respect that was always given by Team Canada to people in the rinks," said former captain Cassie Campbell-Pascall (1996-2006).

"Clean up after ourselves but it's also a neat way to have a routine passed on. I don't think it's been a routine that is passed down via words but just out of respect for those around us."

A product of the national team herself, Kingsbury says little habits are the glue that hold a team together.

"We're a team that has a lot of tradition, a lot of culture," Kingsbury said. "We've been around a long time. We've built routines and rituals.

"We've been programmed to be a certain way. It's just an automatic to pick up the pucks."

'Sweeping the shed'

It's not a leave-it-to-the-rookie chore either.

Canadian captain Marie-Philip Poulin is a warmup lingerer who likes to get a few extra shots in before heading to the dressing room.

She's been among those on puck clean-up duty in Espoo, even though Poulin stayed on the bench and didn't play the first two games to preserve her knee.

"I know it seems like nothing," Poulin said. "Picking up the pucks, helping out people, it's all about sweeping the shed. It's something we value in our routine."