Reading The Tea Leafs: Superstitions of the Toronto variety

Not every hockey player is superstitious, but they are almost all creatures of habit. Myself, I have a certain way of taping the knob at the end of my stick, certain types of socks I like to wear under skates, and I almost never wash the shirts I wear under my shoulder pads. There are plenty of other little things I’ve done over the years on game days, but there are some former Leafs out there that make my own habits look pretty darn tame.

I recently read Andrew Podnieks’ Hockey Superstitions, and, from that, have culled a list of former Leafs with some peculiar habits.

Ed Belfour:

Anecdotally, at least, goalies are known for being some of the more colourful characters in the game. Heck, anyone with such an interest in testing ballistics on themselves has got to be a little loopy, right?

The Eagle’s interest in restoring classic cars and other crazy antics are well-documented, but I confess that I’d never before read that Belfour refused to let anyone – anyone – from touching his equipment. No trainers, coaches, or teammates.

Bruce Boudreau:

Many people forget that Boudreau played for the Leafs back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, but he had a long minor league career, and a 141-game stint in the NHL. It actually strikes me as somewhat surprising that a man of his carriage could have played competitive hockey at a high level as recently as 1992, but there you go. One last side note: The Leafs drafted all three of Boudrea, Ron Wilson, and Ken Holland in 1975 – so who says they didn’t draft well?

As it turns out, the current coach of the Anaheim Ducks is a pretty superstitious guy. At particular arenas, he believes that eating his pre-game meal in the press box can help his team win. If a loss follows, he won’t eat there again. If his team wins, he’ll continue wearing a suit until they lose. Once, he asked Viktor Kozlov how he was doing, and Boudreau’s team won the game. Thereafter, he asked Kozlov how he was doing before every game.

I have to say that all of this is consistent with the type of coaching we saw two seasons ago on HBO’s 24/7.

Johnny Bower:

Good ‘ol J.B. has to be one of the founding fathers of quirky goalie steretypes. He’d save a stick that got him a shutout and refuse to ‘wear it out’ in practice. He was the first player out of the dressing room for each game and practice. He had to dress himself left to right. He had to tap his right leg pad with his stick as soon as the anthem finished playing. He had to sit next to the door on a plane or bus. Oh, and Michel Pronovost had to be sitting next to him.

Bower is the Godfather of a lot of superstitions that have cropped up as recently as with the likes of Sidney Crosby.

Ken Dryden:

OK, OK, so he wasn’t a player in the Blue & White, but he was the president of MLSE for a time.

He had to fire the first shot during warmups, and it had to go wide on the right hand side, hitting the boards. (Incidentally, Wayne Gretzky had a similar hangup.) He felt that if he hit the glass or failed to raise the puck, he would play poorly. Again during the pre-game warmups, he insisted that the last shot fired at him had to be a save. Larry Robinson figured this out, and started lobbing softies on his goaltender before Dryden just started counting the save before Robinson’s.

Paul Henderson:

Henderson had a peculiar detour on his route to Maple Leaf Gardens; although it would save him time to take it, he steadfastly refused to take Yonge St. to the game. He made an exception for a couple out-of-town friends once, and the Leafs lost both games that weekend.

"So now we drive up Church St. whether we’re taking out-of-town people or not," he said.

"Punch" Imlach

Although never a player for the Leafs, Punch is undoubtedly one of the most colourful coaches in the Leafs’ history.

If the Leafs won a game, he would insist on doing everything exactly the same things the same way for the next game. He would talk to the same people, touch the same doorknobs, walk in the same patterns around the arena, and wear the same suit (a Bruce Boudreau trait as well). He would buy a new suit every time the Leafs played in Montreal, but if the Leafs lost that game, he would refuse to go back to the same tailor again.

He refused to carry two dollar bills in his pocket.

Joe Nieuwendyk:

Nieuwendyk only dressed for 66 games as a Maple Leaf, but still managed to score two of the most memorable playoff goals of the last couple decades for the Leafs.

Eating no more and no less than two slices of toast with peanut butter before every game may seem a bit tiring to some people, but not strange. One custom that he and Wayne Gretzky both respected, however, was to put baby powder on the blade of his stick before every game. Why? Supposedly, he believed it had magical powers.

Mike Palmateer:

He believed that eating popcorn before a game would make him play better.

Félix Potvin:

"The Cat" used to make a cross out of hockey tape before every game and put it on his locker. It’s possible that he was simply raised as a devout Catholic while growing up in rural Québec, but he refused to speak of this tradition to anyone in the media.

Conn Smythe:

Although he is best known as the Leafs’ owner, he was also the head coach of the team for three seasons between 1927 and 1931.

At the time, wire fencing was used around the end zones of hockey rinks instead of plexi glass, and he made a habit of standing directly behind the opposing goalkeeper (who, of course, was not wearing a mask) and shouting at him through the entire game in an attempt to rile him. OK, maybe this one isn’t a superstition, but it’s still a cool story.

Mats Sundin:

He wore number 13, and didn’t give a damn. Not superstitious at all.

Darcy Tucker:

He would change his route to the arena as he went through ups and downs in his play. That is, he would take the same route to the arena until he started to play poorly.

Before games, he drank a mix of half cofee, half Coke, which may explain his playing style.  If the mix wasn’t just right, however, he threw it out, and mixed a new one.

On the bench, he had to keep the blade of his stick in the air, in case he ever needed to knock on wood.