Joseph Robin The Hockey Writers
The Best Playoff Traditions in Today’s NHL
Tonight, the Winnipeg Jets are about to play their first home playoff game in 19 years. It was revealed that, sure enough, Winnipeg will bring back their tradition of whiting out the arena, meaning every fan in attendance will wear white and will create a kind of “blizzard atmosphere.”
Nowadays, most teams try to organise some kind of colour scheme for fans during playoff runs but the Winnipeg White Out is perhaps most famous and original. Additionally, the arena is sure to be rocking tonight as the 15,016 fans (which fills up the smallest arena in the league) will be making noise throughout the contest.
I'm often asked, loudest building I've been in. That's easy. WPG. 1999 WJC gold medal game, CAN-RUS. Nothing – not CHI, SJ, anywhere – close
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) April 20, 2015
But Winnipeg isn’t the only team that has a unique tradition. While most teams now have the cookie-cutter “hmm we wear red jerseys so maybe every fan should also wear red” and rally towel idea there are a few teams that deserve credit for their ingenuity and creativity.
These guys are here because they inherited something beautiful. The artist formerly known as the Winnipeg White Out made its way to the desert along with the Jets in 1996. Phoenix’s job was to not screw up the tradition and they didn’t. They kept it going and kept the beauty of it in our hearts.
Their first home playoff game was against Anaheim in 1997 and the White Out was in full effect. The Coyotes won that game and continue to White Out playoff games until this day.
In Florida’s season opener of the 1995-1996 NHL season, forward Scott Mellanby killed a mouse in the locker with his stick before scoring 2 goals with the same stick. Throughout the year Florida fans would toss plastic rats onto the ice whenever the team scored a goal. It was in full-swing during the team’s cup run last year.
The tradition died down for a while after that year due to a rule change which could penalize the home team for any delay caused by fans. But in the 2012 playoffs, the fans once again showered the ice with the plastic rats after team victories. The tradition is back and it appears it’ll be here to stay.
The odd celebration also helped create Florida’s secondary mascot, Victor E. Rat (not to be confused with Martin Erat) who wears #96 to commemorate the 1996 cup run. Florida’s other mascot, Stanley C. Panther wears #00 to commemorate how many Stanley Cups the franchise has won.
(Side note: the team sells these rats at the game and then collect them afterwards and resell them the next game. A pretty smart way of turning a profit from one of the cooler traditions in the league)
Yes, it’s a blatant copy of Detroit’s octopus toss (more on that in just a moment), but the catfish toss in Nashville has become a significant tradition for the home team.
Nice view of a #Preds fan tossing a catfish prior to the Game 1 vs #Blackhawks https://t.co/qFN5oBLChY
— Robert Söderlind (@HockeyWebCast) April 17, 2015
Nashville fans basically wanted to counter their rivals longstanding practice and came up with a nice, re-mixed Southern-style replacement. Fans have now been doing it for almost 15 seasons and (as long as PETA doesn’t get involved) it looks like it will be around for much longer.
(The Predators have another sick tradition where the whole arena cheers for the entirety of the last TV timeout of the game. It’s pretty cool because it’s not being done for the cameras. It’s an intimate tradition that the fans do for the team.)
Detroit Red Wings
Detroit has the holy grail of NHL traditions. It’s, of course, the octopus toss.
[Related: The Origins of the Detroit Octopus]
As mentioned earlier, it’s basically become a standard for teams to have rally towel giveaways for the playoffs.
The YVR word of the day: "Towel Power" http://t.co/4wIKRalhWG #VancouverLexicon pic.twitter.com/V1ZAUC8HU7
— SCOUT Magazine (@scoutmagazine) April 18, 2015
Many believe the towels are copy-cat promotions from when the Pittsburgh Steelers started their Terrible Towel giveaway in 1975. But as many hockey fans know, one team can claim they came up with the idea on their own accord.
In 1982, Vancouver coach Roger Neilson was fed up with the officiating during a playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Neilson took a hockey stick, put a towel at the end of it, and held it up, showing that his team was surrendering to the terrible reffing on the ice. The rest of the team followed suit and raised towel covered sticks of their own.
The fans took notice and went to the next home game with their own towels and waved it about all night. The Canucks won the next 3 games and made it to the Cup final before losing to the New York Islanders.
The Canucks ultimately paid homage to Neilson and that 1982 when they constructed a statue of him with his outstretched surrender flag in 2011. At the time, Vancouver General Manager Mike Gillis had this to say about the statue:
“The white towel, waved by Roger, is representative of a united front and a tradition that is unique to Canucks fans. Today it is emulated throughout sport worldwide. Having Roger and the celebration of the white towel recognized is a fitting way to not only usher us into the playoffs but to act as a permanent reminder of how our past has shaped who we are today.”
Couldn’t have put it any better myself.
Winnipeg Jets/Calgary Flames
As mentioned previously, the Jets have had the longstanding fan-colour-scheme for the longest of time. But the creation of the Winnipeg White Out may have been in response to the Calgary tradition of the “C of Red.”
Regardless of which tradition came first or which one is better, the longstanding beauty of these two traditions from the ’80’s is that this was done solely by the fans. Nowadays, teams give out or sell t-shirts at the game to create that sort of atmosphere but these two fan bases did it all themselves. Last night the Flames were at it again and the whole stadium was decked in red with fans wearing their own Flames jerseys. It was incredible. (Winnipeg, on the other hand, appears that they’ll be giving out t-shirts tonight which taints it maybe a little bit.)
These two teams set the bar for team traditions.
Which traditions do you like the most? Please leave a comment!
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