Tag Archives: hockey

Humboldt Broncos Bus Crash Remembrance Tradition


Informant NR was visiting family in Canada on the anniversary of a bus crash that killed 16 and injured 13 more, mostly players on the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team on April 6th, 2018. The crash was widely publicized and became a major topic in Canada. In the years since, NR says that many Canadians have started wearing hockey jerseys on the day of the crash to commemorate the dead and injured that were players on the team.

Main Piece:

“Everyone in Canada on that day wears a hockey jersey. I remember, one time we were, um, spending time with family in Hamilton, and we just happened to be in town on that day, and I remember, we did some sort of like, house tour, and this like lady who was apparently normally very fancy and like, put together, she was wearing a jersey as well., and like, she was the realtor.”


Hockey is a very popular sport in Canada, and the tragedy of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash really shook the population. Though there is a trend of folk speech disrespecting or making light of tragedies that are pushed as serious topics by national media, this practice moves against that trend. This may be because the victims were largely children, and because the sport of hockey acts as a uniting force for the country. The tradition is also very accessible, as many Canadians already own hockey jerseys for their preferred teams, so many do not have to purchase any additional materials to participate in the remembrance.

This national remembrance custom stands out to me because of the rising trend of insensitive or crude humor as a response to tragedy after the rise of mass media. In Of Corpse: Death and Humor in Folklore and Popular Culture, Peter Narvaez examines this phenomenon, illustrated for example through the internet memes surrounding the September 11th terrorist attacks. One theory he concludes with is the idea that mass media, by instructing everyone to care deeply about all major events, even those that had no connection to them, spurred an opposite reaction of humor jokes at the expense of those who suffered the tragedy. What is interesting to me is that this reaction does not seem to have happened in response to this tragedy. My analysis of this is that the victims, mostly teenaged hockey players, who had no fault in the driving accident, are very much aligned with the Canadian cultural ideal. They were generally of a privileged race and gender, and played Canada’s most popular and beloved sport. This endears them to the rest of the population, since even if they didn’t know any of the victims, they probably do know a teenage boy hockey player, or someone who used to be a teenage boy hockey player. The Canadian mass media succeeded at invoking sympathy for the victims of this tragedy because they were so relatable and emblematic of the Canadian establishment.


Main Piece:

The informant: “I’d always play pondy in the winter, I never played hockey though”


The informant grew up in a small, midwestern town on the Great Lakes where winters were always below freezing and lakes were of easy access. The informant’s high school also had a very competitive hockey team. Hockey was ingrained into the town as something all kids would play for at least a year, according to the informant.


The informant was telling me about her hobbies she had when she was younger.  I thought she played hockey, but the prior quote is how she corrected me.


This demonstrates a piece of folk speech that has been created to differentiate one activity. Outdoor hockey is exclusively known as pondy while indoor, rink hockey is just hockey. From context clues, this word is easy enough to understand which lends itself to being used by young kids out playing games. Pondy also implies a sort of casual play to the game instead of competitive hockey. It is interesting to see the same sport be defined by its location through a colloquial expression.

Pre-game ritual: Goalies


Main Piece

Informant: Before every game starts, when I am in the crease, I’ll tap the right post with the handle of my stick and the left post with the blade end.

Background:  The informant is my brother. He is a senior at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. There he plays goalie for the club hockey team and has been playing at a club level for well over a decade. He first learned of this superstition through his first goalie coach. He has done this act before every game he remembers playing in. For the informant, the act has become less superstition as he has gotten older. Still, the informant continues this ritual as it has become second nature in his mind. The interview took place over the phone and was recorded for transcription.

Context: The informant will do this act around 30 seconds before the game starts. The informant has been a committed teammate and goalie for the better portion of two decades.

Analysis: Sports are ripe with pre-game superstition and rituals, just like this one. Hockey goalies are especially habitual in the pre-game routines. Whether it be tapping the post with their stick, eating a certain meal or throwing up before the game (Yes, that one is true). However, this is not restricted to only hockey or goalies themselves. Players of all positions in all sports have their own specific pre-game rituals. (For a list a list of similar superstitions of professional athletes, please see Jeff Mclane’s 2008 article, For The Eagles, Superstition Is The Way (TCA Regional News)). Specific to this piece, I found the transition from superstitious behavior to second-nature for the informant interesting. While it might have started out as a superstitious pre-game ritual intended to bring good look for the upcoming game, it has since morphed into an acknowledgement of origin for the informant. The informant does not continue this ritual because he feels it will bring him good luck. He does so because he became the goalie he is today through tapping each post. When the informant continues this tradition, he is reminding himself of everything he has been through to get to where he is.

Hockey in New Jersey and no-shave rule

The informant and I were talking about sports and superstitions so he mentioned something specific to his home state’s sports culture.

“Hockey is really huge… a culture unlike anything in California. Everyone grows out their beard during playoffs season, and they don’t shave it until their team’s out of the playoffs. Bad luck for your team if you shave your beard. I don’t [participate], because I’m Asian and I can’t grow a beard.”

Sports superstitions are nothing unheard of, but it’s still interesting to observe how they vary from region to region. Some people don’t wash their jerseys until their team is knocked out of the playoffs, and some people don’t shave their beards. How such a tradition begins and spreads amongst a group of people would be interesting but probably difficult to investigate.

The “Playoff Beard”

My informant was a competitive hockey player his entire adolescence and was raised in Elk River Minnesota, a hockey powerhouse. He played Division 1 hockey until an injury caused him to transfer schools where he played Division 3 hockey. His father has been a prominent boys hockey coach and local legend in the state of Minnesota for 26 years.

The “playoff beard” is a tradition that hockey players do where they stop shaving when they enter the play-offs and do not shave again until the team is out of the tournament (or wins). Which results in the stereotypical scruff, mustaches, goatees, or out of control hair seen in hockey players. The playoff beard is a unique practice of the National Hockey League during the Stanley Cup playoffs but has spread to being performed in high school and NCAA teams. My informant participated in this tradition during his time as a hockey player, and noted its importance to the hockey community. My informant said that that they do it “because of superstition.” The tradition started in the 1980s by the New York Islanders, and has grown to be a trademark of hockey.

From personal experience, I have witnessed my high school’s hockey team grow out their facial hair and refuse haircuts when the state tournament came around. Upon my own research, I found that some teams do it to have a sense of team unity. An example of this is seen when the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team all bleached their hair blonde in the 2006-07 post-season. A high school tennis team all gave themselves Mohawks for their trip to the state tournament as well. The growing of hair and beards has been seen in other sports such as tennis, basketball, and football in high school teams or individual athletes. It has also spread to philanthropic organizations such as “Beard-A-Thon” that raises money for each team in the Stanley Cup’s charity, and to the development of the “fan beard,” where fans grow beards to support their team.