This year’s playoffs is full of on-ice drama. Given the format, it isn't much of a surprise. Before we have another suspension or questionable hit to discuss, now is a great time to talk about some of the off-ice activities: fan traditions. Last night, I watched (and listened) to a tradition that has fully evolved and one that may just be starting. Traditions are a huge part of fan culture; from those that only last one season, to others which are more permanent. While every sport has them, hockey seems to hold some of the most unique ones around.
Hockey fans are remarkably superstitious. Ask Tony X - he started getting cocky about his goalie pick for the Pens vs. Caps series, but when Murray was scored on all of twitter introduced him to the world of hockey superstitions. A huge part of the development of traditions is closely linked to superstition. Of course, there are other reasons why we develop them and why they stay around; but generally speaking, we have strong feelings about both ours and others traditions. Whether they are completely unique to a team or slightly borrowed from other sports, I always enjoy learning about each.
After any home team goal, you expect the crowd to erupt and the goal song to follow. In Brooklyn, they have an extra part of the goal celebration - the "Yes" chant. It is borrowed from WWE’s Daniel Bryan, and similar chants can be found in various other stadiums. The Islanders supporters group started this organically; the organization did not force it upon them. A small group in section 329 liked the underdog story of Daniel Bryan and wanted to make it fit with the Islanders, a team that most identify as the underdog of NY (even after the Rangers are eliminated). It started off very small. Here is a clip back from 2014:
Last night, the "Yes" chant was as loud as I ever heard it after each of the 4 Islanders' goals. Seeing how small it began to carrying through the entire arena is impressive.
Thinking about how it all started, I happened to also see the Predators mascot petting a fake black cat and then proceeding to crawl out on the ice. This all started in San Jose, when a black kitten scurried across the ice in front of the benches before game 1. During the game, the Predators took an early lead, only for the Sharks to come back and win 5-2. Don’t worry - the engineers at the SAP Center found the black cat and turned her over to the Sharks who contacted the Humane Society. However, it wasn’t long until the fans nicknamed the cat “Joe PAW-velski,” promptly adapting it “Jo” once they found out the kitten was a she. The Sharks’ twitter quickly took to tweeting out pics and gifs of black cats, and some fans even showed up to game 2 wearing cat paraphernalia.
The Predators mascot was obviously enjoying poking fun at the Sharks newest good luck charm. As the NHL said, "things are getting pretty catty in Nashville." Some may be annoyed - anytime an event like this happens people immediately jump to thinking, “it will become a new tradition!” Yes, that is fairly accurate - it doesn’t take too much for it to become ingrained.
But, there has to be something more to it than just a few tweets and people in cat ears. If San Jose loses this series, the only thing we may hear from this is a successful adoption story. If they win, the black cat - a generally "unlucky" sign - could easily be a part of some tradition in the playoffs for the Sharks. Whether this becomes a tradition or not and in what shape is to be seen, but some new off-ice "drama" is always appreciated. After all, I think we’ve all heard enough about rats for one season.
What are your favorite NHL traditions?
Jillian Fisher is a sport anthropologist who focuses on sport culture and fan culture. Growing up with three older brothers, sports have always played a large part of her life. While she enjoys all sports, hockey has always been her first passion. Jillian has traveled across the world - from the Philippines to Italy and across the US - studying the impact of sports, all while cheering for the home team and discovering what makes each place so unique, even being referred to as the Anthony Bourdain of sports. She is currently filming her own web series, Out of the Park, that highlights the different cultures surrounding our favorite sports across the country. Always in search of the next event, Jillian can be contacted on Twitter, Instagram, or emailed at jillianfisher00[at]gmail.com