Friday, February 10, 2012

Brahmas featured in today's Star-Telegram

Brahmas and other hockey players have their habits and don't mess with them

Mark Wright has written the following article about the Brahmas' game-day superstitions:

Ryan Hand's game-day ritual often involves an afternoon meal of chicken parmigiana at a favorite Italian restaurant.

The Texas Brahmas defenseman sometimes varies his eating habits. But there's one pre-game routine that never changes for the Ottawa native. Hand always puts on the left side of his uniform first.

"I always put my left side on first whatever it is," Hand said. "My left sock. My left skate before my right skate. My left glove first."

Many athletes have unusual habits they repeat on a daily basis. But if Brahmas players are any indication, hockey players take odd quirks to a whole other level.

"I'd say hockey players are more superstitious," Hand said. "I think everyone's so focused on their game and making an impact.

"If a couple superstitions help them make their best impact for the team, they're going to keep doing those things."

Hand began dressing left-side-first because it worked well the first time he did it: "I did it once and I played a good game. So I tried to keep everything the same. You want to keep things the same the next night and play well again."

He's not the only Brahmas player who follows a certain pattern when suiting up: center Calin Wild re-laces his skates (20 or 22 eyelets per shoe) before every game. Defenseman Erik Spady, like Hand, dresses left side first.

"I think I always did it, and then I just kind of noticed it," Spady said. "It's like a weird habit. And now I've become a little bit conscious of it."

Spady also has a habit of placing the tape higher up on his stick than most players. His preferred tape pattern resembles that of a goalie's stick.

But Spady isn't about to adopt a more traditional taping style. "It started out as kind of a joke," he said. "And now I like it."

Third Line Pride

Brahmas coach Dan Wildfong estimates 80 to 90 percent of hockey players harbor some kind of superstition -- even though many might not fess up to it. The habits players form are just their personalized way of getting into the right mindset to step out on the ice, the coach said.

"What they find successful, they do it -- like taping their sticks a certain way," Wildfong said. "That way there's no questions about how they'll play. It is a superstition, but basically it's their way of being prepared."

Wildfong knows a thing or two about sticking to a routine. During his playing days, Wildfong was a scrappy left winger who always seemed to start out playing on a team's third line. But through hard work he would earn his way up to the top line. No matter which line he was on that day, Wildfong always wrote "Third Line Pride" on the tape on his stick before each game.

"All that meant to me was it kept me grounded," Wildfong said. "If I'm on the first, second or third line, I need to work like I'm a third-liner. Even if you're on the first line, you have to be the hardest working guy on the ice.... So that kind of kept me where I knew hard work was important."

Stopping the five

Superstitions can make the difference in which way a puck bounces. When goalie Mark Guggenberger puts on both leg pads at the same time, he knows no pucks can enter the net through that space between a goaltender's legs known as the five hole.

"Instead of putting on one pad all the way and then the other, I put them on together," Guggenberger said. "That way nothing goes between them out on the ice."

On the other hand, not following the proper pregame ritual can anger the hockey gods: "I had a couple games where I put on one then the other and got scored on five hole," Guggenberger said. "And then I put them on together and I haven't been scored on like that in a while."

After a bad game, Hand said it helps to consider whether he strayed from his normal routine. "I try to think about 'What did I do differently?'" Hand said. "Maybe I left for the rink later than I usually do. Maybe I slept for too long."

Sometimes changing up a pregame routine in some small way can help the team bounce back from a loss, Spady said. For example, Wildfong hands the Brahmas' starting lineup to a player before each game. And the chosen player reads the names to his teammates.

During a winning streak, the coach hands the lineup sheet to the same guy as the previous game. But after a loss, it's time to let somebody else read the names.

"It gets you excited," Spady said. "You always assume it's a good thing when you change it up."

But when a superstition seems to work, you just go with it. No questions asked.

"Say you have a great game: You have two goals, the team plays great," Spady said. "You'll probably try and do everything exactly the same if you have a game the next night -- even down to who you got a ride with to the arena."

Photo Credit: Star-Telegram/Paul Mosely

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