Updated Wed, Feb 26, 2014 9:04 am
Before every game, as the Ohio hockey team prepares for another contest, you can find Michael Harris sitting in his stall slowly donning his armor. He will strap his right shin guard to his right leg, then follow with the left. He’ll pull his right, green and white uniform sock over the right pad, then another over the left. He’ll slide his foot into his right skate, followed by a foot in the left boot.
This methodical approach to getting dressed always follows a right-to-left pattern for Harris, and if you observed his teammates in the locker room, one could recognize that he’s not alone in this practice. Multiple men are making calculated efforts to ensure one half of their equipment goes on before the other.
All of this is done simply for one purpose: superstition.
Hockey players of all ranks are known for their strict superstitions and gameday habits, and those wearing the Ohio Bobcat on their chests are no different.
“We all have our little rituals we do, which gets interesting,” Harris said. “If anybody watching us warm up or do anything on game day they would be curious as to what we were doing.”
Harris, a sophomore and self-proclaimed superstition junkie, believes his daily routine plays a key role in his game. Harris led the team in goal-scoring last year during his freshman campaign, but when he hit a scoring slump earlier this season, he did what many hockey players would never dream of doing. He decided to modify his pre-game procedures.
“I changed everything, I even changed the sticks I use,” Harris said. “Whatever I did worked, but it felt great to get going again.”
Since going eight consecutive games without a goal during October and November, Harris has netted nine goals and eighteen total points. However, his daily customs go well beyond just what stick he prefers.
In addition to his right-to-left sequence when putting on his equipment, Harris says that he has to shower and eat the same time before every game, his sticks must be prepared the same way in the same place, and will, under no circumstances, let the blade of his freshly waxed and taped stick touch the ground before he hits the ice.
“That’s just a few of them,” Harris added with a smile.
Remembering all of the potential rituals Harris feels he has to do seems more difficult than playing the actual game, but does any of it actually make hockey easier? Ohio forward Matt Hartman, who claims to be one of the least superstitious guys on the team, says that while many of these practices may seem like smoke and mirrors, he knows a lot of guys can’t deal without them.
“It’s more of a comfort thing, but it actually does help, I think,” Hartman said. “You feel good going through the same routine every day to get yourself ready, and if you do break that routine, I know I would feel uneasy. It wouldn’t feel right.”
Even the Bobcats’ head coach Jonathan Sheridan had his unique approach to preparing for a game. Only three years removed from his playing days at Lawrence University, Sheridan would also follow the right-to-left dressing pattern demonstrated by Harris and some of his teammates, but would only deviate to tie his skates. In that case, he would lace up his left skate tied before the right without a second thought.
“Ten minutes before every game I would have to eat a Snickers bar,” Sheridan said, “but as far as anything too quirky, not really.”
While Sheridan may be declaring his pre-puck drop candy cravings as no big deal, Ohio forward Tom Whetsel confesses that some of his niches could cause one to question his sanity.
After admitting to eating spaghetti before every game and being very particular about his stick preparation, Whetsel said, “You know, I could get into so many, but I’d seem like a weirdo so I’ll just leave it there.”
So unwilling to take the risk of sounding like a “weirdo,” Whetsel laughed and wouldn’t divulge any more information regarding his pre-game practices. His teammate Harris, on the other hand, didn’t mind adding to the madness by talking about Whetsel’s in-game habits.
“Tom Whetsel is pretty superstitious. He has to take a sip from a water bottle before every shift,” Harris said. “He’ll come back to the bench sometimes before the ref drops the puck and just get one last squirt and then go back out there.”
“I don’t think I do that,” Whetsel said in response to his teammate’s accusation. “I think [Harris] is reading too much into that.”
While the jury may be out on whether or not Whetsel is consciously coming back to bench to consume one final sip of water, it would be hard to argue against the presence of some oddities taking place before and during every Ohio hockey game.
It may not be hard science, but even the slightest shred of tape ripped could be done in an attempt to make sure the players feel the most comfortable before stepping into an arena and onto the often unforgiving ice surface.