LAST TAPS NHL

Think of the ice as a war zone. The walk from the dressing room to the ice is the walk of soldiers going to war. In between are the final moments of peace, the moments for reflection, prayer, and focus, as they concentrate on what lies ahead. As they skate around the ice to limber up one final time before the national anthem, players finish at the goal crease, where they congregate around their most important player, the one who is likely to make the difference between victory and defeat the goalie.

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The purpose is simple to wish the goalie good luck. But each player has his own little ritual, and the team as a whole has a superstitious pattern to this process. One player will tap only the goalie’s pads; another will rub his mask or smack the posts; still another will speak certain words. Always there is one last player who stands beside the goalie throughout this process, the player who has to be the last to offer his good-luck wishes.

This is the NHL way. In women’s hockey, in junior leagues, and in American college hockey, the usual routine is to huddle around the goalie en masse, a superstition made spectacle by the high shot above the net captured by television cameras. Everyone cuddles close, bows heads, and repeats a chant or mantra, or the captain might say a few special words to inveigh a great performance from the group.

And then, all but the starters head to the players’ bench and the game begins. They have done all that they can do before the opening faceoff.

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