THE MARCH TO WAR NHL

It is a superstition so old, so ingrained in the consciousness of players and fans that it hardly seems like a superstition at all. It’s not even a custom or habit or formality. It’s just part of the game, like the puck, boards, and net. It is the team’s march to the ice to begin every game and period.

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Of course, players being players, a team can’t simply skate out to the ice to begin a game. There must be a reason, a logic, a determining process and order to this march from the dressing room to the playing surface. And so, for as long as anyone can remember, it is the starting goalie who goes on the ice first. Why? Simple. He’s the most important player on the team. Without a good game from him, you’ll lose. That’s why he wears number 1 (okay, this tradition barely survives, but still …). There may be twelve forwards and six or seven defencemen in a game, but there’s only one goalie.

It doesn’t stop there. Teams have a specific order of every player following the goalie, an order that begins from the time they leave the dressing room. It is a calculated order, based on superstition, seniority, or some other frivolous factor. Oftentimes the captain will be the last player on the ice, but not always. Sometimes he’s the second player, after the goalie, the second most important player on the team, as it were.

Perhaps the most unusual and symmetrical order belongs to Team USA’s women. No one knows when, why, or how it started, but for several years now the women march onto the ice in numerical order. Number 1 goes first, then 2, 3, 4, and up to the highest number. It is a marvel of precision to watch, an order created by players with a mathematical penchant for preciseness. No other team has such a numeric ritual.

In the NHL, for instance, the marching order is upset every time a player is demoted or traded and new players arrive. They must fit into the order somewhere, somehow. With Team USA’s women, though, old players and new are part of the same numbered sequence.

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