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Confessions of a Superstitious Hockey Fan

I have a confession to make. I didn’t watch every moment of the Lightning playoff run. In fact, I missed a lot of key moments and had to watch the replays later. It wasn’t that I was too busy, too tired, or too worried that my heart couldn’t take the excitement. My reason was simple. The Bolts seemed to do better when I wasn’t watching! Realistically, I understand that nothing I do from the comforts of my home can have any remote impact on the performance of the players or the outcome of the game. Yet, like so many other fans out there, I can’t seem to stop myself. As hockey fans, we simply cannot help trying to influence the outcome of a game by engaging in some types of superstitions or ritual behaviors.

To Touch or Not to Touch

When it comes to the Lightning, it is not just the fans who engage in these behaviors but the players as well. In 2020, when the team won the Prince of Wales Trophy, they had to make a quick decision. Should they touch the trophy or not? There tends to be a belief in the National Hockey League that it is bad luck to touch the conference trophy. The Lightning did not touch it in 2004 when they went on to win the Stanley Cup or in 2015 when they lost the final series to the Chicago Blackhawks. Since they had most recently lost after not touching the trophy, they decided to touch it in 2020. As Victor Hedman declared, “That was a no-brainer for us. We’re not superstitious but obviously didn’t touch it last time (2015), so this year we did.”

The Superstitions Continue

It is in noteworthy that Hedman claimed not to be superstitious. In the 2022 playoffs, the Lightning found themselves down two games to none to the New York Rangers in the Conference Final but then won Game 3. Hedman proceeded to wear the same suit for the next three games. The Bolts won all three, giving them their third straight Stanley Cup berth. Additionally, when talking with the media, Hedman likes to sit on the right side of the table facing the media. On one occasion, he went so far as to move the sign with his name on it when they tried to place him on the left.

Hedman is not the only Bolt who engages in superstitious behaviors. Corey Perry spoke to the media before Game 6 of round one. When the Lightning won, he continued to speak on every game day until the team lost its third-round opener at New York (six straight victories).

U.S. national anthem singer, Sonya Bryson-Kirksey, wore the same pair of rainbow Crocs and an Allegiant Goods Co. T-shirt that read, “Tampa Bay by a Thousand” to Amalie Arena for the final four games of the conference final. The Lightning, of course, won all four games.

Imaginary Control

As fans, we love our Bolts. It’s natural to want to do anything we can to help them win. It’s why we go to the games to cheer them on when possible. Victoria University senior psychology professor, Keis Ohtsuka, explains that in evolutionary terms, humans have learned to gather information to find patterns that they can use to predict future outcomes. When our Bolts win an important game, we may look at everything we did on that game day. We can then seemingly logically predict that if we do it all again, the game outcome will be the same.

Keis further postulates that the engagement in superstitious rituals is a cognitive mechanism that reduces our anxiety and focuses us on the game. Anxiety is often heightened when we feel a lack of control over a situation. We therefore strive to find elements of control in order to relieve the anxiety. Our rituals provide us with this sense of imaginary control over the game’s unpredictable outcome.

In a recent Facebook group survey, Lightning fans reported a wide range of superstitious behaviors. Some were unique, including “waiting for a bathroom lady to post”, baking, and bringing a cardboard cutout to the game. But others were more common. Many had a specific item of clothing they wear. Some watch from the same location. Others eat the same meal. Forty percent of respondents expressed that they wear the same shirt to ensure a victory. Thirteen percent stated that they watch from the same location. Eleven percent responded that they do not engage in any superstitious rituals. Although the individual responses varied significantly, it was clear that a majority of fans do feel some degree of the imaginary control.

Community Involvement

Lightning fans and players form a true community here in the Tampa Bay area. It is a community in which we all want to feel a sense of belonging. Perhaps, engaging in these rituals helps us feel like part of the community. We can’t physically get on the ice and help our players, but we still want to do anything we can to bring home the victory. Maybe, our superstitious rituals help us feel like more than just spectators. Maybe, they make us feel more like a true community where all the members get involved and do their part.

For my part, I will remind myself frequently throughout the off-season that nothing I do can affect the outcome of a game. However, I have little doubt that by the time October rolls around, it will all be for naught. I will once again find myself in closet on game days, scouring my attire options, and asking myself, “How did the Bolts do last year when I wore this?”

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