U.S. Women's Hockey Team

Hockey team rituals and traditions, from Blow Pops to Team Cheers

By Kaki Flynn //  teamusa.org

Bring on the black cats and the Sports Illustrated covers. The U.S. Women's hockey team fears them about as much as they fear a maple-leaf emblazoned jersey. This team is tough and focused on their game, and will rely on being the best women hockey players in the world to give them the gold, not some cheer or secret handshake.

While they don't rely on rituals - you will be hard pressed to find a rabbit's foot in the group - they still have their own special brand of team traditions that act as a focusing tool on game day.

Of course, there are the
necklaces that team captain Cammi Granato gave the team, with a Chinese symbol signifying peace, unity, and strength printed on the front. Each team member, including the coaches, also has a card with the same symbol that she gave to them with the necklace.

"We used to stick them in our lockers, but now that we are on the road and moving around so much, we all have the cards tucked in our bags," said forward Natalie Darwitz.

Fun Stuff

On the lighter side, forward Shelley Looney eats a Blow Pop while she's getting dressed, chews the gum during warm-ups, and then spits it out before the game, a habit that Heather Lindstead, her coach at the Univ. of Connecticut, started.

What kind of Blow Pop? "Cherry."

"I don't have any superstitions," said Chris Bailey, a defenseman on the team. "The more and more I play, the more I am free of them.
I used to have to have pancakes in the morning before I would play, but now I can't always bank on that."

One special memento that she does always make sure to bring with her, however, is a puck that NHL legend Mario Lemieux signed when the team had a stop-over in Pittsburgh this season that she always puts in her locker.

Sue Merz, also a defenseman, pointed out that "we know that superstitions don't work. We've lost enough games to know they don't work."
A ritual that she does have, a habit that wouldn't feel right if she did it any other way, is the way she gets dressed in the locker room. She always puts on her gear from the right to the left, and then tapes left to right.

Lucky Numbers

As with any team sport, most of the athletes have a jersey number that they have stuck with since they started the sport.

What about Julie Chu, number 13? That seems super-brave, picking what is considered to be the unluckiest number of all. "That's my birthday," said Chu, who was born on March 13, 1982, "and that number is also not considered bad luck in the Chinese traditions."

Her family must agree, because her mom and dad had the number 13 and the Olympic rings tattooed on their arms when Julie made the team.

The parents also often become a part of the players' rituals. While Chu's parents can come to the games, they can't, however, come to the practices to watch, because it makes Chu too nervous.

Defenseman A.J. Mleczko has been jersey number 11 since she was 6 years old, and her mom always tries to sit in seat number 11 at games. Her mom won't be able to sit in that seat for these Games - tickets, even for parents, are still hard to come by - but she isn't too worried that will affect her daughter's performance.

Scrappy Gear

What about the gear? Chu only uses the pair of shoulder pads that she was wearing when she made the National Team, even though the team was issued brand-new gear. She brings them home to her mom, who said she "has to sew those little seams up." Before the Olympic Games started, the trainers had to add new Velcro straps to keep the tattered pads from falling apart.

Darwitz also has a pair of shoulder pads that she has had for five or six years that the 18-year-old doesn't want to give up. "I love them to death, they are comfortable, and I haven't grown that much in the past few years, so they still fit," she said.

Underneath those pads is a scrappy white t-shirt with a local pub logo that she wears under her uniform that she always wears instead of the team-issued gear.

1-2-3, U-S-A!

Even the team cheer is fluff-free. Before the game, the team gets into a tight huddle around the goalie to do the cheer. It's the job of the rookie on the team to lead the cheer. "It used to be me to say 1-2-3, U-S-A!" said Darwitz, "and now Lindsay Wall took over my job because she is the youngest on the team."

Bye, Bye

When you see the team come out on the ice, you will always see Bye come out first, and Julie Chu flank the back.

Karyn will then wait by the door as the team files onto the bench, hitting each player's hand, and then waiting until the last player is in before sitting on the bench.

What does Bye, the assistant team captain and the one in charge of the pre-game pep talk in the huddle before Wall starts the cheer, think of the rituals?

"I think that if we rely on those for wins and losses, we are in trouble. I don't think there is anything wrong with having them, for team unity. I try to teach the young kids not to get too tied to them," said Bye.

Towel-wringing Coach?

What about Coach Smith? Is there any towel-wringing going on, like Fresno State's Jerry Tarkanian? This man is focused on hockey, not on any hocus-pocus rituals.

Is there some item from the last gold-medal game in Nagano, that he is wearing this time again?

Coach Smith: "No."

Lucky tie? "No. I just worry about what goes on between the two goals."

So if all the world was void of Blow Pops, if Darwitz didn't slap Bye's hand as she got on the ice, and A.J.'s mom didn't sit in seat number 11, the Canadians shouldn't start celebrating early, because the unity of the team and solid hockey skills will bring the U.S. to the top of the podium.

More important to them is that they are all there together, as a team. "It's gratifying and emotional to stand on the blue-line, and look at your teammates, and know you made it. We just focus on the moment," said Bailey.
Just Plain "Schmiggy"
A fun ritual that every close team has is the assignment of nicknames to team members. Nicknames come with closeness, with true team unity. Of course, sometimes not changing a name - team captain Cammi Granato is known as just "Cammi" - speaks volumes about a person's place on the team. Then there are players whose last names are fitting enough for nicknames, like "Looney."

So, whether you are going to the game, and preparing poster boards to hold up as you scream at the players on the ice, or you are camped out in front of your television, and want to know what to yell at the screen, find out the proper translation for each team member. Just to stay with tradition, we made sure to put Bye first and Chu last:
Bye 6: "K. L."
Bailey 24: "Bails"
Dunn 25: "Dunn"
Decosta 1: "D.C."
Baker 8: "Bakes"
Darwitz 22 : "Double-Deuce"
Kennedy 3: "CoCo"
Granato 21: "Cammi"
Kilbourne 9 : "Killer"
King 20: "Kinger"
Looney 15: "Looney"
Merz 7: "Murphy"
A.J. 11 : "A.J."
Mounsey 2: "Mounsey"
Potter 12: "Schmiggy"
Ruggerio 4: "Rugger"
Tueting 29: "Tueting"
Wall 5: "Wallie, Wall-Dog"
Wendell 17: "Wendell"
Chu 13: "Choo-choo, Chewbaca"

In Like Flynn: This was a series of articles written about the U.S. Women's Olympic Hockey Team for my column, In Like Flynn, written during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah as a member of the award-winning new media team for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

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