Anyone who dismisses superstitions better not say so near the “Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. By the time he retired, he held more than sixty NHL records and to this day remains by a huge margin the all-time leader in goals, assists, and total points. Yet for all his spontaneous genius during games, he went through a carefully calculated series of rituals at the pre-game skate and in the dressing room before the opening faceoff.

Let’s start in the dressing room. Gretzky always put on his equipment in the same order and always left to right: left shin pad, then stocking, right shin pad, stocking. After putting on his pants, he slid into his left skate, then right skate. Shoulder pads came next, then elbow pads, again left before right. He then put on his sweater and tucked the right side in at the back, perhaps his best-known identifier.


Out on the ice for the warm-up, Gretzky always fired the first puck wide and to the right of the goal, a rather humorous habit of intentional misfiring given that he scored more goals than anyone in the game’s history.

Once the skate was over and the Zamboni circled the ice for a final flood before the start of a game, Gretzky headed back to the dressing room for a series of four beverages, in a particular order: Diet Coke, ice water, Gatorade, and a second Diet Coke.

Wayne Gretzky didn’t play for St. Louis for very long but his habit of tucking in the back right side of his sweater was one that endured for all his 20 NHL seasons. Perhaps his oddest superstition was his refusal to get his hair cut during road trips. “The last time I did,” he once recounted, “we lost.” That’s how these things begin.


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