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NHL players not touching the conference trophy is a stupid superstition

The Florida Panthers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final after defeating the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals last Saturday night at Amerant Bank Arena. One night later, Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers also clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Final with a 2-1 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals at Rogers Place.

With the puck set to drop in Game 1 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final in Sunrise, Florida, on Saturday night, one has to ask this important question: Who will hoist Lord Stanley once and for all?

It’s impossible to say since neither team touched the trophies awarded to them after clinching their respective conferences.

That’s right, the Panthers may have had their picture taken with the Prince of Wales Trophy–awarded annually to the winner of the NHL’s Eastern Conference. However, you could have trotted the most average of Joe’s out onto the ice and asked him to slap a one-timer in between the table that the trophy was placed on and the person standing nearest to it, and he probably would have gotten the shot through cleanly.

The Oilers stood a little closer to the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl–awarded annually to the winner of the NHL’s Western Conference–as they posed for their post-victory team photo, but nobody associated with the organization touched that sucker.

Why? It has long since been a superstition held by NHL players and their coaches (and likely their fans) that they do not place their sweaty fingers on conference trophies. A conference trophy (or bowl) isn’t the ultimate prize–the Cup is.

When did this superstition begin? Is it some garbage started by Millennials? How about Gen-Z? No, it was my people–Generation X. According to the research I did for this article (and, let me tell ya’, it’s hard to research silliness), it began in the 1990s, most accurately, in 1997 when the Philadelphia Flyers clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Final but refused to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy during their postgame celebration.

Leave it to the City of Brotherly Love–a town that once booed Santa Claus–to no-sell a great accomplishment such as making it to the championship round of a major professional sport. Anyway, did this work for the Flyers? No, they were swept in four games by the Detroit Red Wings.

You would think that such a thrashing in the Final would have immediately ended this Philadelphia invention since–unlike the cheesesteak–it wasn’t very tasty.

Nope, this superstition took off.

How effective has the act of not touching the conference trophies been for these NHL players over the years? I don’t know. I tried to research as many sites as possible, but my head began to hurt and spin. Obviously, there is plenty of data to support either touching or not touching these conference cups, but once it doesn’t work one or two times, shouldn’t that put an end to the idea that it’s bad luck to cop a feel?

You want to know how superstitious Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby is? He’s so superstitious that he has a laundry list of things that he does or doesn’t do before every NHL game. Yet, when it comes to the conference trophy superstition, Sid the Kid is like, “Naw, that’s stupid, son.” Crosby continued the tradition of not touching the Prince of Wales Trophy when the Penguins defeated the Flyers in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh lost to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. One year later, after the Penguins swept Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals, Crosby, along with his teammates, broke with tradition and touched the trophy. “We didn’t touch the trophy last year, and obviously we didn’t have the result we wanted,” Crosby said way back when in a quote courtesy of thehockeywriters.com. “We figured we’d touch it this year. Although we haven’t accomplished exactly what we want, we still accomplished something here. You know, we can still enjoy it.

Leave it to Crosby to put things into the proper perspective. It is quite an accomplishment to win your conference (or league when talking about baseball) and make it to the championship series or game of your sport.

How did touching the conference trophy work out in 2009? Pittsburgh won the Cup. The Pens won the Cup again in 2016 and 2017, and Crosby and his teammates touched the Eastern Conference Trophy each time.

The Penguins were a sad-sack NHL franchise long before Mario Lemieux was drafted in 1984, and they remained that way for several years after that. Therefore, when Pittsburgh finally accomplished something of great significance and advanced to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final in 1991, Lemiuex paraded around the old Civic Arena with the Prince of Wales Trophy for every fan in attendance to enjoy. Pittsburgh won the Cup that year and again the following season. If you’re counting at home, that’s six trips to the Stanley Cup Finals in franchise history, complete with five conference trophy touches and one no-touch. The touches are 5-0 in the Final. The no-touches are 0-1.

To say that it’s bad luck to touch the conference trophy is disrespectful to the players who did so in years past–including Lemiuex, Wayne Gretzky, etc.

It’s also disrespectful to yourself. Like Crosby said 15 years ago, you accomplished something great.

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t been back to the Final since 1967. The Cleveland Browns have never been to the Super Bowl. My Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t been to the World Series since disco was still king.

Believe me, if you make it to the final round of any sport, you just had one helluva season. NFL Films had a series years ago called Missing Rings that chronicled some of the best football teams that failed to win a Super Bowl. In fact, some–including the 1981 Chargers and 1998 Vikings–didn’t even make it that far.

If you can get to the final round, well, to quote Chris Elliott in There’s Something About Mary: “You have a bleeping horseshoe up your bleep, my man.” In other words, luck is on your side.

There’s so much that has to go right for a team to even make it to the championship round. Enjoy it. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Hoist that trophy (or bowl).

You don’t have to take a conference trophy home with you. You don’t have to parade around the rink with it. You can save that stuff for the Cup. However, you should at least show it some affection. After all, you can’t hoist Lord Stanley unless you hug a prince or Clarence along the way.

I’ll leave you with this quote from McDavid:

“They (the Panthers) didn’t touch it, we didn’t touch it. Someone’s gotta win.”



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