Amid all of the other sources of consternation, concern and controversy raging in 2020, Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres started a firestorm this season by hitting a grand slam.
Those are some of the most exciting moments in baseball, when a ball clears the fence with three players already on base, and four runs cross the plate. But in swinging (and connecting) with a 3-ball, 0-strike count, Tatis broke one of baseball’s sacred and ancient unwritten rules: you never swing on a 3-0 count when your team has a big lead (the Padres led 10-3 at the time).
A few days later, Tatis did it again, stealing third base in a game that the Padres led by six runs. Nowhere is that declared a no-no in baseball’s voluminous and complicated rule book. It is just something passed down for generations, that players are supposed to know.
In the college hockey world, there are also two sets of rules. One of them is lengthy, official, and presented in book form by the people in places like USA Hockey and the NCAA. They define what makes a goal count, what constitutes a penalty for interference, how icing is determined, and literally hundreds of other nuances to the game.
The second set of hockey rules is not found in a book. It is passed down by coaches and players on the bench and in the locker rooms, and often enforced as strictly as anything that might land you in the penalty box for two minutes. Among the game's unwritten rules:
Do not step on the logo. This is a tradition that, with many locker rooms being remodeled, is going away. But 20 years ago, most teams had their logo inlaid in the carpet on the floor of their locker room, and you never, ever were allowed to step on it, at risk of being fined. Many new locker rooms have been designed with the logo on the ceiling, freeing up some much-needed floor space.
Never put your jersey on the floor. Just last week, Bill Watson (the 1985 Hobey Baker winner, who played and coaches at Minnesota Duluth) saw a player lay his jersey down on the floor of the locker room to take a picture of it. He made it very clear that such action is a no-no. Like an American flag, a game jersey is never supposed to touch the floor. Leave it on a hanger, or toss it in the post-game laundry basket, but never let it touch the carpet.
Do not cross the red line during warmups. Your team is on one half of the ice. The opponents are on the other. The captains will come to the center ice dot to talk to the officials, but you never cross the line. If one of your team’s pucks slides into the opponent’s end of the rink, just let it go.
Shoot low on your starting goalie in warmups. One of the myriad quirks about goalies is that they like to “feel the puck” as they prepare for a start. They do not like to feel it against their shoulders or their helmet. During warmups, the accepted rule is that you shoot low on your goalie, giving them a chance to kick out a few pucks with their legs and their stick, to get a feel for what is coming. Shooting high, which more often than not misses the net entirely, serves nobody well.
Rookies know their place. The recent stories from Canadian major junior hockey of the hazing that new players have had to endure are downright disturbing. Rituals designed to hurt and humiliate new players have for the most part been weeded out of the college game, but that’s not to say a first-year player enjoys full rights and privileges. Among the accepted hierarchy of any team, the freshmen are assigned duties like hauling the stick bags, picking up the pucks after warmups, and eating last at team meals. They also take the front seats on the team’s bus or plane, as the more coveted seats toward the back are reserved for veterans.
Battle Hymn of the Republic/Stick Salute after sweeps. This one applies to the Minnesota Gophers only, but there has been a tradition for generations that a sweep in Minneapolis is celebrated with sticks and a song. Late in a Saturday night game, after a Friday Gophers win, with the home team comfortably ahead, the U of M pep band has been known to crank up “the Battle Hymn of the Republic” with a minute left on the clock, as students stand and wave in rhythm. After the postgame handshake, the Gophers players form a circle at center ice (often waiting, while that night’s hero completes a postgame TV interview) then offers a stick salute to the fans.
You will not find any of that tradition in any official rule book for college hockey, but the unwritten rules of the game are part of the fabric that makes the sport so beloved by players, coaches and fans from coast to coast.