#ForTheX: a tradition returns
Playoff traditions: the Ottawa 67’s have a lot of them.
Some of them are long-lived, including players donning eye black below their eyes, others are only in their infancy, but none have sparked conversations quite like what was spawned during the 2019 run.
After every win, the Barber Poles gathered beside the bench, where four covered X’s were placed on the boards. With their performance in the biggest moments in mind, Head Coach André Tourigny designated one player to reveal the X, marking one of the four required wins to take a series.
In 2023, the tradition is set to make its return for a third time. While some traditions are meant for teammates to make the playoff journey together, the X’s are different, designed to allow fans to celebrate each step with the players.
“It was a good way for us to get the crowd involved,” said Noel Hoefenmayer, the 67’s all-time leader in games played by a defenceman. “But it was also a good way for us to push ourselves to earn the X. It was a big thing for us to involve everyone, because when you’re in a series, the crowd was like our seventh player, especially in Ottawa.”
As big of a deal as celebrating with the fans was, the X’s still offer the players a chance to visualize their progress, and see the wins pile up.
“When you go on a run like we did, every playoff win is something special,” said Kyle Maksimovich, who scored 22 points in 16 playoff games in 2019. “Taking them off one by one signifies that you’re taking it one game at a time, and every time you get that win, you’re marking it off.”
Being chosen by the coaching staff to reveal an X meant a couple of different things. First off, it meant that you had put in a good shift, maybe scored a couple of goals, set up a few, or made some big defensive plays. It also means inadvertant pressure, as all eyes in the rink are on you.
“My first thought was ‘don’t screw it up,” Michael DiPietro, co-recipient of the Dave Pinkney award for 2018-19, said jokingly. “We had a couple of unclean pulls, and it would tear, and it lost it’s thunder, so I needed to have a clean pull. You’re sharing it with the guys and wrapped up in the moment, but you’re just excited to have the win.”
In no way was the intention for the Barber Poles to boast, or show up the opposition, with many former players saying it was no different than what other teams were doing at the time.
“It wasn’t cocky, every team has their own thing,” Maksimovich said. “It just so happens that the 67’s have a great fan base, and it was our way to have them interact with it.”
The X was the most notable of the traditions, but still, black paint under the eyes persisted. A relic suspected of being started by Lance Galbraith during his five-year tenure in Ottawa, players continue to apply eye black in the playoffs, with one stripe to signify each round.
“You’re going into battle,” Maksimovich said. “It wasn’t like the players put it on themselves, we had the trainers coming in, including Sean Young, who was super motivational, putting it on. It got me pumped up for the series.”
A premise entirely unique to the Barber Poles, young players are often shocked to learn of the tradition. Hoefenmayer, who experienced it for the first time in 2015-16, took it in stride, and immediately fell in love with adding stripes to his face.
“I thought it was electric,” Hoefenmayer said. “We played to earn each stripe under our eyes. After a game, it would be smudged off, even bloody, and we knew that we fought for each other.”
The same can be said for the cowboy hats that took over the group in the same playoff run.
“We were coming to the rink all suited up like it was the wild west, ready for anything,” Hoefenmayer said. “I think that’s what it was, everyone was on the same page, coming to fight. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were ready for it.”
Everything added together created something unique, a time that every player, team staff, and fan can vividly remember and cherish, according to DiPietro. It brought players in the locker room closer together, and helped build connections and memories that will last a lifetime.
For Hoefenmayer, they ring evermore special.
“It meant so much more after spending [my whole career] there,” Hoefenmayer said. “With the environment we created and with that group of guys, it [was special].”
With the regular season winding down, X’s are on everyone’s mind, but you’ll have to wait and see what the Barber Poles come up with next.