As with most protocols instituted by Troy Ward, the details-oriented head coach of the Abbotsford Heat, the team’s new post-game salute to their home fans comes complete with its own verbiage, backstory and proper technique.
It begins with the Heat players lining up around the centre-ice circle after victories at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, sticks on the ice, facing each other. One player, singled out by his peers for an outstanding performance, stands in the middle.
Then, in unison, they clap their sticks on the ice twice before turning and raising their twigs in recognition of their supporters in the stands.
In Heat jargon, it’s known as the Wesbo.
“We started doing (the double clap) after every practice last season, and it’s kind of our team thing,” defenceman Joe Piskula explained. “You practice hard and battle, and at the end you come and unite, and give each other a round of applause for the effort.
“We just wanted to include the fans in that. They’re a part of us, they’re a part of our team, and we need them.”
Saluting the fans isn’t unprecedented in the hockey world – the New York Rangers, for instance, gather at centre ice to hoist their sticks in appreciation of the Madison Square Garden faithful.
During last year’s playoffs, members of the Heat’s front office approached Ward about the possibility of doing something similar. Ward liked the idea in general, but thought it odd to manufacture a ritual on short notice.
“That’s not my style,” he noted. “But I said if I’m back, we’ll start next year.
“As I thought it through in my head, I thought, ‘What makes us who we are and what we do?’ We do the double clap. We do the Wesbo every day to end practice.”
The Wesbo has been an end-of-practice tradition for the past 15 years at Hockey and Sons, the father-son camp that Ward runs each summer in St. Peter, Minn.
The ritual is named for its creator, longtime Hockey and Sons staffer Wes Bolin. He was a former teammate of Ward’s at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and currently coaches hockey and teaches social studies at Woodbury (Minn.) High School.
“He’s a character,” Ward said with a chuckle. “He always gave himself these hockey nicknames. He’d score a few goals in a day, and he’d be Wespo, for (Phil) Esposito. Or he’d be Wesarelli, for Dino Ciccarelli.”
Bolin’s Woodbury teams also do the double clap. The tradition is so ingrained in the school’s culture, Bolin once led an entire grad class in the Wesbo – clapping hands, not hockey sticks – during his commencement speech.
“Wes always says, ‘You’ve got to get a good piece of ice,'” Ward said with a chuckle, holding an imaginary stick in his hands and miming the motion of scraping away the snow. “His nickname is Wesbo, so we give him credit.”
Team bonding rituals tend to walk a fine line between being meaningful or cheesy, but Piskula believes that the Wesbo promotes unity.
“When we first started it (after practice), I think some guys snickered a bit, like ‘Yeah, this is corny,'” Piskula said. “But after a little while, it becomes special in a way, because it’s unique.
“In pro hockey, it’s a long year, and teams throughout the league start to go through the motions. Guys do the same thing on every team – there’s not a lot of variance. It’s cool to have something special, even if it’s out of the ordinary. It creates a bond.”
As the Wesbo takes root as a post-victory celebration at the AESC, Ward envisions the fans getting involved in the process more directly, clapping along with the players.
“It gives a little connection between the players and the fans,” Piskula said. “So far, I feel like it’s been an exciting thing. The fans were still there, and they cheered. It’s a good connection.”