The Stanley Cup Playoffs reveal all sorts of ritualistic behavior in the NHL; when else can an athlete grow face foliage like a shipwrecked castaway and claim it's for good fortune?
Coaches don't grow playoff beards, but they aren't immune to sports voodoo. For Pittsburgh Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma, it manifests itself at a Qdoba Mexican Grille located three blocks away from Mellon Arena; home of the Ancho Chile Pork BBQ Burrito, which Bylsma consumes before most Penguins home games.
It's a superstition with results: Qdoba franchise owner Chad Brooks believes Bylsma is 20-1 when eating his lucky burrito.
He's expected in for a bite on Tuesday before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, with the Penguins needing a win over the Detroit Red Wings to stave off elimination.
"If we win tonight, we're going to find some way, whether it's by ambulance or helicopter, to get a burrito up to Detroit [for Game 7] on Friday," said Brooks.
In a short time, a quiet coach's ritual has become a Steel City sensation.
Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as Penguins head coach on Feb. 15. "As soon as he became coach, he started coming on game day," said Brooks.
The Penguins found startling success with their rookie NHL coach, going 18-3-4 the rest of the season. One day, Bylsma mentioned to the manager of the Grant Street store that he had never lost when he's had his game-day burrito: The Ancho Chile Pork BBQ Burrito, made with a mix of hot and mild salsa plus cheese.
"I always said I don't have superstitions. I just like to do the same thing every day," Bylsma said last week to WTAE Channel 4 in Pittsburgh. "When you get into a routine, you feel comfortable and it gets you in the right spot for a game. When you do something and you get a win, you usually duplicate it again."
It was in the playoffs when his ritual became big news. The Penguins were playing the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and the NHL scheduled back-to-back games in the two cities on a Friday and Saturday. Bylsma came into the Pittsburgh Qdoba on that Friday and purchased two burritos -- eating one at the store and "packing the other one on ice to take to D.C.," according to Brooks.
The coach ate the burrito in the nation's capital, and the Penguins won on both Friday and Saturday nights. "At that point I said, 'Oh crap, this is for real.' He's not playing around. This is something he really believes in." Brooks recalled.
That led to a Facebook group being created in honor of the Bylsma Burrito, which has well over 1,200 followers. One radio station got wind of the group, then two more; soon, Bylsma was being greeted by television cameras when he entered his local Qdoba for lunch on a game day.
"After the news specials, the BBQ burrito has gotten kind of popular," said Jake Nelson, who works at the Qdoba near Mellon.
The eatery held a rally before Game 4 of the Final last week, decking the store out in Penguins gear and handing out mini-burritos inspired by the coach's choice.
With Bylsma coming back to coach next season win or lose, Brooks said he's petitioning corporate to have some sort of signage in his restaurant indicating what the official Bylsma Burrito contains. The relationship could go further than that: While Carissa McCabe of Qdoba corporate relations said the chain eatery doesn't traffic in celebrity spokespeople, she indicated that local sponsorships for franchises are a possibility.
Could Dan Bylsma become the face of burritos in Pittsburgh?
It's something Brooks would like to explore. For now, he's just hoping the ritual holds for another home game ... and, perhaps, to get the chance to celebrate the Bylsma Burrito at a victory parade should the Penguins rally for the Cup.