Tyler Pitlick rolled a cart through the Barons locker room after Wednesday's practice. He stopped at each locker to offer teammates a cup of Gatorade.
Pitlick was that day's “juice boy.”
Similar to a free-throw shooting contest between players in basketball, hockey has a version called “juice boy,” a tradition that dates back several decades.
In hockey's version, each player attempts to score from the hash marks in front of the crease. If the shot is blocked by the goaltender, the skater gets a second chance. Fail to score and you return to a group of players who haven't scored. The competition continues until only one player hasn't scored.
“Juice boy tradition is you usually have a pretty good game the next game,” said Pitlick, the Barons' third-year forward.
The next game is 7 p.m. Friday, when the Barons host Rochester, the first game of a weekend triple-header. Oklahoma City hosts Milwaukee at 7 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Cox Convention Center.
Wednesday's practice wasn't the first time this season Pitlick lost the juice boy competition.
“It can be stressful when you're one of the last guys out there. That's pretty nerve wracking,” said defenseman Taylor Fedun. “I've been juice boy before. But no way did I want to lose ‘mustache boy.' I don't look good wearing a mustache.”
“Mustache boy” is held two or three times a season. That day's juice boy loser is required to grow a mustache the entire month. Earlier this season, Barons players concocted “magazine boy.” That day's loser was required to purchase new magazines for all the locker-room toilet stalls.
Another variation is teammates drop their sticks on the ice. Under those rules, the losing shooter is required to return all sticks to the locker room.
Barons assistant coach Gerry Fleming a decade ago was head coach of the Florida Everblades in the ECHL. The Everblades' juice boy penance was the player was required to practice in a beat-up, pink helmet with a plastic Gatorade cup taped to the top and the words “free agent” written on the side.
“We did it during the playoffs to ease the tension,” Fleming said. “They had to wear that pink helmet at every practice until he was no longer juice boy. It was comical. We actually went to the finals that year.”
Juice boy is more common in the minor leagues, college and junior ranks. The Barons hold juice boy around 25 times a season. It's common for teammates to root against the top scorers.
At a Barons practice last season, Edmonton Oilers star Jordan Eberle was one of two juice boy skaters remaining. Teammates were hoping Eberle, an NHL All-Star who was playing for Oklahoma City during the lockout, would be juice boy.
“You always have horses you want to lose,” said defenseman Brad Hunt. “(Matthew) Ford said I'm his horse. He's always rooting against me. I'd never really done this before. It's awesome. It's fun, a competitive element.”
Barons coach Todd Nelson first experienced juice boy 20 years ago, when he was playing for Grand Rapids. Nelson said variations included shooting the puck from center ice at an angled goal nearly 100 feet away.
“We had to hit nothing but net,” Nelson said. “It couldn't hit a post or the crossbar. It couldn't skip. But if you hit nothing but net you were safe.”
One variation to that contest was a player was rewarded for hitting the crossbar. Under those rules, the player that dinged the crossbar threw a “safe” teammate back into the competition.
“It was sort of like dodge ball,” Nelson said. “That made it a lot more interesting.”
Goaltenders are neutral. But the Barons' Richard Bachman, who has played in 35 NHL games the past four seasons, confessed it's common to ratchet it up for the top forwards.
“You probably bear down a little more,” Bachman said. “Everyone wants to see those guys serve the juice.”
There are benefits. For a goalie, it's an extended version of a shootout.
“It's like facing 50 breakaways,” Bachman said. “You might try something you'd never try in a game.”
The competition rewards players for putting the puck in the net.
“These days, 90 percent of the goals scored are within 10 feet,” Nelson said. “It forces players to find ways to score in close.”
Pitlick also lost a juice boy competition in Chicago during a December road trip. The interesting variable that day was Colton Nelson, Todd Nelson's 17-year-old son, participated.
It appeared Colton Nelson, who plays junior hockey in the area, would be juice boy when Pitlick scored. The competition didn't end, however. That frigid day in Chicago, there was another wrinkle.
“We had the no-celies rule that day,” said assistant coach Rocky Thompson. “Pitter scored, but he celebrated. Because he celebrated he had to rejoin the competition. They ended up shooting around 40 times each. It ended with Pitter being juice boy. The guys loved it.”
Pitlick, who was Edmonton's second-round pick in 2010, made his NHL debut earlier this season. He played three games with the Oilers but has spent the bulk of the past two seasons with Oklahoma City.
“With you guys (the media) watching, I think a couple of guys cheated today,” Pitlick said. “They missed but skated to the other end. Some of them make up rules as they go along. But it's all good. Like I said, juice boy often has a good next game. Besides, it's all in fun.”