Avalanche Fan Perspective: Hockey Handshake Line


Come the NHL Playoffs every year, paid writers who clearly have no love of hockey write articles about the hypocrisy of the hockey handshake line. While such writers bring up some valid points, they typically miss the spirit of the handshake line and the symbolism associated with shaking hands in general.

Hockey is a physical sport, and playoff hockey ramps up the intensity. Shaking hands at the conclusion of a contested playoff series simply shows the high level of sportsmanship that characterizes NHL hockey.

History of Handshaking and the Handshake Line

First of all, handshaking in general in an antiquated custom. It dates back to the time of wars — ok, that’s not the antiquated part — and hand-to-hand combat. Warriors would extend their hands to show they weren’t holding a weapon. They shook to further show there was no weapon concealed and ready for immediate use. Thus, the handshake was a sign of peaceful intentions.

The post-game handshake is actually not exclusive to hockey. Almost all sports carry a tradition of shaking hands after a match. However, according to hockey historian Liam Maguire, the hockey handshake line dates back 100 years.

It all started in 1908 with Art Ross — he of the points scoring trophy. Ross did something that probably came naturally to him at the conclusion of a hockey game — extended his hand for the shake — and the hockey handshake line was born. By the 1920s, it had become a custom.

Thoughts Against the Handshake Line

All hockey fans know playoff hockey is contentious. It is the most physical and intense form of a sport that is already physical and intense. Non-hockey fans such as USA Today writer Chris Chase even call it “brutality on ice.” I infer Mr. Chase has never watched an actual hockey game with dekes, dangles and breakaways and has only watched some hockey hits and fights videos.

However, I digress. Chase makes some valid points in that playoff hockey is a mentally demanding endeavor not unlike war. (Up to a point — yes, preparing to actually kill someone is far more demanding.) As an Avalanche fan who has felt hate in her heart for a team that eliminated mine from the playoffs, I can only imagine the players themselves feel that rage a thousandfold.

Indeed, NHL players have remarked that it’s almost impossible to shake hands with a group of men who have just eliminated you from achieving your dream, winning the Stanley cup. Likewise, some players have refused to shake hands with their opponents, or at least specific ones. For instance, New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeaur and New York Rangers forward Sean Avery refused to shake hands. Awhile back, Chris Chelios refused to shake anyone’s hand.

Anecdotes like that do lend some credence to the idea that the handshake line is hypocritical — perhaps even overrated.

Thoughts for the Handshake Line

Apr 30, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) and Minnesota Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30) great each other following the overtime period in game seven of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Most men have a story of getting into a fist fight with someone who went on to become their best buddy. Hells, hockey players fight for any number of reasons — and red hot rage or hate is rarely amongst them. (Witness Nate Guenin’s reaction to his first NHL fight, “Really? It’s the end of my shift. Oh, ok.” Not exactly the hot rage of 1,000 suns. Or even anger at all.)

The point is, battling it out during a physical, intense series does not mean the players hate each other. Some may, but most don’t. Most will be playing golf with their arch nemeses over the summer. NHLers are a community — no one understands them better than a fellow NHLer.

Case in point, last playoffs the Montreal Canadiens’ Brandon Prust labeled New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan with a late hit that broke his jaw. Yet during the handshake line, Prust gently laid his hand along Stepan’s head and smiled even though the Rangers had just eliminated the Canadiens from the playoffs. That’s genuine.

Goalies almost always afford each other that respect when meeting each other in the handshake line. Indeed, the opponent goalie probably understands the impossibility of your job better than your teammates.

Even when it’s not so touching, the handshake line is not necessarily hypocritical. After all, the origin of the handshake itself is to ensure the man across from you isn’t concealing a weapon he intends to use on you. In modern society, is there a time when such a symbolic gesture is more apropos than at the conclusion of a physical and intense playoff series?

In the end, the hockey handshake line is a tradition that players and fans cherish.

Turn back the clock to that agonizing 2014 Game 7 overtime elimination of my Colorado Avalanche by the hated Minnesota Wild. Would it have made me feel good in that hot instant to see Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog punch Wild captain Mikko Koivu in the face? Only in that hot instant. Such an act would have belittled the talent and skill that go into the physical sport of hockey.

It’s better to preserve the sportsmanlike tradition that allows players to dial back the intensity and return to their normal selves than to debunk it as “hypocritical and overrated.” The handshake line also allows the fans a chance to dial back the intensity and hate.

Besides, in hockey as in business, it’s not official until you shake on it.

Next: Avs Fan: When Your Team is Eliminated

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