Hockey Handshake Etiquette: Then and Now

When you really look at it, the NHL is its own little weird universe. The playoffs have enough customs and traditions to make up a whole new cultural experience in North America. In what other sport do you make a vow to discontinue grooming your facial hair in the name of the team? Then there’s the tradition of not touching the spooky Eastern/Western conference trophies because “it isn’t the trophy we came here for”. These are all the quirks of a humble game, but no playoff hockey tradition is more challenging than the post-series handshake.

The 1972 Rangers and Bruins shake hands

The handshake itself dates back to the 5th century BC and is believed to have been popularized as a gesture of peace, signifying that you had no weapons. It’s no wonder then that the handshake ritual is one that hockey came by naturally, not by any league-wide implementation.

The role the handshake plays today in hockey is probably much the same as when the tradition started, a gesture to reinforce the idea that “it’s just a game”. That’s something we need to constantly remind ourselves when yelling at TVs and crying into your team’s themed pillows. But try telling a guy who’s missing his front row of teeth after diving face first in front of a slapshot that it’s just a game. It won’t go well.

After learning to hate a team with such passion over a two-week battle, the last thing you want to do at the end of it all is shake hands and wish them well, but it’s part of the job. Somehow in all the years of this tradition there have only been a few infractions.

The Dishonor Roll

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  • These players are all under 10-years-old
  • Their actions are incited by massive applause from their parents
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  • It’s too bad Avery wasn’t there for the handshake between the Rangers and Devils this year
  • This snub was instigated
  • “Well, everyone talks about how classy or un-classy I am, and fatso (Brodeur) there just forgot to shake my hand I guess. . . We outplayed him. I outplayed him. We’re going to the second round.” -Sean Avery
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Dishonorable Mention

  • Chris Chelios famously skated right off the ice after losing the Western Conference final to Anaheim in 2007. “It’s all part of the game,” said Chelios. “I guess it shows good sportsmanship. As hard as you battle against your opponent and sometimes as tough as it is to shake some of their hands, at the end of the day the majority of guys in this league are really good guys.” Chelios cited his reason for the snub was that he needed privacy after being overcome with emotion. But even after denying the tradition Chelios honored the handshake, saying “it’s something that kids should learn, it’s a very good tradition. I don’t know when it started but I think it’s one of the greatest traditions in all sports.”
  • The handshake is not for everyone, including former Red Wings center Dino Ciccarelli. Ciccarelli said of Claude Lemieux after the traditional shaking of the hands, “I can’t believe I shook the guy’s freaking hand. That just pisses me right off.”
  • Goalies Billy Smith and Gerry Cheevers were also known for refusing to honor the handshake tradition. In fact, after Sidney Crosby snubbed the Red Wings’ handshake line after their Cup win in ’09, Cheevers came to the defense of Crosby.
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“What a crock. He was celebrating the Cup. Does Sidney Crosby look like someone who would be (disrespectful) of the game? There’s no rule that says you have to shake. I know it’s about sportsmanship, but not right after a tough series. I might buy the guy on the other team a beer a couple of days later.”

-Gerry Cheevers

The argument that’s often made is that today’s players dont have the class the players of yesteryear had. It’s a Don Cherry-esque argument that these multi-millionaires nowadays don’t have the noble purity that young men once had. The truth is these unsportsmanlike handshake fouls are as rife in the past as they are today. The 1954 Montreal Canadiens skipped the handshake all together.

How To Shake Hands

Use a firm grip. Don’t shake too much.

How to Shake Hands in the 2012 Playoffs

The Philadelphia Flyers/Pittsburgh Penguins series of the first round was a bloodbath and beyond. These guys hated each other. Just ask Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby, whose now famous quote “I don’t like them. I don’t like any guy on their team” will appear engraved below a statue of Crosby somewhere in Pittsburgh. Just to drive the point home that this was not a loving series, there were 168 penalty minutes in Game 3 alone and even the coaches almost threw down. Nonetheless, when the Flyers won it in Game 6 the formalities were cordial.

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How Not To Shake Hands in the 2012  Playoffs

The Phoenix Coyotes were eliminated at home in overtime. That’s rough. The goal was scored directly after a hit on Yotes defenseman Michal Roszival, a hit that could have put them on the powerplay to win the game, but wasn’t called. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but this is how they did it.

“If Raffi Torres gets 25 games for his hit during the play, this guy should be done forever. They called us for three offsides in the first period and none of them were offside. [A Kings player] flipped it over the glass — how do all four refs not see that? It’s not just this game, it’s all season long. They did everything they could not to let us get to this position.”

– Coyotes’ goaltender Mike Smith

“I don’t know how you miss it. I really don’t know. But I’m sure they’ll have a great explanation for it. I know they try to do their best, and they’re going to make mistakes. It’s just tough when you’re on the short end of it so many times. You watch the last three games, and you tell me where I got my penalties.”

-Coyotes’ captain Shane Doan


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The NHL is now leading an investigation into the Phoenix Coyotes’ post-game actions and comments that may call for fines and suspensions. The Coyotes aren’t the first and surely won’t be the last to take their sour grapes and gripes into the time-honored tradition of the handshake.