It is one of the time-honored traditions in team sports, one that is so unique, so noble that it stands above the rest, some say.
Well, Sluggo, don’t kid yourself. While the post-season handshake ceremony has the appearance of a feel-good moment most times, I’m here to tell you that it’s the most hypocritical, two-faced tradition in professional sports history.
For as many as seven games in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the combatants bite, gouge, scratch, elbow, knee, shoulder, push, punch and slash each other, pretty much do whatever the referees will allow in the post-season. Which is to say, just about anything short of manslaughter. Then after the final siren, at a time when emotions barely have had time to cool, they’re expected to forget that any of that happened, line up at center ice and pretend they’re Lady Byng Trophy winners all of a sudden.
Handshakes have a place in the Winter Olympics, where the emphasis is on skill and country and the game is played the right way. I can’t say the same for the Neanderthal Hockey League, where commissioner Gary Bettman and his enforcers promote organized violence to sell the product and too many concussed athletes are willing to do it. That was never more apparent than in Boston this week, when the Montreal Canadiens sent the Bruins packing in the kind of ugly series that we’ve come to expect from them for decades.
Rather than exchange sweet nothings after the seventh and final game, Bruins brute Milan Lucic grabbed the hand of Canadiens counterpart Dale Weise, yanked him closer then yelled some pointed words in his ears. He did the same to Alexei Emelin a few seconds later. That’s Boston Weak.
“They had a couple of guys — or sorry, just one — that couldn’t put it behind them and be a good winner,” Weise broke the code of silence afterward. “Milan Lucic had a few things to say to a couple of guys.”
I’m not a lip reader, but I’ve been in and around enough hockey dressing rooms to know that Lucic didn’t say, “Hey, bud, how ’bout we shoot 18 this summer!” According to one report, he informed the Canadiens players that he would “f—ing kill you next year.”
(Cheer up, Aaron Hernandez, you may not be the only Boston athlete on your cell block before long.)
“It’s said on the ice, so it’ll stay on the ice,” Lucic shot back when asked about the exchange. “If he wants to be a baby about it, he can make it public.”
And we’re supposed to believe these people when they stick out their right hands and say, “Nice job” and “Good luck”?
As Bruins general manager Cam Neely told The Sports Hub one day later, “Emotions are raw, you get in the line, you shake hands, and if there’s a particular battle you may have had with a player for seven straight games, maybe (about) some of the things that you didn’t like that happened, comments are made. And that is not new. That is not new. I think if you go back in the history of handshakes, there are comments that have been said, I’m sure.”
At least Lucic didn’t fake it. It’s not that the Bruins and the Canadiens don’t like each other. They positively hate one other. Have since the Bobby Orr days, in fact. The latest series was another episode of Hockey Players Behaving Badly — cheapshots, face washes, goalie sprays, trash talk . . . Lucic taunted the Canadiens on the bench, where he pointed to his biceps, not to be confused for his brains. Another Bruin player squirted water on a Canadien player, which is newest fade in the league these days. When the Frying Frenchmen didn’t complain that their opponents celebrated too hard after goals, they whined about a lack of respect, because the Montreal Canadiens are above it all, of course.
As the playoffs have confirmed once again, the league has too many bad actors to pretend that good sportsmanship is part of the game. They’re dim bulbs such as Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, who did his damnedest to send a St. Louis Blue into the next life with a sickening blow to the head, easily his biggest contribution in the postseason thus far.
Then there’s Minnesota Wild thug Matt Cooke, who has been allowed to ruin more than one career over the years. In real life, six suspensions would put your butt on the street. In the NHL, they not only get you a $2.5-million job. They also get you praise from NBC fogies Keith Jones, Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick, who obviously have taken too many hits to the head themselves.
I wonder, what would Matt Cooke have said in the handshake line? Hey, dude, sorry I blew out your knee, but I heard the rehab ain’t bad!
Enough of the phoniness already. It’s time for the NHL to put a stop to the tradition before it tarnishes it much longer. That much we can shake on.