It’s a drill that women’s hockey fans have seen countless times. After a playoff series or in the Olympics, both teams queue up at center ice. Then the athletes and coaches shake hands with each of their adversaries. Of course, male hockey players do the same.

These handshakes are enduring symbols of respect. They typify grace in defeat and magnanimity in victory. And they surely make positive impressions on young spectators all over the world.

A Custom Shrouded in Mystery

There’s no regulation stating that hockey teams must shake hands. But this practice is so deep-rooted that it might as well be a rule.

According to the experts at the Society of International Hockey Researchers, it’s not known when the first hockey handshake line took place.

A Canadian historian named Liam Maguire has reported that, during the 1980s, he saw newspaper photographs of a 1908 game. It was perhaps the first professional hockey All-Star Game. In one of those photos, two opposing players were shaking hands. Thus, the custom may have started before 1910.

Great Handshakes in History

The handshake line can be emotional, and sometimes it requires courage. Take, for example, the 2018 Olympics. During those games, Pyeongchang, the host city, experienced an outbreak of norovirus infection. As a result, Olympic officials advised hockey players to fist bump each other rather than shake hands. Most female players, however, decided they weren’t going to let a microscopic threat interfere with tradition. They opted for the good old handshake after all.

In Salt Lake City in 2002, the Canadian women’s team won the Olympic gold medal for the first time. (Women’s hockey has been an Olympic sport since 1998.) Understandably, the team members spent a long timecheering and celebrating with each other on the ice. Meanwhile, their opponents from the United States waited to shake hands. In their patience, the American team demonstrated true class and dignity.

One handshake line offered the opportunity for some laughs. In 2014, at the Olympics in Sochi, Marie-Philip Poulin scored the dramatic overtime goal that let the Canadians prevail over the U.S. team and capture the gold. As she shook the Americans’ hands, Marie-Philip spoke to each of those players. Her unknown words became something of a meme. At least one internet user imagined her saying things like “sorry for winning” and “sorry for scoring that goal.”

Will the Handshake Line Continue?

Not everyone appreciates the handshake line. Some people, such as former USA Today columnist Chris Chase, argue that hockey handshake lines are meaningless because players feel obligated to take part in them. On top of that, there are high school coaches in various sports who want to ban such handshakes for good. One former baseball coach told a Massachusetts newspaper in 2017 that the handshake line is usually just a “slap line,”one that’s full of “phony congratulations.”

Although some may criticize or spoof the handshake line, this ritual likely has too many admirers for it to go away anytime soon. It’s become a part of hockey’s culture. It represents not just good sportsmanship but also the players’ and coaches’ love for the sport, a passion that endures no matter the outcome of a given game or playoff series. The shakes are probably unshakable.

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