Hockey Hugs is a feature that celebrates the best in hugging from around the NHL, because who doesn't love a good hug now and then? Seen a particularly good hug photo lately? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite hockey's reputation as a tough, nasty, and overly physical sport, the game features more tender hugs per sixty minutes than any other sporting event I can think of (save perhaps competitive hugging, if there is such a thing). It's ironic.
Every sport with goals features goal celebrations, but hockey's focus on team play and humility tends to render those celebrations into private moments between linemates. Hockey's goal scorers aren't extroverts that crow for the crowd; they're introverts that retreat into the open arms of one another. It's adorable.
The above photo, for instance, features the New York Islanders in a touching five-man squeeze. The lighting and angle of the shot gives one the indication that there's nobody else in the building. It's a bizarrely sweet moment; it's like God himself snapped the pic while he was looking down in silent approval.
Meanwhile, to the right, we have one of hockey's greatest conventions: the flying superhug. Here's Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes putting the aggressive, mid-air squeeze on Joni Pitkanen. That's right, ladies: Hockey Bieber has no problem with showing affection.
But these two photos are only this week's honourable mentions. After the jump, we count down the three best hugs of the young NHL season.
No. 3: One of my favourite conventions of the hockey hug photo is the lone player from the opposing team, lingering just outside the hug, looking crushed by his exclusion. It really underscores the quality of the hug. For example, how good is this Ottawa Senators five-man snugglefest? So good that Shane O'Brien is hunched over in the corner, crying tears of rage at his exclusion. Why won't you let me in, bros? I hate you so much.
Meanwhile, I imagine Milan Michalek is actually looking at him with eyes that gloat. This is the best hug I've ever been in, Shane. Oh man, I'm so glad I play for Ottawa right now.
No. 2. My favourite part of this Anaheim Ducks hug is the strange maternal instinct that Bobby Ryan appears to be exuding. That's not celebratory; that's consolatory. Part of me suspects this hug actually comes after the Ducks surrendered a goal, not scored one. There there, Francois. Bobby's here. Let it out.
I'm not sure who the third guy in the photo is, but he looks like he's about to cry too. I'm sorry I lost my man, you guys. I hope I never lose you guys like that, you guys.
No. 1. There have been some touchingly huggy moments captured on camera this month, but nothing beats the sheer exuberance of this leaping, three-way bro-squeeze between Tyler Kennedy, Kris Letang, and James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins. That's just pure, unbridled joy right there. Look at Neal's face. That's a dude thoroughly enjoying a hug. I love this hug so much!
This shot gains extra credit, by the way, for the dude in the orange windbreaker that appears to be bombing the photo.