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? NHLers certainly do, which is why this feature was never at a shortage for material.
Every game produced at least one quality photo, which meant that, every two weeks, there were dozens of top-notch hugs to choose from.
But some hugs were at the toppest of notches, and they deserve a second go-round. With the offseason in full swing, and looking like it might just swing its way into next fall, now seems as good a time as any to look back on our favourite hockey hugs of the 2011-12 season.
10. Chris Higgins and Cody Hodgson, Vancouver Canucks
There's a reason we call him "Kiss Huggins". (Admittedly, that reason is because his real name rhymes with the moniker, but you know, also he occasionally stars in photos like this one.)
Here, Hodgson and Higgins laugh warmly about a special joke only they share. "Hey bud, remember that thing we did that time in that city?" Higgins says. "Yeah," Hodgson replies, "I'll never forget that thing. It's our special thing." And then they fist bump.
9. Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins
Malkin and Kunitz star in what appears to be a homage to classic Harvey Comics character, Baby Huey. Malkin plays the comically oversized baby, of course, while Kunitz plays his doting, albeit clearly outsized, parental figure, Papa Duck. Either that, or Malkin actually has split personality and occasion takes on the persona of a giant infant, screaming BABY MALKY WANT MILKY.
8. Tyler Myers and Derek Roy, Buffalo Sabres
Few hugs could top the excellence of a big guy-little guy contrast, as Roy and Myers ably demonstrate here. Roy looks asleep, like a toddler that's pooped after a long day at the air show. This photo looks like it would come at the end of a slideshow and an aunt would say, "Aw. The little guy tuckered himself right out."
7. Steven Stamkos and Matt Gilroy, Tampa Bay Lightning
There were a lot of photos depicting two dudes in a full-blown snuggle, but none had the tenderness of this bromance between Gilroy and Stamkos. It's the face Stamkos is making, with his cheeks flush, his eyes closed, and an open-mouthed smile that says, "This moment -- this hug right here -- is like scoring 60 goals."
6. R.J. Umberger and teammates, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets may have upset fans by being terrible, but it's hard to dislike this photo of R.J. Umberger getting loved on by his teammates like they just surprised him with breakfast in bed on Father's Day. He didn't even have time to take out his Sleepguard. He's like, "How thweet, you guyth."
5. Ed Jovanovski and teammates, Florida Panthers
Because most hug photos come at the end of a shift, you get a lot of red-faced guys gasping for air while they celebrate, and sometimes that makes it looks like they've been crying for days. Case in point, Jovocop, who has the look of a man weeping happily because he just discovered he's going to be a grandpa. The fact that Stephen Weiss and Dmitri Kulikov are nestling into him like family only makes the photo look more intense.
4. Anthony Stewart and Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes
I didn't give this one nearly enough love when I saw it the first time, which is ironic because Stewart is giving me -- and you, and anyone else who looks at this photo -- all the love's he's damn well got. The look on his face is classic. It's that sleepy face that cats have when they wake up and they're totally into you.
3. Joel Ward and teammates, Washington Capitals
The best hug of the 2012 playoffs goes to Joel Ward, who doesn't just look near tears -- he looks like he's in the midst of the sort of gasping, hyperventilating sobfest only a Toy Story movie can elicit. (No? That's just me? I've said too much.) I'm also partial to Brooks Laich's expressive brow, which is furrowed as thought the sort of raw emotion going on here gives him the willies.
2. Steven Stamkos and Marty. St Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning
Between his precious, smiling face and the fact that his skates are a good foot off the ground, you'd be forgiven for wondering if this game is taking place past Marty St. Louis' bedtime. We had a lot of big guy-little guy hugs this year, and they were all great, but nothing tops this remarkable squeeze between Stamkos and St. Louis, who looks like a stuffed doll Stamkos wished to life one night.
1. Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
In the end, nothing could top this joyous collision from the glory days of the Maple Leafs' 2011-12 season, as Kessel and Phaneuf are captured mid-leap like they're in the final frame of a made-for-TV action show from the 1990s. You half expect a sax riff and executive producer credits to appear before a commercial for Mentos.
Photos like this are the reason this feature is so damn fun to curate.
Follow Harrison Mooney on Twitter at @HarrisonMooney