Hockey fans spend countless hours extolling the virtues we love about our game, be it fortitude or resilience or teamwork. Often times, we include “class” in that mix, and there are always examples of its merit. But it’s also a concept that's easily weaponized, as having a "lack of class" is a handy flame with which to light the fuse of faux outrage.
Milan Lucic of the Boson Bruins, for example, was accused of having a lack of “class” by Dale Weise of the Montreal Canadiens after Game 7, after Lucic went through the post-series handshake line and greeted several opponents with violent threats for next season. This may have occurred after Andrei Markov of the Canadiens told Lucic to “look the Habs players in the eye when shaking hands,” according to Andy Strickland.
“[One guy] couldn’t put it behind them and be a good [loser]. Milan Lucic had a few things to say to a couple guys,” said Weise. “You look at a guy like Shawn Thornton who has been around the league and he plays hard and he plays that role and he had good things to say to everybody. He [lost] with class and Milan Lucic just couldn’t do that.”
Of course, Lucic then scored a reversal by accusing WEISE of a lack of class by speaking out of turn about what’s said on the ice. “It’s said on the ice so it’ll stay on the ice,” Lucic said. “So if he wants to be a baby about, he can make it public.”
All of this is true: Weise is a baby for being a snitch – witness how P.K. Subban, once again, refused to play the media’s reindeer games and didn’t talk about what Lucic said – and Lucic is one of hockey’s most talented borderline sociopaths.
Here’s another thing that’s true: None of this overshadows the Montreal Canadiens’ incredible seven-game series win if the Habs and the Bruins weren’t forced into the worst tradition in hockey.
The postgame handshake line.
I know, I know: It’s a symbol of sportsmanship. A paragon of virtue. A moment for everyone to lay down their arms and hug it out. Justin Bourne of the late, great Backhand Shelf once wrote: “It demonstrates that while emotions run hot and viciousness occasionally occurs, you respect that your opponent went through the same struggles that you did, and survived to talk about it. … you’re supposed to bite your tongue, buck up, and say ‘good series.’ It’s not that hard.”
Well, unless you’re Milan Lucic.
Here’s how these things usually go, as Patrick Kane paid compliment to the Minnesota Wild after Game 6:
All well and good, and nothing that couldn't have been said in a text message.
Here’s how they’re not supposed to go: From 2012, after the Los Angeles Kings eliminated the Phoenix Coyotes in overtime. Witness the contentious, bile-filled handshake.
As the announcer said, the Coyotes had to shake the hand of Dustin Brown, who injured one of their guys. The Red Wings, back in the day, had to shake the hand of Claude Lemieux after the Kris Draper incident. And the Canadiens had to shake the hand of Milan Lucic, the flexing meathead that tried to steamroll them for seven games.
I get the yearning for “it’s just a game” moments, because it lends a cover of civility to a game that requires none of it for 60 minutes a night. It lends a touch of humanity to a sport that demands its combatants disregard it to succeed.
But it's forced sincerity. It’s artifice for the sake of tradition. It's visiting a relative you hate or attending the wedding of a former flame, years after they split up with you. It’s a phony, perfunctory end to the most authentic portion of the season.
Worse yet, it’s abject trolling.
Is there anything more humiliating than having to shake the hand of the man who just ended your dream and literally took money out of your pocket? Than accepting some platitude from a guy you know doesn’t mean it, and who knows you don’t mean it?
It’s like taking a punch to the nuts and then having to thank someone for it.
(Sorry, Milan: a stick to the nuts. Better?)
The worst part about the worst tradition in hockey is that there’s no getting out of it. Mike Milbury suggested that in lieu of threatening everyone in a Montreal sweater last night, Lucic simply skip the handshake line. And while this might have been OK for Billy Smith 25 years ago, you’ll catch hell for it today. Lest we forget The Great Sidney Crosby Handshake Snub controversy of 2009?
No, the only solution for Lucic and the Bruins was to shake the hands of the team they’re paid to hate, congratulating them for being better than they are and participating in hockey’s grandest tradition of humiliation, shame and artificiality, dressed up as sportsmanship.