The history of the NHL Playoff handshake

One of the most honorable traditions in sports is the playoff handshake that happens at the end of every NHL Playoff series. How did this all start?

2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The NHL Playoffs provide some of the most intense moments on the NHL calendar. That intensity leads to a lot of hurt bodies and hurt feelings. There are always gigantic hits that lead to brawls and cooler heads don't always prevail. Yet, at the end of every single series, the same thing happens. Each and every player and coach line up on the ice and shake each other's hands.

It doesn't matter if it was a first-round sweep or an overtime victory in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the ending doesn't change. Players are devastated after making it all the way to the Final, only to lose. Still, line up, swallow your pride, and shake your opponent's hand. There are often storylines that come from the handshake line, whether it's two great goalies spending a moment and sometimes a hug together. Other times, two players who had beef during the series can squash it immediately in the line.

So, how did this gentlemanly tradition begin in the most beautiful game on ice? Its origins aren't extremely clear, but they are extremely old. This has been going on for more than 100 years.

Some say an exhibition game to honor the late Hod Stuart, who died in a tragic diving accident in 1907, was the first recorded moment of a postgame handshake. It's famously posted as such in this memoir on LinkedIn. That pitted the champion Montreal Wanderers against a team of All-Stars from other teams. Most of the game's stars played in the game, including a young Art Ross. It was considered the first-ever All-Star game in any sport, but there are some older instances of playoff handshakes.

There was one a year earlier, where those same Wanderers shook hands with the Ottawa HC at the end of the season when Montreal clinched the ECAHA championship in March 1907. Of course, this might still not be the first instance of the hockey handshake, but it is similar to what we see today, and it's over 100 years ago.

So, when did the hockey handshake take shape in the NHL?

Not long after the Stuart Memorial game, hockey handshakes started to catch on. It became a regular part of the game, and it was considered a formality as early as the 1920s. The NHL seemed to have adopted the handshake by then, and it never let go of that tradition.

We're now a full century later, and the playoff handshake never gets old. We appreciate bringing these great athletes together for a moment of clarity after a hard series. Playoff hockey is considered the most intense in all of sports. With everything that comes with it, it's nice that the players can come together in the name of tradition to put their differences aside and honor the great game of hockey.

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