You never really know what to expect when the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll around thanks to the inherent nature of a historically unpredictable NHL postseason where plenty of teams have staged some incredibly unlikely runs.
However, one thing is for certain: the fact that players on every squad competing for the Cup will line up to greet each other at center ice while making their way through the handshake line that forms after every single series comes to an end.
There’s nothing necessarily revolutionary about players and coaches going out of their way to congratulate each other after a game.
Football coaches have a dedicated police escort for the handshake that’s traditionally exchanged following the conclusion of a contest, and while plenty of NBA players have been accused of being a bad sport for leaving the court in the immediate wake of a tough loss in a big game, those supposed snubs tend to be the exception instead of the norm.
With that said, there’s something about the handshake lines in the NHL postseason that just hit different, as there’s something special about seeing players on the winning and losing team channel their inner Little Leaguer after managing to immediately put any bad blood and differences aside to come together and give each other props for a hard-fought battle.
I consider myself a fairly dedicated hockey fan, but I recently realized I didn’t actually know why handshake lines are A Thing in the first place.
I doubt I’m the only person who’s been in the dark on that particular front, so I figured I’d look into the matter and help other people get familiar with the origins.
How did handshake lines become an NHL tradition in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
The origins of the handshake long were surprisingly shrouded in a fair amount of mystery for close to a century.
However, hockey historian Liam Maguire shined a light on the potential ground zero in a LinkedIn post (of all places) where he recalled the time he came across a newspaper clipping from 1908 concerning an All-Star game the ECAHA (an amateur league in Canada) organized after a player died in an accident at the age of 28.
That clipping (which was in a scrapbook belonging to a resident in the retirement home where McGuire was working at the time) included a photo of players shaking hands after the game, which the man claimed was the first time two teams had come together to exchange various pleasantries following a tilt.
That apparently became a tradition ensuing at ECAHA exhibition games, and it appears the players who participated in the early iterations brought the custom to the other leagues they played in.
Maguire said he eventually spoke to a member of the Canadiens who said the handshake line had found its way to the NHL by the early 1920s, which means it’s been a staple of the league for around 100 years—and will remain one for decades to come.