Some of the best minor hockey teams in North America have gathered in Calgary for the annual holiday showcase of top talent, but a decision made in Newfoundland has some questioning the future of a post-game tradition.
Hockey Newfoundland recently announced the elimination of end-of-game handshakes at centre ice on a trial basis citing “issues with handshakes following games that have led to suspensions for players and coaches.”
“This change in player handshake protocol was proposed by a Hockey NL official during a discipline hearing related to a post-game altercation that occurred this past fall,” said Hockey Newfoundland in a statement posted online. “Their rationale was that eliminating the opportunity for an altercation at the end of game was better than penalizing after an altercation takes place. They pointed to the example of soccer conducting their handshake protocol and sportsmanship gesture prior to the game as a point of reference.
When the topic was discussed by Minor Council, all members viewed a trial of a pre-game handshake protocol as an opportunity to enhance sportsmanship.”
Under the new Hockey Newfoundland rules, which go into effect following the holiday break, the home team will take to their bench prior to the start of the game and the visiting team will then skate by and exchange glove taps or handshakes.
There will be no interactions between opposing players at the end of the game as both teams will be escorted separately to their dressing rooms by officials.
Some players, parents and spectators at the Circle K Classic, formerly known as the Mac’s Midget Tournament, question Hockey Newfoundland’s decision and view it as the elimination of an act of sportsmanship.
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“I think it’s really important,” said Annette Jensen, coach of the U18 female prep team at Edge School, who was cheering on Edge School’s male team during their 5-3 win over the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds Wednesday morning. “I think it’s an element where, as coaches, it’s a big piece for us to be able to show the players what sportsmanship truly looks like.
“At the end of the game you want to be able to honour the other team and the effort they put out.”
Jensen added that a pre-game handshake wouldn’t allow players to look an opponent in the eye, acknowledge a hard-fought battle on the ice and thank them for the game.
“Everything’s going to be emotional. You’re out there, you’re fighting for everything you have and you want to win the game. But at the end of the day, what are we trying to teach these athletes? I truly believe we’re out there to help them become better citizens.”
Despite her opposition to the idea, Jensen commends Hockey Newfoundland for attempting to improve the game.
Hockey parent Ian Auld sees the value in post-game handshakes as a moment where players “let it go” after battling hard.
“I think the timing of (the handshake) after the game helps the players to show that sportsmanship, calm themselves down and respect the team that they were playing,” said Auld. “It needs to come down to education of coaches, parents, and players, and not react to one event but to start educating these kids on respecting their teammates and what sportsmanship is all about.”
Ahmed Assaf, a 17-year-old forward with the Edmonton Junior Oilers Orange, says he embraces the chance to thank his opponents.
“You leave it all on the ice,” explained Assaf. “You finish a hard-fought battle. Handshake with the other team. You’re all brothers at the end of the day. It cuts that line from on the ice to off the ice.”
Edmonton Junior Oilers Orange forward Brec Christenson says post-game handshakes serve a purpose.
“It shows the other team you have class,” said Christenson. “It’s kinda like you’re making a peace deal.”
Jackson Maloney played in the tournament with the Calgary Northstars AAA the last two seasons, but at age 18, he plays in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League with the OCN Blizzard. He says lining up at centre ice to greet an opponent is a symbolic gesture of good will.
“A handshake after the game shows respect for your opponent (whether) you beat them or lost to them. It shows that you stand on even ground at the end of the game no matter who won and who lost.”
This year’s Circle K Classic is underway with 32 teams competing for a berth in the championship game on New Year’s Day. Games are taking place at the Max Bell Centre in southeast Calgary and at the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex & Chief Jim Starlight Centre on the Tsuut’ina Nation.