March 4th, 2024

World junior players, coaches on post-game handshakes after NL ban: ‘Tough to hear’

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on December 26, 2023.

Canada's Oliver Bonk (5) shakes hands with Finland's Kasper Halttunen (22) following their game at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

GOTHENBURG, Sweden – Alan Letang was taken aback when told of the move.

Solely focused on preparing Canada for the world junior hockey championship an ocean away, the country’s head coach hadn’t heard one of its provinces had banned post-game handshakes in minor hockey due to a string of altercations.

“Disappointing,” said Letang, who played 19 professional seasons in both Europe and North America. “There’s a respect and camaraderie in sports. You can go out and compete hard against someone, but at the end of the game it’s, ‘Great game, great job.’ Respect goes both ways.

“If I was coaching a team and stuff like that happened, you wouldn’t put up with it.”

Hockey NL, the sport’s amateur governing body in Newfoundland and Labrador, announced last week it is ending the post-game handshake tradition.

Gonzo Bennett, chair of Hockey NL’s minor council executive committee, wrote in the memo the organization has had “issues” following games that led to suspensions of both players and coaches.

Instead of handshakes, officials will now direct teams off the ice at the final buzzer. The visiting squad will instead skate by the home team’s bench and offer a glove tap or handshake before games.

“It’s a level of respect,” Canada forward Matthew Poitras, who’s played 27 times with the NHL’s Boston Bruins this season, said of post-game handshakes. “You don’t cause any shenanigans. You take your glove off, you shake hands.

“People get riled up. There’s a lot of emotion on the ice, but you should be able to contain yourself in a handshake line.”

Sweden head coach Magnus Havelid was also surprised by the move in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Tough to hear … it’s sad,” he said. “It’s important for coaches of young players to say, ‘What happens when you play those 60 minutes, that’s one thing. But after, it’s finished.'”

Teams at the world juniors, which features players 19 years of age and younger, shake hands after every game.

Canada got into a handshake argument at the 2020 tournament when captain Barrett Hayton failed to remove his helmet during Russia’s national anthem following a disastrous 6-0 loss.

Hayton later apologized, adding he was “lost in the moment” and meant no disrespect.

NHL teams shake hands at the conclusion of playoff series – even after the most bitter encounters between heated rivals.

Canada captain Fraser Minten called post-game handshakes a “cool, classy” part of hockey.

“At a younger age, it’s good to promote sportsmanship,” said the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect.

The move by Hockey NL came as coach, parent and player conduct in amateur hockey is under increasing scrutiny. RCMP in Nova Scotia last month charged a coach for allegedly assaulting a referee during a game involving players as young as nine years old.

Amateur hockey associations across Canada, meanwhile, have elected to put green armbands on teenage referees in hopes parents and coaches think twice before hurling verbal abuse.

Canada forward Owen Allard said he remembers seeing disagreements in minor hockey handshake lines.

“Especially tournaments – finals – the losing team, they’re kind of moping and some guys don’t take off their gloves,” he said. “It’s kind of sad. Once the whistle blows, you’ve got to show that respect to the opposition.”

Tobias Abstreiter, head coach of Germany’s world juniors, said he wishes hockey followed rugby’s lead when it comes to post-match respect.

“During the game, it’s a big battle,” he said. “And this is a hard battle, if you watch rugby games. It should be in hockey like this, too. A hard-fought battle in those 60 minutes.

“Afterwards there should be respect.”

Sweden defenceman Tom Willander called the Hockey NL move “a bit crazy.”

“I haven’t had too many handshake fights in my day,” he said. “Players should be able to put aside what happened on the ice and shake hands after. We’re all playing the same game.”

Canada blueliner Oliver Bonk, whose father Radek played 14 NHL seasons with the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators, said the message to him growing when it came to the opposition was always clear.

“You battle all game,” he said. “And you respect them afterwards.”

Letang said it’s “100 per cent” on adults to set the tone.

“As coaches we want to be intense, and as coaches it’s about winning,” he said. “But it’s also about developing kids and teaching them those little life lessons. You can compete hard, but at the end of the day, respect your opponent and be humble.”

Letang lamented the fact Hockey NL felt the need to take such a drastic step.

“Something’s changed or something’s turned,” he added. “We’ve got to find a way to get it back.”

-With files from Sarah Smellie in St. John’s, N.L.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 26, 2023.

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