BY ZACHARY CORMIER
Is this really how bad the sportsmanship in hockey has become?
That was the first thought that popped into my head when I read about Hockey Calgary’s decision to ban the traditional post-game handshake between players, refs and coaches.
According to the official memo released by Hockey Calgary, from now on, “The expectation is that the players and coaches will still line up and shake hands with the opposition, but that all contact and communication with Officials is to be avoided at this point, following the game when often emotions are running high.”
When I read that I felt that I had to provide my own perspective on this issue: that of one of the referees that a rule like the one made by Hockey Calgary would be meant to protect.
Just to be clear, I don’t presume to speak for anyone but myself. I don’t represent the North Central Zone Referees Committee or the Central Zone Referees Committee. These are just my personal thoughts as a ref and as a sports reporter.
This season will be my eighth skating hockey as a referee.
In that time, I have witnessed pretty much everything in those post game handshakes. I’ve had coaches argue with me about a call I made back in the second period, I’ve had players call me some pretty nasty names (some pretty creative ones too, I must admit) and I’ve even seen a player tape his ‘A’ to my partner’s chest.
And while that can be really intimidating, especially for a new referee, they pale in comparison to the times when someone actually commends you during the handshake. When I first started reffing at the age of 13, I had no idea what I was doing and I was constantly nervous about ticking someone off. So imagine how I felt the first time a coach made a point of coming up to me and telling me that I did a good job. It’s probably the best compliment that I could get and those affirmations are part of the reason that I stuck with it.
Even now, seven seasons later, that feeling never gets old and it has become something I strive for in every single game that I skate.
The post game handshake is important because it’s symbolic that we are all participating in something that is much bigger than that one game. We are all a part of the greatest sport on Earth and that sport is deserving of our respect at all times, regardless of whether someone took exception to my calls in an Atom game at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Lacombe.
It forces a coach or player who may have been extremely vocal throughout the game to put aside those emotions and come and shake my hand in a professional manner. It’s an acknowledgement that hockey is just a game and anything that happens on the ice needs to stay on the ice.
So I say leave the handshake in place and stiffen the penalty for those who disrespect our game by refusing to move on after the final whistle has sounded. Otherwise, you’re just erasing one of the most powerful symbols of sportsmanship in the game.
Don’t avoid the issue, confront it and maybe together we can bring sportsmanship back into the game.