Let's shake on it

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

It was supposed to be a mind game.

The Tampa Bay Lighting has a veteran checking winger named Tim Taylor. He scooped up the game puck from the Ottawa Senators' Game 1 win.

The puck had no meaning to him but plenty, it was believed, to rookie Senators goalie Ray Emery.

Reporters asked Taylor where he had put it.

In the trash, he said.

It was a gambit, and not a very good one, to throw the playoff rookie off his game.

Saturday, Ottawa finished off the Lightning four games to one. In the handshake, Taylor dropped the puck in Emery's hand.

"I said I hoped he understood that it was just part of playoff hockey," Taylor told the Ottawa Sun's Chris Stevenson.

A few seconds later, Emery handed it off to a kid.

So be it.

What mattered is that Taylor, a Stanley Cup winner with Detroit as well as Tampa, chose the handshake at centre ice as the setting for his act of reconciliation.

I love the handshake at centre. It is a pillar of the hockey culture. You compete like hell, the whistle blows and no matter what, you shake hands.

Jason Williams, whose errant stick took Canadiens captain Saku Koivu out of the series, will shake hands like everyone else should the Hurricanes eliminate Montreal tonight. It was the same when the Leafs shook hands with the New York Islanders in 1978 after Lorne Henning's high stick damaged Borje Salming eye.

"I don't remember too many guys who didn't do it," said Harry Neale, 20 years an analyst for the CBC and a former coach and general manager.

"It's a tradition and I think there's a whole lot of peer pressure involved."

Yes, peer pressure.

In hockey, you are expected to shake hands, to be big, to be a man.

Yes, football players on both sides of the border gather at centrefield at game's end for prayer.

It is, however, a faith-based demonstration. Praying is what people of faith do. Shaking hands after the final whistle isn't a demonstration of faith. It is more a demonstration of civics, of a common code, and oh, how rare are those today.

We are a country that fights a lot. We have two official languages and one original people.

We argue over everything, from ceremonial knives to racial profiling to native land claims made via public blockades.

The fact we have all made it this far means there has been reconciliation: From the conscription crisis, through the Richard Riots, through Oka and Free Trade to Afghanistan.

We get along because we move along, just like those players who will line up at centre ice when every series is decided.

That's why the handshake is the most Canadian part of the most Canadian game.

"It's not the easiest thing," said Mark Napier, a Stanley Cup winner with Montreal and Edmonton and an executive director of the NHL Alumni Association. "But it's a tradition that is understood. You shake hands and move on with your life."

The handshake is a hang-over from the day when the league was 100% Canadian.

In eight years, the ratio of Canadians in the NHL has fallen 8% to 53%, but the tradition still reigns.

Maybe the handshake still works because the winners have nothing to lose, and the winners have nothing left for which to fight.

Victor and vanquished meet one more time to say good luck.

"I know when I played, I wanted the team that beat us to go all the way," Napier said.

"That way you could feel that at least you were beaten by the best."


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