Milan Lucic's handshake line incident as stunning as it is regrettable
My youngest son popped his head into my office before he headed off to school this morning.
"Did you see what Milan Lucic did in the handshake line?" he asked.
"Sure did," I said.
"Man, you'd kill me if I did that," he said.
"Sure would," I replied.
Respect and good sportsmanship are non-negotiable qualities when it comes to my kids.
But I'll admit to a bit of moral flexibility when it comes to the pros.
In case you somehow missed the drama in the aftermath of Montreal's 3-1 win over the Bruins in Wednesday night's Game 7, it went down like this: Lucic, Boston's fearsome power forward, proceeded perfunctorily down the handshake line until he got to the Canadiens' Dale Weise. Lucic pulled back from the fourth liner, barked something more menacing than "good game, bud" and moved on. A few more players later down the line, he met up with Alexei Emelin, repeated his ill wishes, and finished his glum duty.
After the game, Weise shared what happened with reporters. "Even in the handshake they had a couple of guys -- or, sorry, just one -- that couldn’t put it behind them and be a good [loser]. Milan Lucic had a few things to say to a couple guys.
"You look at a guy like Shawn Thornton who has been around the league and he plays hard and he plays that role and he had good things to say to everybody," Weise continued. "He won with class and Milan Lucic just couldn’t do that. Well, I won't get into what he said, it's just a poor way to lose."
What Weise forgets is that there's also a poor way to win.
Not that he deserves a lot of scorn for tattling. This was only the second time that Weise has been on the winning side of the line since his junior days in Swift Current, so it's all a little new to him.
But losing isn't. And he should remember how that feels. We all should.
We like to think that we'd acquit ourselves honorably in that situation. That we could put seven games worth of pain and animosity and crushing disappointment behind us in an instant, acknowledge our conquerors and retreat gracefully into summer.
But the heat of battle doesn't drop to room temperature the moment the final horn sounds for everyone. And that's why we shouldn't take the handshake line for granted.
What's stunning isn't that this happened, but that it doesn't happen more often. We talk about the level of sportsmanship displayed in one of hockey's greatest traditions, but we don't appreciate how much it takes for a fierce competitor to tamp down his emotions moments after watching his Stanley Cup dreams die. Feisty goalie Battlin' Billy Smith of the dynastic Islanders famously refused to participate in the ritual at all, calling it hypocritical. In 2008, Martin Brodeur snubbed his chippy nemesis, Sean Avery, after being vanquished by the Rangers. Sidney Crosby took heat for being late to the line after the 2009 Cup final, and he was on the winning side.
Look, if a guy like Thornton could turn off his frustration immediately after being eliminated by his team's most hated rival, good for him. It probably helped that he was planted on the bench for all but 3:28 of Game 7 and saw just two shifts after the first period. It's easier to keep an even keel when you're uninvolved in the fray.
Or maybe he's just a better person.
But that doesn't make Lucic a complete villain, even if he did threaten to "effing kill" Weise (for the record, a schoolyard-level threat that every player from pee wee on up has heard and far more than a few have uttered). But given the often brutal, bloody context of the Boston-Montreal rivalry, Lucic's utterance foreshadows more ugliness the next time the two teams meet.
An unflattering display during an ideally civilized moment that is celebrated by the sport and its fans? Certainly. But Lucic wasn't out there to make friends. He's a heart-and-soul guy who plays to win. He'd battled ferociously with Weise and Emelin during the past two weeks and it wasn't enough. He felt the weight of that lost opportunity and it got the better of him. Anguish and frustration still had him on edge 15 minutes after the game during a locker room media scrum in which he called Weise a baby (a public comment that is probably more regrettable than his on-ice trash talk) and struggled to explain where it all went wrong.
Given some time to reflect, Lucic may even regret what he said in both instances. If he does and decides to come clean about it, we all should accept his contrition and move on.
And if he doesn't, his dad might have something to say about it.
UPDATE: Lucic not sorry about remarks