BUFFALO – Hockey is a game about change and evolution. Yes, there are traditions that are as old as the game, and players are as superstitious today as they were 50 years ago, but some things change over time quite naturally.
One such example is the goal celebration. Canada’s junior players often eschew the high fives at the bench in favour of elbow hugs, knocking elbows together instead of gloves after a goal. They are the only team at any level to do this.
“It started last year,” said captain Ryan Ellis, a member of the team in 2010. “Some of the western boys started doing it, and we’ve been doing it this year as well.”
Brayden Schenn, a Saskatoon native and the scoring star for Canada the last two games, shed further light on the ritual. “It started with a group of Brandon boys called The Wagons, a group that played in the summer. We just adopted it last year and kept it going this year.”
Young fans of the game can’t possibly fathom an earlier generation when the entire players’ bench would empty after most goals. This was the 1970s. The NHL brought an end to this practice, though, because it often led to bench-clearing brawls, the scored-upon team none too happy, and the scoring team delighted.
It was in Canadian junior hockey that players came up with a solution to the problem. They wanted to celebrate a goal as a team, but weren’t allowed to leave the bench, so the five skaters on ice would skate by their players’ bench and high-five their teammates on the bench.
Even this has not been a foolproof method of avoiding a confrontation. Recall the classic Canada-United States game of December 31, 2008 during the 2009 U20 tournament in Ottawa. The Americans jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, and with each goal they celebrated closer and closer to the Canadian bench with greater and greater zeal as they skated to their own bench.
As Canada made an equally incredible rally later in the period, tying the game before the end of the first 20 minutes, its players did the same. This led to at least two scuffles involving players on the bench of one team and players on the ice of the other. Linesmen were quickly advised to ensure players skated around the enemy bench before high-fiving teammates on their own bench.
And now, via The Wagons of summery Manitoba, Canada’s players have made the elbows, not gloves, the point of celebratory contact after goals.