The Man Hug That Could Go Down in Hockey History

Boston goalies Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark just have to win the Stanley Cup

April 26, 2024 6:23 am
An illustration of Boston Bruins goalies Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark doing their trademark post-game hug
Goalies Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have made their post-game hug, and net-swapping, a tradition.
Danica Killelea

During the month of April, we’re publishing a series of interviews, essays, advice columns and reported features about the male friendship crisis in the U.S., a particularly troubling slice of the country’s larger loneliness epidemic. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so we’re breaking it down from all angles in The Male Friendship Equation.

At one point in time, former Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich may have been the tightest teammates in the history of professional sports. Both on the team before the 1970s began, Peterson and Kekich became close friends and spent enough time with one another and each other’s families that a situation arose that seems manufactured for The Jerry Springer Show.

In 1972, the pitchers jointly announced during spring training that Peterson, who passed away last week, had fallen in love with Kekich’s wife, Susanne, Kekich had fallen in love with Peterson’s wife, Marilyn, and that they’d be switching families, children included. “Unless people know the full details, it could turn out to be a nasty type thing. Don’t say this was wife-swapping, because it wasn’t,” Kekich told the New York Daily News at the time. “We didn’t swap wives, we swapped lives.”

In 2024, Boston Bruins goalies Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark aren’t swapping wives or lives, but they are trading starts in nets as they have for the entirety of this NHL season after doing the same thing for most of last year. An unconventional approach, the goalie-swapping paid dividends during the regular season last year as the Bruins finished with the most wins and points in league history before spectacularly flaming out during the first round of the playoffs.

Undeterred, Boston continued rolling out the Swayman-Ullmark combo platter this season and once again got good results, finishing the season at 47-20-15 in second place in the Atlantic Division. Now taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs, Swayman and Ullmark are still trading places in net. And they’re also continuing to do something else they’ve done since October 16 of 2021: hug it out.

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What began as a spontaneous end-of-game embrace between the two Bruins goalies at the beginning of the 2021-’22 season has become a standard scene for fans of the Black and Gold, whether they like it or not. Teammates but also competitors on the ice and in the salary department, Swayman and Ullmark push that all to the side and hug as if no one’s watching once the horn sounds, no matter which one of them just played three periods.

“Beyond serving simply as the night’s joyful farewell, Swayman and Ullmark say they believe it has grown into a broader message about good sportsmanship, friendship and genuine care and respect between two teammates who happen to be competing against one another for playing time,” The Boston Globe wrote in 2022.

Beloved by some who don’t work as trainers for the Bruins, the three-season tradition has been mocked by others, including a cadre of callers on Boston sports talk radio, many of whom also do not like swapping Swayman and Ullmark in net because, if for no other reason, it’s not what’s typically done in the NHL. In a league that insists upon the postseason-series handshake line almost to the point of it losing all meaning, some view Swayman and Ullmark’s post-game hug as a penalty.

Changing that view, as is usually the case in sports (for better or worse), will be relatively easy, as capturing a championship has the power to make nearly any uncool behavior acceptable, if not downright Fonz-like. Just win, baby.

To open the postseason, the Bruins did just that as Swayman nearly had a clean sheet in a 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs in Game 1 of Boston’s best-of-seven series with Toronto. Although not perfect and definitely aided by shots that deflected off his crossbar and goalposts, Swayman played well enough to get the start in Game 2 against the Leafs. But, as has been the case since February, he did not take the ice for a consecutive game and was replaced by cuddle buddy Ullmark, much to the chagrin of traditionalists who don’t believe in goalie swapping or hockey hug-outs. Though Ullmark played well, the move was second-guessed to the nth degree after the Bruins lost by a final score of 3-2 on Monday.

With the goalie rotation, and by extension the hug, under the microscope heading into Game 3 on Wednesday night, Boston coach Jim Montgomery stayed the course and gave Swayman the starting nod. Montgomery was rewarded with a 4-2 win over Toronto and Ullmark was rewarded with a postgame embrace from Swayman, who made 28 saves in the win. Given that Swayman is undefeated in the series against the Leafs and 6-0-0 against Toronto with a .959 save percentage and 1.31 goals-against average over the past two seasons, Montgomery may pull the plug on the goalie rotation ahead of Game 4 on Saturday night. Even if he does, the hugs should continue.

No matter who starts and what happens on Saturday in Toronto, unfortunately the odds are the Bruins will not win the Stanley Cup this season. But even if they don’t, there’s still a chance Swayman and Ullmark have already done enough to make the man hug cool — and not just for men.

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