I have always been of the mindset that you can judge the character or class of an athlete best in defeat rather than in victory. The ability to lift your head in the face of failure will tell you more about the fiber of an athlete than the glory and exaltation of triumph.
Hockey has one of the greatest traditions in all of sports. To some it is the ultimate salt in the wound, but to most it is the consummate display of sportsmanship.
The handshake line at the conclusion of an often brutal playoff series requires humility from both victor and loser. The graciousness on either side of that line may not be as sincere as we'd like it to be, but it probably is more often than not. It reminds us that hockey is a team sport. We win as a team, and we lose as a team.
Class is difficult to define in an athlete, but it tends to reflect how a player carries himself on and off the ice. Conducting oneself with a certain grace and distinction sounds a bit out of place given the often barbaric nature of the sport. That is the beauty of hockey.
The most humble and grounded athletes in the world are found in the NHL. Even with the 24-hour-a-day news cycle and the "look at me" culture of SportsCenter highlight reels, hockey players tend to avoid the larger-than-life persona.
The NHL has a history of classy players. Like any sport, there are an equally large number of not-so-classy players, but given hockey's place in the lexicon of professional sports, the ratio is much smaller. I've put together a list of the classiest players in the history of the game. The list could be exponentially longer, but this is my top 25.
Feel free to add your own to the discussion, and as always, stay classy and enjoy now!