Where I live, beards are fashionable. A record store, restaurant, grocery store, and boutique knickknack shop that sells bearded garden gnomes, were among the local businesses that recently donated a trove of prizes for a moustache/beard contest at my library. Among the contest winners was an international beard-growing champion1. The reality TV series “Whisker Wars” paid attention. By the way, there’s a reality TV series called “Whisker Wars.”
One thing I love about the Stanley Cup playoffs is that it essentially doubles as a beard contest. The key word here is doubles. The beards are secondary to the hockey. Every year, sixteen teams of 23 men get together and decide to play hockey, four rounds’ worth of seven-game series, and oh by the way let’s all grow our beards out until the last team standing wins. As a champion is crowned and a cup hoisted, barbers across North America salivate at the thought of a hockey player stopping in for a trim.
The visuals run the gamut from hairy to hilarious. Who can forget Lanny McDonald’s run to the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989? Where would it rank in your memory banks without those glorious, haphazard red whiskers invoking a 19TH century miner hitting the mother lode on his final swing of the pickaxe?
Hockey and facial hair have a long and special relationship. Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail traced the relationship back to Eddie Shack in the 1960s and Harold Snepsts in the 1970’s, though there were other pioneers. Shack and Snepsts teach us something about the ability of facial hair to connect athletes and fans. If you’re too young to remember Snepsts flying around the ice wearing a big, black “V,” his Wikipedia entry tells us that “he would quickly become a fan favourite for his hard-working, effective, blue-collar defensive game as well as his likeable personality and large moustache.” Shack was profiled in a 1965 issue of Sports Illustrated. Much of what was written about both men in their primes can probably be applied to Cal Clutterbuck and George Parros now.
Hockey players were quick to embrace the “Movember” movement in recent years. In November 2011 alone, they helped the international organization raise $126.3 million. (Parros has gone a step further by growing out the hair on the top of his head, then cutting and donating it on a nearly annual basis to the Locks of Love charity.) But if November is about raising awareness of prostate cancer and other men’s health causes, what are the April, May and June beards all about?
In a word, winning.
About a year ago, someone connected to a professional hockey team in Southern California had the idea of including a team photo in some promotional materials. But the person hesitated. The photo, she told me, was taken during the playoffs and all the players had beards. I told her to go ahead with it, as beards are a sure sign of a long playoff run. Beards mean a team is winning. The longer, the better. (Brent Burns’ time with the Minnesota Wild is the exception to the rule.)
Ask any NHL player, and he’ll tell you there are rules for growing a playoff beard. Two, to be exact: Begin the playoffs by shaving – no head starts, that’s cheating – and don’t shave again until your season is over.
Some players do not participate. Ryan Smyth was one; he never gave me a reason for his clean-shaven playoff runs. In 2006, he grew a goatee with the Edmonton Oilers, but was more well-known for his mullet.
For those of us who don’t play hockey, there are other rules. I got an email from GroomingLounge.com earlier today with an important reminder about playoff beards: “The first obstacle to beard growth isdealing with the itchiness that comes with growing out facial hair. This uncomfortable state is inevitable to some degree, but softening immature whiskers with abeard wash and conditioner can help a beard mature more comfortably and seamlessly.” Just wondering: Did Lanny McDonald bother himself with a beard wash?