Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Beauty and the Burden of the Playoff Beard Redux

We're a week in to the playoffs and as I look in the mirror my grizzled visage stares back.  For a week my growth isn't too shabby.  After a month it's intimidating.  After the Cup it's hot and cumbersome.  But the playoff beard is a point of pride and honor for a hockey player.

Nick's Playoff... Growth?

 April through June the NHL Playoffs happen.  Sixteen teams start off with one lifting the Stanley Cup as a reward for their hard work.  Each teams, however, takes on an additional burden.  It's one that
Maxime Talbot and his Beard
(Jim McIsaac/AP)
lies beyond the crest on the jersey, one that belongs to the city they live and work in.  It's one that lies within the team as a symbol of unity and pride.

It's the playoff beard.

What some people find cumbersome to grow, what some people aren't able to grow by rule, what some people wouldn't care to sport is considered a sign of success in the summer for hockey players at just about every level.  The further you get, the bushier you get.  The Playoff Beard is a simple sign of excellence that few others can match.

It started in the 80's with the New York Islanders dynasty but faded away, only to be rekindled by the 1995 Cup winning New Jersey Devils.  It was pretty much the only positive thing to have come from New Jersey since just about ever.  Yes, the team that would be partially responsible for the shut down of the league in 10 years made the playoff beard one of the NHL's greatest symbols.

Mike Commodore
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Throughout the years the beards have grow a mind of their own.  They've been the focal points of charitable campaigns, the point of scorn, and a point of pride.  The first and third of which came with Mike Commodore, whose big orange beard and 'fro gave Hurricanes fans something to cling to during their '06 Cup run.

After the Hurricanes successful attempt to nab Lord Stanley the defenseman was part of a charitable event that helped raise money for the honor of shaving his considerable growth.  Even now that spirit lives on in the annual Beard-A-Thon, annually raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity.  Your favorite player or person will grow a beard and you become a sponsor, paying them money to their charity as they grow.

It's been tried with other sports but it's never quite caught on as it has in hockey.  It's so ingrained with players that even those players that can't quite grow it either still attempt it (poor Sidney Crosby) or adapted to a way that fits them so they can be with the team (witness last year's mullet by Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane).  Even fans happily get in on the act.  For some the beard lasts longer than their team of choice (i.e. my beard in 2011).

For just shy of two months the warriors of the NHL have the honor of not shaving if they are able to make it to the promised land.  Perhaps it's the concept of unity, the warrior like visage, the odd idea of having facial hair in the summer time, or that it's uniquely NHL that makes it so popular with the skate set.  Either way, no player is happier to have their moment in the sun feature their grizzly face.  It means they've accomplished something special that few others have.  They've reached the top and no one can take that from them.

The Niedermeyer brothers lift the Cup
(Mark Avery/AP)

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