If there’s a more superstitious group of people in the world than athletes I sure as hell don’t know who they might be. Every major sport seems to have its own theme, variation or idiosyncrasy when it comes to winning but when it comes to hockey here in the NHL the “playoff beard” reigns supreme.
For what it’s worth, I happen to think hockey players are some the most dedicated and toughest athletes on the planet and I think they take a certain pride in that. Guys get cut on the ice and get stitched up and are back in the game within minutes. Loose a couple of teeth? No big deal, that's just part of the territory. Broken jaw? Hey no problem, I’ll miss one or two games. One of my friends once claimed that a player that was diagnosed with leukemia was listed with a “day to day” injury.
I don’t know if I believe that but they are as group, quite intimidating to start with. When they start to look like a horde of invading huns on ice skates it takes on a whole new dimension.
We can thank the New York Islanders of the 1980’s for putting the league down the path of rampant facial hair. Back then, the playoffs were shorter and given that they might have to play four games in five nights some players decided to skip the act of shaving until the playoffs were over and lo and behold, a tradition was born.
It seems now the practice has expanded to every team that makes it to the Stanley Cup playoffs and for the most part, the entire roster of most teams takes part until they are eliminated or get to actually hoist the cup. Sometimes management and fans will also take up the practice as a show of unity and support.
When you stop to consider that the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs started in mid April and won’t end until mid June that's quite a long time for a couple of teams and their players to amass a pretty shaggy beard.
On a side note, it’s been twenty years since my beloved New York Rangers have won the Stanley Cup and in a show of support I decided to sprout one of my own. This year, they’re in the Finals against the heavily favored Los Angeles Kings and I believe all of the players from both teams have grown playoff beards.
I hope the Kings get to shave theirs first.
Note: The concept of a “playoff beard” has spread to other sports such as American baseball and American football but it’s nothing like it is in hockey.
If you’d like to see some of them for yourself, click here