NHL Playoff Beards: the Best Tradition in Sports

Hockey fans will be quick to tell you there’s no competition in sports like the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Playoff hockey is faster, more physical, and far more intense than regular season hockey. I encourage you to turn on the TV some evening this week, and watch a game. You’ll immediately notice the bone-crushing hits, fast pace, and an elevated compete level from everyone on the ice.

We Want The Cup!

Sixteen of the NHL’s 32 teams qualify for the playoffs every year, where they have the privilege of battling for one of the sporting world’s most iconic prizes: Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Just look at this thing:

Licensed under Creative Commons from Michael Righi on Flickr

(And remember, the winning team gets their names engraved on the trophy, too, where they’ll stay forever).

The NHL playoff format is the same as the NBA’s: four rounds of best-of-seven series. To earn the right to hoist the Stanley Cup, a team needs 16 playoff wins. They will bleed for each and every one of those W’s.

Games are played every other day, with the occasional extra day thrown in to help players rest down this exhausting stretch. This format means the Stanley Cup Playoffs can last for more than two months.

Playoff Beards

Two months is enough time to notice the passage of time. And there’s no easier way to tell how far a hockey player has made it into the playoffs than looking at his beard.

Although not universally practiced, many players celebrate the tradition of growing a “Playoff Beard.” Usually, players will shave before the first game of the playoffs, and then grow out their beards until they are eliminated, or crowned Stanley Cup Champions.

There are no hard and fast rules about playoff beards. Some people trim them up, while others go unruly.

Sidney Crosby, bless his heart, is trying:

Licensed under Creative Commons from Wikipedia

Whereas Joe Thornton’s beard (playoffs or no) is so impressive, it has its own Twitter account.

Joe Thornton’s 2016 Beard (Licensed under CC from Wikipedia)

Thornton is currently squaring off against my Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Semifinals, and his beard today is even longer and grayer than in the photo above. As undeniably majestic as it is — I still have to hope that he cuts it soon.

Licensed via Creative Commons from Doug Kerr on Flickr

This beloved tradition started with the New York Islanders in the early 1980s, when the squad won four Stanley Cups in a row. Islanders forward Bob Nystrom says the team was filled with superstitious players, and the tradition kind of happened organically.

I can’t even remember when it really started. It was just something that was just pretty automatic with us — you get on a winning streak, you don’t want to change a thing.

We still showered, though!

Bob Nystrom, reflecting on playoff beards during the Islanders dynasty.

The Islanders were eventually dethroned by the Edmonton Oilers, led by the 23-year-old phenom Wayne Gretzky (“The Great One”). The Oilers didn’t carry on the Islanders’ tradition — maybe because they were too young to grow beards, Nystrom speculates.

Over the years, as the league changed and new players entered who had grown up idolizing those Islanders teams, the playoff beard trend saw a resurgence.

Today, the tradition is widely (although not universally) embraced across the NHL. The beard serves as a symbol of the work that’s been put in, and a reminder of the ultimate goal. A bushy beard is a sign that you’ve been battling in the playoffs for a long time.

There’s no where else an NHL player would rather be.

It’s All in Good Fun

Players love to lean into the tradition of the playoff beard. Many players say it’s a bit annoying, but as Kings Defenseman Willie Mitchell says in the video below “If it’s this long, you’re in the right place.”

Fans love to get into it too. Many fans will grow playoff beards in solidarity with their favorite teams. Come May, online articles and videos abound debating which players have the best and worst playoff beards.

And of course, a little bit of Internet trash-talking is expected, too:

Sorry Canada… (again)

Of course, in a game as physical as hockey, the beard can be a strategic disadvantage

Overall

Like most superstitions, there’s no definitive proof that growing a playoff beard helps your team win. But, that said, there’s also no definitive proof if DOESN’T help you win. And as long as there’s some small chance it’s helping, NHL players will keep doing it. Why?

Because it’s the Cup.

Want to see some more examples of fabulous playoff beards? Check out the links below.

If you remember any particularly epic or pathetic Stanley Cup Playoff beards, I’d love if you post ’em in the comments! Otherwise, enjoy the rest of the playoffs, and GO AVS!

Always adventurous. Occasionally political. I write creative stories about life, love, climbing and travel. thisisyouth.org

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