A hair-raising experience during the NHL playoffs

Stanley
Stanley Oliver
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Stan's Stance

Stanley Oliver

A hair-raising experience! No, I am not talking about puberty, which by the way can be a very difficult time for a lot of adolescents (hey, maybe that's another topic for another day), both males and females.

I am actually referring to playoff beards. Are they superstition or tradition?

For many of us hockey fans, we love this time of year. The evenings are nice and long, there are no flies and when we come in after a good day of doing yard work/garden work, we still have lots of time to watch the NHL playoffs.

Although, I have to admit my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs haven't seen the finals since 1967. But I remain hopeful, confident and committed (some say all Toronto fans should give up the ghost) to my team. Hey, there's always next year.

So what's up with the National Hockey League players' practice of growing beards during the Stanley Cup playoffs? Is it a superstitious thing or is it tradition? Most players, if not all, stop shaving when his team enters the playoffs and usually does not shave until after his team is eliminated or wins the Stanley Cup.

I believe - thus my stance - that it is a little of both. The practice has now turned into a tradition because a tradition can be defined as the process of handing down a particular habit and or exercise over time.

The New York Islanders started the playoff beard tradition in the 1980s. However, it is not known whether the actual act of beard-growing is purely superstitious. Hall of Famer Denis Potivin has been reported as saying "it all began because they (meaning the Islanders) would play four games in five nights in the first round and didn't bother to shave so it was something that just kind of happened."

During the 1980 season the New York Islander team included two Swedish players, Stefan Persson and Anders Kallur. Their countryman, tennis star Bjorn Borg, had a custom of not shaving during Wimbledon.

It's possible Borg had an influence on today's well-entrenched tradition in hockey circles.

Some players have said and continue to promote the growing of the beard is both about team unity and a way to get you as a player to think about the playoffs and what's on the line from the moment you get up in the morning and look in the mirror. In 2009, the Detroit Red Wings used the slogan "the beard is back" for the final series during their 2009 Stanley Cup playoff run. Also during this season the beard-a-thon campaign was launched to encourage fans to grow their own playoff beard for charity.

In its first four years, more than 22,000 NHL fans participated in the beard-a-thon and raised over $2 million for charities. Hats off for all those who thought of this great idea.

So after 30 years growing a playoff beards as a sign of team solidarity, the tradition has taken a life of its own, even for players that can't really grow a beard. They come in all shapes and sizes, some are large and out of control, while others are well groomed.

Now, it's customary for every player on every playoff team to ditch the razor as an act of superstition before the hockey gods and tradition for those who went before them. Playoff beards are one of the many reasons and unique elements that make the National Hockey League playoffs so fantastic and intriguing reason "Why We Watch."

Stan Oliver writes from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. He can be reached by email at the following: stanoliver1965@gmail.com.

Organizations: National Hockey League, New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings

Geographic location: Toronto, New York, Wimbledon Happy Valley Goose Bay

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  • mj
    May 29, 2014 - 09:42

    Stan is the man!