Andrew Podnieks NHL

The usually clean shaven Denis Potvin, like most of his teammates, refused to shave during the playoffs with the New York Islanders in the early 1980s. (photo credit 1.2) THE PLAYOFF BEARD

The playoff beard is a sure and ubiquitous sign that Stanley Cup hockey has arrived. For a dozen games in the pre-season of September through the eighty-two gruelling games that comprise the regular season, the NHL’s nearly one thousand players are cleanshaven, with a few sporting a beard year-round and only a handful even crafting a moustache. But when the calendar turns to the first day of the playoffs, all players on all sixteen playoff teams put away their razors, vowing not to shave again until they have won the Stanley Cup (or, more likely, have been eliminated).

The playoff beard has come to mean several things. First, it is about the team, a way of bonding and showing each teammate that the players are “all for one and one for all” as they begin the quest for hockey’s Holy Grail. Furthermore, it is about perseverance, about each player making a collective vow not to shave, not to care about personal appearance or tonsorial etiquette because looks don’t matter, family doesn’t matter, nothing matters except chasing the dream for the next two months of hockey.

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Because the beard is not a feature players enjoy the rest of the year, it is also a symbol for the suffering they are willing to endure to win. Wearing a beard, especially in the spring and summer months when the playoffs are scheduled, is as unpleasant in its own way as blocking a shot, losing a tooth, or sticking up for a teammate during a game.

The beard is an outward commitment by the players to their fans that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win in the playoffs, willing to vouchsafe all personal cleanliness and focus only on bringing home the Cup. It acts as a constant reminder to each player of this promise, this dedication.

Dave Lewis, a member of the New York Islanders from 1973 to 1980, believes that his team started the NHL tradition of the playoff beard in the mid-1970s. However, photographs of the team from those playoffs don’t consistenly corroborate his claim. It seems to have begun with the Islanders, to be sure, but not until 1980, when the team won the first of four straight Cups (1980-83). Lewis, unfortunately, was traded to Los Angeles late in the 1979-80 season and never won a championship with the team.

The 1979-80 team that won the Cup for the first time featured two Swedes Stefan Persson and Anders Kallur the first Europeans to win the Stanley Cup (Bob Nystrom, also on the team, was born in Sweden but grew up in Canada).

Another irrefutable fact is that Swedish tennis king Bjorn Borg began a Wimbledon tradition of growing a beard back in 1976. Each Wimbledon he started clean-shaven, vowing not to touch a razor again until the end of the tournament. He won five championships in a row, and each trophy presentation featured a bearded Borg accepting the prize (Andy Roddick tried to mimic this habit in 2008, but he failed to win the lawn championship). It is well within reason to think the Swedish players copied their national legend and brought the beard tradition to the NHL.

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