If there was one thing that made hockey unique it’s the playoff beard. It’s a tradition like no other. One that spans across leagues, connecting fans and players. It’s a constant visual reminder etched on the faces of legends that they are in this together. That for the length of the post-season there is a bond unlike anything else. That together they will give their everything to reach a singular goal. It’s the first thing they see when they wake up, and it’s the last thing they see before they sleep. It adorns the faces of every one of their teammates and is a constant reminder of what it is they’re working so hard to achieve. Everywhere they look they’ll see support, camaraderie, and a bond that goes beyond friendship. Whether it’s looking at Jonathan Toews’ patchy beard, Patrick Kane’s awful sideburns, or the mammoth Brent Burns keeps on his face, they see more than just an awful beard. They see a brother.
It’s more than just players; the playoff beard brings fans together and let’s them show their support for their team. It gives them an opportunity to be a part of a run that will bring them some of their highest-highs and some of their lowest-lows of the next two months. It’s a tradition that is so deeply rooted in the sport that it has begun to spread to other leagues across North-America. Which brings me to the question, if playoff beards are so much a part of the game, why would anyone want to take them out of it?
Well for Mark Lazarus, they don’t belong. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune (Paywall) he said:
The players won’t like this, but I wish they all would stop growing beards in the postseason, let’s get their faces out there. Let’s talk about how young and attractive they are. What model citizens they are. (Hockey players) truly are one of a kind among professional athletes.
I know it’s a tradition and superstition, but I think (the beards do) hurt recognition. They have a great opportunity with more endorsements. Or simply more recognition with fans saying, ‘That guy looks like the kid next door,’ which many of these guys do. I think that would be a nice thing.
– Mark Lazarus, NBC Sports Chairman
I understand what it is Lazarus is trying to do, and to a point it even makes sense, but playoff beards are not the issue. When I was 12 the Ottawa Senators had just made their first franchise appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. The city was electric. I remember being so excited I made a sign with the help of my mother and brother that said “It’s Duck Hunting Season” and hung it at the end of my driveway for everyone to see. I remember coming to school the next day and seeing my friend had dyed his hair red in support of the team. I remember seeing some of the older boys had grown out what little facial hair they had, wishing that I too could be apart of that celebration. That I could do something like that to show my fandom. I remember being impressed by the thick grizzled beard on Mike Fisher’s face; thinking how tough it made him look. I remember going to church with Dean McAmmond and seeing him for the first time after the Final. Shaking his hand, welcoming him in, his clean-shaven face a reminder of their loss but still being proud of what he and his teammates had accomplished.
A playoff beard is more than just a superstitious tradition. It’s a symbol of brotherhood. A visual representation of the bond we all share, as both fans and players. If that’s not something you can market, then I’m not sure you really understand what it is that makes hockey so special. This is our sport, these are our teams, these are our beards. We’re in this together.