I don't watch much hockey. During a standard non-Olympic year, which we happen to be in presently, I would guess that I take in a culmination of about three full games, maybe more if you add in the amount of hockey I watch at bars during the commercial breaks of college basketball games.
But last week, I ended up viewing at least a half hour of a Stanley Cup Playoffs match up between the Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday, and then almost another full period of a game between Buffalo and Philadelphia later in the weekend. And I realized something about hockey players: These guys kind of look like hell. I mean, in the same way I typically look like hell - eyes in need of a nap, teeth that could use some work, hair terribly unkempt and a beard that's completely out of control. This was when I remembered one of the few things that I like about hockey, other than the fancy backward skating: "playoff beards."
That's right. Many, if not most, NHL players throw away their razors come the beginning of the playoffs, allowing their face blankets to grow unchecked until their team has been eliminated from contention. This means there's a bunch of guys skating around and smashing each other's heads against the ice looking like they could easily be from the crew of a 19th-century battleship or a Portland, Oregon coffee shop.
And the men seem to take pride in their beardliness. In fact, in the aforementioned Vancouver/Chicago game, two adverse bearded players took to fisticuffs because - as far as I could tell - one of them insulted the other's beard. The referees, although themselves clean shaven, clearly understood the merit in defending one's beard from such defamation and circled the brawling men from a safe distance, allowing the Canuck and the Blackhawk to pummel each other in the brain area until their arms grew weak and their beards became flecked with beads of perspiration. Finally, the referees got up in the mix and exiled the two weary beardos to separate enclosed holding areas where they could take some time to groom their beards, which had been thoroughly mussed in the tussle.
Other sports have tried to bring the playoff beard into their culture (see Wilson, Brian - San Francisco Giants, and Roethlisberger, Ben - Pennsylvania State Penitentiary), but the phenomenon hasn't caught on like it has with hockey players. That's not to say, however, that the NBA, currently mired in its third of 73 weeks of playoffs, shouldn't more fully embrace the playoff beard. Currently, the Thunder's James Harden has the best playoff beard, but with two months of growing time left, others could easily catch up by the time the finals roll around. Imagine the amount of peach fuzz Joakim Noah could accumulate by then. And just think of the ridiculously thick, manly blanket Lebron could cultivate or the disgusting follicular patchwork that would exist on the face of Pau Gasol.
Actually, I think every professional athlete should be mandated by federal law to grow a massive beard. Get off your butts, Congress, and make it happen.