The tradition of the playoff beard has taken hold in several sports over the past few seasons-see the Boston Red Sox-but it originated on the ice. For decades hockey players have been getting their mane game on as a means of bringing their team together in the postseason, showing how long the club is making a run, and perhaps above all, staying true to their superstitious roots. Don’t step on the chalk in baseball, never let in an opposing bucket after the whistle has blown, and whatever you do, don’t even think about picking up a razor if your team is on the verge of contending for Lord Stanley’s Cup. And while playoff beards during the days of Mario Lemieux, Jari Kurri, and Wayne Gretzky were exclusively donned by the players, in today’s game the facial hair flows from center ice to the last row in the arena. Fans have become just as passionate, and just as superstitious, as the players when it comes to growing a beard for the postseason. One might ask why any self-respecting dude, who’s gainfully employed, would show this lack of hygienic well-being, and any hockey fan would only have one answer: Because it’s the Cup.
The New York Rangers took the playoff beard to the next level this week by partnering up with Schick Hydro to offer fans the chance to get their final shave in for the playoffs, and raise support for the Garden of Dreams Foundation. In it’s third year running, the Rangers Beard-A-Thon moved to a new home this postseason with the creation of the Rangerstown Hockey House, right outside Madison Square Garden. An interactive fan facility which will host viewing parties for games, showcase memorabilia from seasons past, and offer fans a chance to even take a slapshot or two in between. We were invited down for the Thursday festivities which included a full makeshift barbershop, Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, and a host of wild blueshirts fans ready to get their gameface on. Amidst the live DJ, and the humming of clippers, we caught up with Rangers legends Rod Gilbert, Stephane Matteau, and Adam Graves to talk playoff beards, supporting the Garden of Dreams Foundation, and the quest to lift the Stanley Cup.
Written by Adam Silvers (@silversurfer103)
How has the tradition of the playoff beard taken on a new meaning over the years?
Stephane Matteau: Well, it’s a way of not shaving at all for two months, hopefully. When you see the whole team, 23 players coming together and growing the beard, that means you go far in the playoffs. Some of the players are very superstitious, they’re scared that if they shave they’re going to lose a game. I was one of those players, when I lost a game I would shave, I would change everything. It’s all different. Some guys look good in it, some guys look awful.
Adam Graves: You know what, you’re talking to a guy who doesn’t grow one very well. It’s a little different now because you see a lot of guys grow it during the regular season than you ever used to. It used to be during the regular season you didn’t see anyone with beards, then once the playoffs started everyone would attempt to have something growing. It’s a meaner look, a more intense look for the playoffs, and a little bit of the tradition, and also the superstition of not shaving. To be able to use that tradition and turn it into a fundraiser, and I know it’s throughout the National Hockey League, but especially in New York for our foundation the Garden of Dreams, it’s really cool.
How have the Rangers combined the playoff beard with the Garden of Dreams?
SM: The Rangers have been affiliated with that organization for many years. We have to forget ourselves sometimes to help others, and the Garden of Dreams is outstanding. They’ve donated so much money to the families who need it. It’s a good cause, and a lot of people are showing up today. We’re going to keep doing a good job because a lot of families need that.
The interaction with the fans makes them part of it, part of the playoffs. And they feel that their support brings luck to the Rangers...
Rod Gilbert: This is the third year we’re doing this, and I’ve been participating every year. The main, main reason we’re doing this is for the Garden of Dreams Foundation. People pledge some money if they want to see me look like Santa Claus, and as long as the Rangers keep winning there’s a good chance [laughs]. The Garden of Dreams is a function that we all support here at Madison Square Garden, and we’re really proud that we have over 80 charities that we help out. It feels good. The interaction with the fans makes them part of it, part of the playoffs. And they feel that their support brings luck to the Rangers, and gives them extra incentive to stay longer [in the postseason]. Any reason to tell the Rangers that we need them to focus, that little extra that they feel from the fans, there’s an extra incentive and we need that.
What does this Rangers team have to do in order to have success in the playoffs?
AG: It is a team that has grown over the years, but I think more importantly it’s grown a lot throughout this season. They’re certainly playing a puck control type of system, and over the last half of the season have really molded in. They’re getting contributions from all four lines, their fourth line has been as effective as any in the league, and their top three lines anyone of them can be hot on any given night. And the defense with Girardi and McDonagh and Staal, and then of course having Henrik in net. It’s a real balanced attack, a real team, and I think that’s the biggest compliment you can give this Ranger team going into the playoffs.
SM: I think they have all the ingredients, they have good defense, great offense, and an outstanding goalie. They’re well-coached this year, hopefully they’re going to stay healthy, and they need some luck also. It’s going to be a very good matchup for them against the Flyers in the first round. It’s not an easy task to win the Stanley Cup, but I think if they have a chance it’s this year.