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.
AG: Certainly my favorite memories, I have many on the ice, but probably more importantly off the ice it was the interactive part. Whether it was the parade, or just walking into a store to pick up some groceries and seeing a load of people, and how much people were attuned to what was going on as far as the playoffs were concerned. And the energy inside and outside of the Garden. There’s not a better place to play, or a more exciting place to play, than at the Garden during playoff time. Certainly tonight is going to be no different. Especially when you bring in a big rivalry like the Philadelphia Flyers, and how well both teams have played this year, I think it sets up for a great series.
SM: There was not a better place in the world. I only won one Cup here in New York, but there was no better place for us to win. The crowd was outstanding throughout the whole playoffs, during the parade, during the season. Even though it’s been 20 years since we won the cup, people really appreciate what we’ve done. The whole thing. The trade, my first child was born, the two overtime goals, Mark Messier guaranteeing the series [against the Devils], the parade. ‘94 is going to be hard to match, but I would say the whole group together was just outstanding.
What’s the mindset going into the playoffs?
RG: This is the most important time of a professional player’s career, during the playoffs. You play all year to position yourself to compete in the playoffs, and I think that each game takes on a greater importance. Each shift. I think your focus is definitely different in the playoffs, but the only reason that a team wins in the end, and advances in the playoffs, is because every member of that team is committed. They talk to each other, support each other, and they become so close knit. In 1994 these players formed an immediate bond, and to this day 20 years later, Adam Graves is here, Stephane Matteau is here, those players will walk together all their lives. It’s a very difficult thing to accomplish because of the criteria. The injuries play a part, certain stars of the game, or maybe just a role player will come out and be the star. That’s what makes a difference in the playoffs.
What made Schick Hydro get involved with the Beard-A-Thon this year?
Matt Rader: Partnering with the Garden of Dreams, obviously their purpose and what they’re trying to accomplish, it’s important for us having the opportunity to come down and interact with the male consumer. Knowing the Rangers going into the playoffs, it’s a time when they’re being incredibly passionate about what they want to do, and Schick Hydro is just doing it’s small part to help them enjoy that passion and hopefully get the Rangers to the Stanley Cup.
Was the tradition of the playoff beard something that Schick saw and wanted to be a part of?
MR: Absolutely. That’s interesting with the playoff beard, and the kind of rise in popularity in all sports now, but certainly kind of taking off with hockey in 2009. When you have that inflection point it’s actually something that the players and the fans can both enjoy and both do, and that’s something that they share in common, that kind of passion becomes a great opportunity to involve yourself. Specifically, when we have products that help them do that, especially at the kickoff point, get the clean shave and then start to grow. The funny thing about shaving is it’s like a mini zamboni for the face. It resurfaces it, and then lets it grow.
What does the Beard-A-Thon do to promote the Garden of Dreams?
AG: Awareness is the key. There are so many kids in the Tri-State area. We have almost 500 events a year, thousands and thousands of kids that are based in hospitals, and we have 22 partner programs. Especially this time of year there’s such a focus on hockey, of course the Stanley Cup Playoffs have started, the Garden is electric, and certainly having a celebratory place like Rangertown here. Having fans come in and interact, having the barber shop here, that for me is real neat. Anything you can take ownership of and participate in, you don’t have to be on the ice, you don’t have to be a Ranger. You can be watching in the stands, you can be home watching on MSG, and you can still join in and be a part of the Beard-A-Thon. Not only to raise money, but just become part of the spirit. That’s essentially what it is, it’s a celebration of your passion for the sport of hockey and for kids in the Tri-State area.
You’re in the locker room 20 minutes before the puck drops, what do you tell these guys?
AG: I think, and certainly reading the notes and seeing what Coach Vigneault had to say, it was essentially stay out of the box, play their game, and really focus on playing Ranger style of hockey. And be disciplined, because both teams possess an excellent power play.
RG: They know their challenge. They’ve played against the Flyers before, and they’re just going to have to be focused every game, every shift. When I’m talking about focus, I mean even on the bench they have a preparation. The coach has prepared them to beat Philadelphia, and they know who they’re playing against. They watch the film in practice, they’ve seen their past mistakes, so once they get in the game it’s just execution. Line change is very important and there’s a lot of strategy, but more so in the playoffs. The people that are better prepared are going to win. There was a saying when I played that you’re only as strong as your weakest links, like a chain. If you have a weak link it’s going to break. The fourth line has to produce, the first line has to produce, everyone has to be on top of their game. It’s usually the team that gets hot and gets the momentum that can accomplish that. It’s exciting stuff, and I’m looking forward to it.