No splitting hairs on his one: Playoffs need new tradition

SHARE No splitting hairs on his one: Playoffs need new tradition

Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford sports a worthy playoff beard. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Is it possible to have a meaningful discussion about Stanley Cup-winning hockey and beards?

I say it is.

In case you missed it, the players on the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning, who are tied at two victories apiece in the Stanley Cup Final, have beards. (Unless there’s a hairless renegade hiding in the blade-sharpening room, which I don’t believe there is.)

And not just beards. They have gross, tangly, unkempt things often referred to as ‘‘neckbeards,’’ historically featured on anti-social mountain men, deceased presidents and biblical characters. And Captain Ahab had a dandy.

This is a playoff tradition, so to speak, even though its roots (roots?) can be traced back to something as banal as the New York Islanders growing out their whiskers during playoff runs back in the 1980s.

Yes, the Islanders won four Cups during that period, but have you heard from them lately? Plus, former Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin has been quoted as saying none of the hirsuteness was

by design.

‘‘It was just something that kind of happened,’’ he said.

None of this would matter, except that fully bearded hockey players look ugly. The players look as though somebody dumped a box of Smith Brothers cough drops on the ice, and the hairy things started skating around. The old-time House of David baseball dudes at least had cool uniform logos to go with their beards.

But it’s the essential ugliness and disguise that come with the beardedness that has NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus’ whisker-free face in a grimace. And his opinion matters because NBC Sports has a $2 billion deal to broadcast NHL games.

Lazarus told sports-media writer Ed Sherman on Tuesday: ‘‘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.’’


Marrying time!

‘‘I think [the beards do] hurt recognition,’’ Lazarus went on. ‘‘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.’’

Just a basket of puppies, then!

But I agree with Lazarus — who is, sadly, not related to Sun-Times hockey writer Mark Lazerus — that the beards are dumb and stale. Everybody looks the same with a beard, like genetic splicing run amok.

And then there are atrocities such as the post-adolescent Patrick Kane back in 2010. He grew wispy, blond tendrils on his chin. Like they used to say to little shavers: ‘‘Put some milk on it and let the cat lick it off.’’

My question is this: Why doesn’t a team such as the Hawks have the courage and creativity to do something different with their manliness and be a true difference-making dynasty? It’s not as though the Hawks don’t recognize gross when they see it.

‘‘The worst has got to be Teuvo [Teravainen],’’ backup goalie Scott Darling said. ‘‘He’s got the [Justin] Bieber ’stache going. I said, ‘By the time you can actually grow one, it’s going to be illegal.’ ’’

Teravainen, just 20, is the Kane of 2015.

The point is, break away. Do your own thing. Be original. That’s how a team can win titles, too — by thinking outside the, uh, barber’s chair.

Coach Joel Quenneville certainly went all over the place in the Hawks’ victory in Game 4, mixing up his lines as though he had flung a deck of cards in the air.

Did it work? The Hawks struggled at times. They seemed confused trying to get the puck close to the middle of the ice and near the Lightning’s net. But give ‘‘Q’’ credit for creativity.

As we know, we can’t trust either coach to tell us the truth about injuries, strategies or much else. And we won’t know whether Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who was held out of Game 4, will play in Game 5 until the puck drops.

But back to the beard thing. Think about it, Hawks. Think about a new tradition.

How about reverse bearding? Start the playoffs with a fully grown beard, then reduce it each series — first to a goatee, then to a mustache before finishing with (ta-da!) soul patches.

It could be done.

And Coach Q? Well, if he had a full beard, we’d know who Santa Claus really is.

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.


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