First and foremost, I need to declare that I know next to nothing about beards, and for good reason. First, being a girl has vastly limited my ability to experiment with different styles of facial hair. Second, I come from an Asian family, and with a few rare exceptions, the male figures in my family were not particularly gifted in the art of sprouting hairs on their chin, nor was it a look they aspired to. You might be surprised to know that despite the hype and sensitivity around beards in Western culture, with a dizzying array of classifications and ramifications for one’s identity (what exactly is a Lumbersexual and how is this a real word?), at least in my household, beards were classified into two categories- "beard" or "no beard." My mom has seen Brent Burns' face on television and very reasonably asked me why they are now interviewing homeless people on the news.
Here’s what I do know. I know that some people have them, they cover the bottom half of your face, and look like they make wonderful insulators in harsh Canadian winters. I also know that as a hockey player, you are expected to have one at some point in your career if you are worth your salt.
The Playoff Beard allegedly rose to prominence during the 1980s when members of the New York Islanders thought it would be a good idea to stop shaving when a remarkable streak of 19 playoff series happened to coincide with a couple of the members growing their beards out. I was taught in psychology class that correlation does not equal causation, but in the world of sports superstition none of this matters. I still believe my strongest contribution to the Oilers' 2015-16 season was me sitting cross-legged for each match of McDavid's seven-game point streak, despite the moderately painful leg cramps this induced. During the Anaheim game when the streak was snapped, I happened to be watching the game on my phone at a fancyish restaurant, where it is generally considered socially inappropriate to sit in such a position. Coincidence? I think so. But I would easily do it again next season.
My absolute lack of knowledge in the beard department likely contributes to my fascination with the fascination itself with beards in hockey. The way it grabbed so many headlines around an event as important as the Stanley Cup Finals is a phenomenon unique to the sport. To be honest, my one lingering memory from the Stanley Cup Playoffs is still the image of Brent Burns' gloriously unkempt creation, inside of which I am quite sure small woodland creatures hibernate. So as a relative outsider to this subset of hockey culture, I wanted to venture forth and bravely attempt to catalogue the most prominent types of chin foliage I've spotted around the NHL. Heck, it's the off-season, and before all our attention goes to spotlessly beardless Draft Picks, let's have some fun.
"The Lush Life Beard"
Best postseason example: Brent Burns
Also seen on: Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Maroon
These are the types of beards fans and media fawn over. With full, unkempt proliferation that delicately evokes the image of a chic caveman, it screams barbarism and sophistication all at once, leaving the viewer dazzled as they try to reconcile these formerly disparate realities colliding. You get that sense that if these beards are kept unchecked they would just go on forever, the result likely similar to the beard kept by one of my favourite historical figures, the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. How very dignified.
"The Precocious Beard"
Best postseason example: Matt Murray
Also seen on: Darnell Nurse, Bryan Rust
This beard is grown by young men who really do not seem like they should have a beard, either because of their youth or the way their face turned out looking, but have one anyways, giving you reason to pause and ponder the wonders of this world. It's like seeing something highly unnatural and strange, like a young boy doing Zumba or old lady lip-syncing to DJ Khaled; doesn’t really seem right, but at the same time, is rather cool and hard to look away from.
"The Growing Pains Beard"
Best playoffs example: Tomas Hertl
Also seen on: Connor McDavid, Mark Stone (Which is ironic given he has the face of a 35-year old but the facial hair of a 15-year old. That averages out to his real age. Things like this teach me that there is truly a balance to everything in the universe.)
Everything has a process, and most young guys have to go through the obligatory phase where things just haven’t evened out yet. It's literally a rough patch in life, like a lawn on which you can obviously spot where the dog urinated, or like a crop field during a really spotty harvest.
"The Translucent Beard"
Best Playoffs example: Sidney Crosby
Also seen on: …no one. Absolutely no one else has managed to achieve this remarkable look. Congratulations, Sidney Crosby.
Sidney Crosby continues to defy convention and trailblaze in every category, this time having the distinct honor of creating a whole new category of beard. I’m not even a Crosby hater, and I still can’t help but physically convulse whenever I look at his beard and marvel at how despite the facial hair, I can still somehow see the outline of his face clearly. It’s like some weird voodoo magic where he transplanted all his leg hair to his face and called it a day.
Bonus: A potentially cathartic moment for many as Crosby recently shaved the thing off.
"The Greasy Beard"
Best Playoffs example: Marc-Andre Fleury
Also seen on: Nail Yakupov, Jamie Benn
The more you look at this kind of beard, the more you feel the compulsion to reach for a razor and shave the damn thing off before that person says a really nauseating pick-up line or wink suggestively, because that is just what people with this kind of facial hair do. Anytime your facial hair looks like an upwards arrow interrupted rudely by your own mouth, it’s just not a good thing.
"The I-Don't-Have-A-Beard-Now-But-Could-If-I-Wanted-To Beard"
Best Playoffs example: Matt Cullen
Also seen on: Jordan Eberle
Men with this type of beard always have some type of really strong shadow, a bit beyond a Five O'Clock Shadow and more of a Two-AM-the-Next-Day Shadow situation. It's probably intentionally kept to this point where people look at it and go, "It's comin' on pretty strong, eh," but never really goes beyond that point each time you see them. It's like their facial hair's way of implying infinite potential but at the same time, restraint and coyness. I’ve been told this type of look also results from sheer laziness, which disappointingly kind of diminishes the effect.
"The Invisible Beard"
Best Playoffs example: Olli Maatta
Also seen on: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
This beard, by sheer optics, simply does not exist. You cannot rarely even find a shadow, though you may see a stray tendril sprouting here and there, as rare as a unicorn in the forest. Guys with these beards are either proud owners of The Best Razorblade There Is In This World © or are just biologically indisposed to grow facial hair.
Or are they? Have you ever considered that these beards may actually exist, and are abundant in growth, but you simply cannot see them? Perhaps they are only visible to this distinct set of people belonging to the Invisible Beard Gang © (IBG), who mock you silently when you mock their non-beards vocally. Perhaps these beards are so spectacular they fall out of the spectrum of the naked eye; it's for your own protection that they remain invisible.
It is also possible that these guys just cannot grow a beard.
"The ‘Is That a Beard?’"
Best Playoffs Example: Jonathan Toews
Sometimes you wonder if that facial hair took on this odd layout by accident, or was intentionally shaped to look like a chinstrap. It could also just be very haphazard placement of plots on one's face where facial hair is able to grow, in which case you can only pity your fellow human being.
So there you have it—I hope I have done a great service to the world by astutely classifying and boldly creating new looks to strive towards. Writing this has had the side effect of me automatically categorizing every beard I see on the street. I hope you do the same and get weird looks from people on the street. If you are the proud owner of a beard, take a moment to see where you fit in—do you belong to a category, or are you also a trailblazer like Sidney Crosby?
On a finishing note, it’s interesting that in hockey, the Playoff beard has seemingly transcended even the superstitious origins that prompted its growth in popularity; it’s just what you do, part of the culture and fun of the Playoffs. The symbolic significance beards have come to take on in hockey is unique to the sport’s identity, a physical marker of endurance in the most grueling postseason of any sport. It's a great, exaggerated piece of imagery for the proudly barbaric edge the sport, and those who play and watch it, claims as part of its distinct culture. It's something Oilers fans are not really used to seeing and would relish with delight should it one day appear for the right reasons. If beards are the ultimate marker of success in hockey, I, for one, hope to see the Oilers’ growth potential realized soon in the postseason, even if it means Nugey acquiring a Translucent Beard (don't fight it-- let the imagery come to you).