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It is a tradition that has become both a fan-favorite and an essential glue of solidarity between NHL fans and players.  The playoff beard.  Many fans grow one.  Many fans wish they could grow one.  Almost all NHL players grow one while they are in the hunt for the Cup.  While many of us (myself, included) partake in this superstitious ritual, I would venture to guess that there are some out there who do not know the roots of its tradition.

Nowadays, if someone mentions the New York Islanders, it’s likely going to be a conversation about how terrible they’ve been in the past decade, how Rick Dipietro might be one of the biggest busts in recent memory, how they may or may not get a new stadium, or how John Tavares simply deserves to be surrounded by a better team.  It’s easy to forget that the Islanders of the 1980s had one of the most dominant and storied dynasties in NHL history.

In 1980, the Islanders, with the likes of Clark Gillies, Gord Lane, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Ken Morrow, found themselves in the playoffs after an impressive 110 point season.  As a sign of solidarity, many of the players decided to grow beards during their Cup run.  Well, as fate would have it, the 1980 Islanders won the Cup.  In fact, they won the next three Cups after that as well.  The Islanders won an impressive 19 consecutive playoff series, while growing the playoff beards.  A tradition was born.

Although the beard-growing tradition took a break after the Islanders dynasty ended, it made resurgence in the 1990s and is now a league-wide phenomenon.

The playoff beard tradition has spread throughout the NHL, with very strict rules about shaving and trimming.  As hockey players are some of the most superstitious athletes of any sport, valuing ritual and avoiding bad omens, they live by the strict code of not shaving until one’s team either wins the Cup or falls out of the playoffs.

Moreover, the tradition spread to other sports such as basketball, baseball, and football.  Some of the more memorable playoff beards in other sports were worn by players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Keisel, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Brian Wilson, and Lance Berkman.

In a game where young athletes rule, there have also been some hilarious playoff beard failures.  Sidney Crosby, unable to grow a full beard, grew a hideous combination of peach fuzz and amber-alert mustache in the 2008 playoffs.  In the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run, we saw some horrendous facial hair as well.  Jonathan Toews, 22 at the time, tried his best, but could only grow the infamous muttonchops that will forever follow him through Stanley Cup photos.  Patrick Kane, 21 at the time, didn’t even try.  He shaved his hair into a mullet and grew that out instead.

All indications are that Kaner will abandon the mullet in 2012 and join his teammates in growing a beard.

The playoff beard is a tradition that will likely live on for quite some time.  So please, join me in tossing the razors aside, apologizing to the women in our lives, and growing a luscious beard as a sign of solidarity with our boys.