Like everything hairy, the playoff beard began in the 80s. The New York Islanders were having an epic run, collecting four Stanley Cup wins in a row. Their secret, it would seem, was not shaving their facial hair.
It kinda happened by accident. If you’re a superstitious sports fan, you know what it’s like. Your favorite team is in the playoffs and you get through that heart-pounding, fingernail-chewing game with a win.
When you’re finished cheering until your voice is hoarse, you gotta take stock of the room around you. Where’s the chair? What’s the angle of the couch? Who was watching with you? Where was the dog sitting?
You need to know these things because game two is just down the road in a couple of days and you’re going to have to recreate that game-winning scenario. Exactly. Down to the last hair on your chin.
Who Started the Playoff Beard?
That’s precisely how those Islanders felt.
Specifically Butch Goring, a centerman for the New York Islanders. He was a superstitious man and when they won their first big game, Goring felt that changing anything at all, including his beard, could ruin the mojo.
You don’t fix something when it’s not broken, right, Kingsmen? His teammates followed suit and so there were a lot of beards in New York during the NHL playoffs. A tradition was born.
In a slightly conflicting theory, there were two Swedish players on the Islanders in the 80s and it has been speculated that they were influenced by Swedish tennis champion Björn Borg who would not shave during Wimbledon.
Whether it was Goring, or the influence of Björn Borg, the tradition spread throughout the league.
Why are Playoff Beards a Thing?
Years later, in 2010, the Vancouver Canucks lost a playoff game to the Chicago Blackhawks and their goalie, Roberto Luongo, had had enough. He shaved his beard. The Canucks won. From then on, tradition clearly allowed that the playoff beard could be shaved if your team lost.
All levels of hockey seem to have embraced the tradition of a playoff beard.
In 2019, the Jacksonville, Florida ECHL team, the Icemen, asked fans and players to grow their beard and introduced rules which included the very clear instruction not to shave or trim the beard at all until either the team had been eliminated or the winning celebrations were complete.
They also encouraged women to create their own fake beards and wear them in solidarity. Finally, they insisted that the beard must be shaved ASAP upon the team’s elimination. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Len Redkoles/Getty Images
Are Playoff Beards Still a Thing?
The tradition has also infiltrated other sports since the 80s. During their playoff run in 2013, the Boston Red Sox team featured a few more beards than usual.
In the 2012-2013 season, the Dallas Mavericks held off on shaving their beards until they hit .500. In 2005 and again in 2010, the LA Galaxy soccer club grew playoff beards as well.
Fans often get in on the practice, growing out their beards in solidarity with their favorite team during the post-season playoffs. Check out the stands in footage of an NHL playoff game since the 80s, and you’re likely to see a lot of whiskers in the crowd.
Have You Ever Grown a Playoff Beard?
We want to know, Kingsmen, who do you root for, and have you ever grown a playoff beard? Let us know in the comments and subscribe to our newsletter for more about beards in sports!