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Local Sports

Hockey tradition literally grows on you

The NHL playoffs always happen at an odd time of year.

Even though hockey is played on the ice, the most crucial part of the season is played during the warm summer months. Most cities that celebrate the presence of the Stanley Cup do so while pouring sweat underneath the thick hockey sweaters of their beloved franchises.

Thankfully, Mother Nature has been ever so kind as to deliver us some more snow so we can enjoy the NHL postseason like it's meant to be enjoyed — in the midst of cold temperatures and snow that we absolutely aren't sick of at this point.

But I digress.

Sweating in support of one's team isn't really considered a hockey tradition, but it doesn't need to be. Hockey is one of the most tradition-rich sports out there, including my favorite tradition in the wide world of sports, which I'm currently participating in — the playoff beard.

For those not in the loop, playoff beards are grown by players, fans and really anybody who wants to do grow one as long as a team is alive in the playoffs. There are all kinds of different rules to the beard, but the generally accepted one is you don't touch your face until your team is done. Some people, like the Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane, have opted to grow a playoff mullet instead due to the inability to grow a beard. For those not in the loop of what a mullet is, I feel sorry for you.

Fans of any sport do all they can to try to either feel more connected to their team or just show off to as many people as possible that they are a fan of a particular team. Some refer to themselves and the team with the royal "we." Others start meaningless arguments on Internet message boards to defend their team's honor.

I prefer a more sensible approach. With the playoff beard, fans can literally feel their dedication to their favorite team slowly growing on their face and neck. The longer the team lasts, the more itchy and warm the beard will get as the playoffs stretch deeper into the summer. However, when you go to scratch that beard, you're quickly reminded that you still have the joy of watching some of the most exciting action in sports this side of March Madness.

Up until I started writing this column, I was completely unaware of the playoff beard's Biblical roots. In Biblical times, a man named Samson was granted superhuman strength with a few conditions, one of them being that he had hair. While I'm sure whoever started the playoff beard tradition had no idea there were ties to the Bible involved, it's certainly an interesting tie-in, right?

If you go back and look at the photos of every Stanley Cup-winning team on the ice after that Cup-clinching victory, it will be a sight to behold. Instead of hockey players, you'll see Gimli, Aragorn and any other host of Lord of the Rings characters. The NHL playoffs are about as long and grueling as a trip to Mount Doom, so I guess it is fitting.

I would venture a guess that the majority of people reading this either don't like hockey or simply don't care. To those people, I issue a challenge. Turn on an NHL playoff game (besides the Bruins and Maple Leafs, that one is going to get ugly) and try to not get sucked into the action. Even if you have never watched a hockey game, you'll quickly pick things up thanks to Mike "Doc" Emrik, who in my opinion is the best play-by-play announcer of any sport.

Sure, right now most of the playoff beards for players and fans alike might not be very impressive, but just give it some time. For reference of what a great playoff beard will look like, check out Scott Niedermayer of the Anaheim Ducks (no, not Mighty Ducks) from the 2008 season. Going back even further, check out Lanny McDonald's legendary facial har situation.

So if you see me out and about in town or covering an event, please don't be repulsed or distracted by whatever mangled mess is growing on my face. Heck, at the pace I'm on right now, you probably won't even notice anything.

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