In the 2014 NHL playoffs the abundance of playoff beards strongly indicates that hockey still dominates this sporting tradition. Sure, baseball, basketball, and other leagues know playoff beards. For instance, in 2010 playoff beards were introduced in World Series baseball and showcased by San Francisco Giants pitcher Brian Wilson.
Yet few sports make these temporary beards part of the culture like hockey. For example, the 6th annual ‘Beard-a-thon’ linked to the 2014 NHL playoffs is growing this year with over 4k beards registered and a total of $260k raised for charities. Fans register and grow beards until their NHL club is eliminated and others donate money for the best beards. So far the Boston Bruins’ fans have raised the most at $88k and the NHLPA and Just-For-Men are supporting the movement. Dramatically, another feature of the playoff beard is mass extinction from the players’ and fans’ faces immediately after the team is eliminated or the Cup won.
The playoff beard is a symbol of the grit of the playoffs and superstitions that sports like hockey often encourage. According to legend, the playoff beard started during the dynastic NY Islanders’ four successive Stanley Cups in the 1980s. The team-wide playoff beard phenomenon is a feature of this tradition in hockey much more than rival sports where isolated players may grow them. However, the hockey playoff beard had long droughts during the 1990s due, perhaps, to integrating Eastern Europeans joining the NHL with different traditions and a younger generation of North American players.
The playoff beard also migrated into Olympic and other international hockey venues from time to time. There is no rule against wearing beards in any Olympic sport other than boxing. However, in at least one example Steve Yzerman, Executive Director of the Canadian Olympic men’s hockey team, asked for a clean shaven look for his team in the Vancouver Winter Olympics, 2010 and in Sochi, 2014. Team Canada won hockey gold in both cases without beards.