Union College hockey players hope that the Minnesota Duluth team will fear the beards.
Then again, the players they are facing off against in Friday’s NCAA East Region semifinal game will likely have beards too. It’s become a tradition in hockey that has spread to football, baseball and other sports.
“You see it in the NHL. All the guys have facial hair in the playoffs,” said Union senior defenseman Brock Matheson. “All the other leagues have taken off on that. It’s a reminder that you’ve paid a price.”
Many Union players started growing out their facial hair following the team’s final regular season game against Princeton on Feb 26.
Junior forward Kelly Zajac said, “It adds a fun aspect to the playoff run and NCAA run.”
Growing it is one thing, but maintaining it is another matter. “After a while,
it’s kind of annoying, prickly,” Zajac said. “I shampoo and condition it a bit to try to soften up the hair.”
Zajac doesn’t want his beard to be as unwieldy as the one grown by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. Keisel grew a beard during the entire NFL season, shaving if off after Pittsburgh lost to Green Bay in the Super Bowl.
“That was way bigger than mine,” Zajac said. “I don’t think I’d ever get to that stage.”
There is also some teasing of those who are more folically challenged.
“You can laugh at the beards too. It takes your mind off the negative,” Zajac said.
“Nice beard Keith,” Zajac said to goalie Keith Kinkaid, who only has a goatee and a little scruff.
Kinkaid enthusiastically embraced the tradition, despite his own difficulties. “It was just a team thing. We decided to go no haircut, no shaving,” he said.
During the regular season, coach Nate Leaman insists the players be clean shaven.
“He wants to make sure we’re clean cut and presenting the right image of our program. It’s the type of individuals we are,” Kinkaid said. Although admittedly not a huge fan of the beards, Leaman said he is willing to relax the rule for the postseason.
“The guys like the tradition and the playoffs are the most exciting time of the year,” he said. “You don’t want to take that away from the guys. There’s a lot worse things you can do than have a playoff beard.”
Leaman insists the beards be trimmed and look presentable.
The tradition is believed to date back to the New York Islanders. They won four consecutive Stanley Cups.
It has since spread to other sports. In addition to Kiesel’s celebrated beard in the NFL, baseball pitcher Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants sported a nifty looking beard during the team’s 2010 World Series championship run.
Maybe the beards will give the Dutchmen similar luck and they won’t have to bother shaving.
“Hopefully we can go all the way.” Zajac said.
Friday’s game will be at 3 p.m. in Bridgeport, Conn.
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