It is not my place — as a man who needs a month to grow a five-o’clock shadow — to ask why Red Wings players are suddenly sporting the same facial hair. But I’ll do it anyhow. Someone has to. I mean, if everyone in your office suddenly came to work looking like Magic Johnson, you’d ask, “What’s going on?” Wouldn’t you?
So what’s going on?
“I don’t know,” says Aaron Ward, rubbing his mustache. “I just grew mine because you’re supposed to.”
“Don’t ask me,” says Darren McCarty, scratching his beard. “I don’t know who started it.”
“It’s a team thing,” says Joe Kocur, stroking his chin. “I don’t know who started it either. You just do it to be part of the group.”
Well, it’s working. The Wings’ locker room suggests a Dennis Miller look-alike contest. A stream of Fu Manchu-meets-goatees, one right after the other. Brendan Shanahan has one. Kirk Maltby has one. Doug Brown, Chris Osgood, Kris Draper, Martin Lapointe, Tomas Holmstrom, Jamie Pushor.
Hair, there and everywhere. Even the clean-cut Swede, Nick Lidstrom, has one. At least I think he has one. It’s that, or white clam sauce.
And it’s not just the players. The equipment crew is now semi-bearded. Same goes for the support staff — right down to the masseur. Pretty soon, you won’t be allowed into Joe Louis Arena with bare cheeks.
“It’s a crazy superstition,” admits John Wharton, the suddenly hairy trainer. He plucks at his goatee. He looks a little like the devil. “I hate it. It feels terrible. To be honest, I never wanted to grow it.”
“Then why did you?”
He laughs. “Darren McCarty threatened to shave every inch of my body hair if I didn’t.”
Well. It’s hard to argue with that.
The ugly truth
But here’s the thing. Most of these players — while believing in the concept of “the team that gets soup in its beard together, stays together” — don’t think they look particularly good.
“My wife won’t even kiss me,” Brown moans.
“I had to start growing mine three weeks before the playoffs,” Ward says,
“otherwise I’d look like a leprechaun.”
“Even my daughter asked me to shave mine off,” Kocur says. “Personally, I think I look like bleep.”
He glances around the room. “Hey, we all look like bleep.”
But that’s the idea, right? Grunge together, win together? It is not a new concept. Playoff beards have been an NHL habit for years. And remember back in the ’80s, when the Wings got their hair dyed with the team colors? That was cute. Shawn Burr had three streaks on the side of his head, white, red and his natural blond. He looked like one of those half-gallons of supermarket ice cream; vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.
But not shaving is one thing. That at least saves you time. Keeping these Fu Manchu/goatee jobs, well, that’s an effort, isn’t it? You have to shave the sides, but not the front? You have to try to keep a straight line going?
“Not me,” Ward says. “I push my face with one finger and shave to the left of it, then I push it on the other side and shave to the right. There’s no finesse in this beard.”
Nor is there much in McCarty’s curly effort. Poor Darren. He is the ultimate team guy. He would give his left arm for a teammate. But he is burdened with a light, straggly beard that, even after a month of playoffs, only offers small tufts on his chin.
“I am not facial hair-endowed,” he moans.
To be honest, he looks like the world’s first Amish hockey player.
But hey. It’s not his fault. He’s just standing by the new team motto:
“Hair we go, boys.”
Besides, it could be worse. They could be following that playoff tradition of wearing the same smelly shirts, day after day.
Of course, we wouldn’t be interviewing them.
Few close shaves
Anyhow, even members of the Colorado Avalanche are growing these beards now. And it’s not just hockey. Didn’t Grant Hill sport the Magic look this past season? Aren’t baseball players showing this style as well? It’s a trend. It helps feed unity. It saves on shaving cream, razors and water. Who knows? Maybe it’s good for the environment.
Of course, not every Red Wing is taking part. Steve Yzerman had one going, but shaved this week. Most of the Russian players have remained smooth-faced. Take Igor Larionov, the 35-year-old veteran. His cheeks are as clean as an Army cadet’s.
“How did you escape the beard?” I ask.
“Oh,” he says. “This year I decide to grow the hair on my head longer instead.”
Funny. The hair on his head doesn’t look any longer to me. But before I can say this, he quickly disappears. Maybe he wants to kiss his wife.
Meanwhile, most of the team continues the hirsute tradition. It must be a pain — especially when the players sweat. And when they rub their hairy chins, the Wings look like a team of college professors pondering the next question.
But team spirit is team spirit. Good-bye, Gillette. Later, Lectric Shave. Lately, I’ve even noticed fans coming unshaven to the games.
And if the Wings win the Stanley Cup, who knows? This city may not shave for a year.
Which means they’ll have to change that song. To “Get Up, Hairytown.”
Doesn’t have much ring to it, does it?
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