It’s been only a few days since the Red Deer Rebels earned a spot in the post season, but playoff beards have been on the mind of one player for a while.
The longing goes back almost a year for Rebels alternate captain Evan Polei, who had a lumberjack-like look last season on the road to the Memorial Cup and he’s more than ready to bring it back.
“I’d grow a beard all year if I could… I definitely look a lot more scary on the ice with one than when I shave,” said Polei, whose scruff is already in the works with a week to go before puck drop against Lethbridge on March 25.
Playoff beards have long been a tradition in hockey. Some say it goes back to the New York Islanders of the 80s, while the modern fan can’t help but recognize the new tradition of expert, full season beards from players like Joe Thornton and Brent Burns.
For teenagers in major junior hockey, not many enjoy the luxury of Polei’s Wolverine-ish ability to grow a beard, but the simple joy of the experience is shared even among the facial-hair challenged.
Include Rebels winger Dawson Martin in the “wish he could grow a better beard” camp.
“I love it. I think it’s cool because in this sport you’re expected to look professional and clean cut often. So it’s fun in playoffs you can let yourself go a little bit, like a wildebeest.
“I can’t get away with it,” Martin added about his attempt to get in on the beard growing. “I’ll do my best but I don’t have a lot of facial hair, don’t think I ever will.”
While most players fall in that camp with Martin, the facial hair power rankings in the Rebels locker room are pretty clear.
“Probably Bobyk,” Martin suggested about who other than Polei could join the time-honoured playoff tradition.
“Those two are probably the most man-child out of everybody.”
While two Rebels veterans in Polei and Bobyk pulled away at the top, both Martin and 20-year-old Austin Glover speculated Matthew Campese might wear the look well.
“There might be some young guys who can grow one,” Glover said.
“Freadrich might be able to grow a decent one. Campese obviously, he can grow a mean beard I think. He’s got the shadow after shaving in the morning.”
Rebels associate coach Jeff Truitt has been around the game for a long time, so long that he cited a Maine Mariners teammate as one of the best beard hockey beard he’s ever seen.
“Guys that I’ve coached before, Shea Weber had a pretty good one years ago,” Truitt recalled.
“I don’t think it’s ever come off. I played with a guy by the name of Barry Dean with the Maine Mariners way back when. He had a full beard going in a couple of days. You couldn’t even see his chin strap.”
As appreciative as Truitt was of some of the great beards he’s seen, he carried a kind word of caution for those who enjoy the tradition yet might be better off not participating.
“I’ve seen a few good ones but I’ve seen a lot of bad ones,” Truitt said, emphasizing a lot. “There are a lot more bad ones than good. People try, but people don’t succeed an awful lot at this age.”
In the 25-year history of the Rebels, it’s really only been the last two seasons players have been given the O.K. to grow facial hair for the playoffs.
But this season, whether the Rebels choose to heed the sage advice of their experienced coach or not, come March 29 at the Centrium, game three of the first round with the Lethbridge there may be a few more mountain men skating for the club.