San Jose Sharks’ Joe Thornton, right, fights with Toronto Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri during first period NHL hockey action, in Toronto on Thursday, January 4, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Grabbing a beard? Like some other leagues, the NHL has it covered

Toronto centre Nazem Kadri may have got off lightly for grabbing Joe Thornton’s beard in Thursday night’s shootout win over the San Jose Sharks.

For one, he survived a tilt with a much bigger man with only some facial swelling. But he also escaped further punishment for getting his hand tangled in Thornton’s mountain-man beard, pulling out a chunk of hair in the process.

On the plus side for Thornton, the Sharks star would have had to shave before fighting had he been in the UFC.

Asked whether the rule book covered beard-pulling, the NHL pointed to Rule 75.2 (ii) which says:

“Any player who is guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct including, but not limited to hair-pulling, biting, grabbing hold of a face mask, etc. If warranted, and specifically when injury results, the referee may apply Rule 21 — Match Penalties.”

Both combatants only got fighting majors.

It appears the referees decided the beard interaction was unintentional. Or perhaps, like everyone else watching, it just took a while to figure out what had just happened.

The fight occured two seconds into the game. Kadri said Thornton challenged him after the two were tossing out of the opening faecoff following a nasty slashing exchange.

Kadri, who was giving up at least four inches and 30 pounds to the 38-year-old Thornton, appeared to be trying to grab a handful of his sweater but got beard instead — unintentionally, he said later.

“I mean he’s a big boy.” he said of the six-foot-four Shark. “I couldn’t reach all the way across his shoulder. I felt like I just grabbed him in the middle of his jersey and just came down with a handful of his hair.”

“I thought I was a hockey player not a barber,” he added with a chuckle

The damage appeared to be done as Thornton lost his balance and went down, with Kadri still attached to his beard.

The dislodged hair landed on the ice and the mini-tumbleweed was eventually handed over to the Sharks bench, presumably for safe-keeping.

Thornton, who didn’t speak after the game, has been in beard brouhahas before.

In the 2015-16 playoffs, he and St. Louis centre David Backes each grabbed the other’s beard during an altercation that saw no punches thrown.

“Just seeing if it was glued on well. It checked out,” Backes said later.

Thornton has been in 29 fights in his 21-year career, according to Kadri has been involved in six during his nine years in the league.

Other leagues also have hair-related rules.

The CFL essentially adopted the 2003 NFL rule, inspired by running back Ricky Williams and his dreads, that long hair is an extension of the uniform and thus OK to grab while making tackle.

But just like a player without the ball can’t be held by the jersey, they can’t be held by the hair.

In 2013, Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington had some of his dreadlocks pulled out when tackled by Jacksonville defensive end Jason Babin. There was no flag on the play.

Some combative sports governing bodies require fighters to get rid of their beards. The Ontario Athletic Commission ordered Emil Meek to trim his beard to a length where it could not be grabbed ahead of his UFC 206 matchup with Canadian Jordan Mein in December 2016.

“As much as I want to keep my beard, I want to fight more,” tweeted the Norwegian, who reduced the size of the beard before winning by decision.

The Sharks showed a sense of humour about the beard-pulling affair.

“Now you tell us,” the team said while retweeting a post from OMGfacts saying “Alexander the Great encouraged his army to shave so rivals wouldn’t grab their beards during battle.”

The Sharks tweet included a confused face emoji.

“I’ve seen a lot of things over 25 years of coaching. I haven’t seen a clump of beard on the ice before,” coach Peter DeBoer said with a laugh after the game.

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