By Chris Umpierre
They look like bushy-bearded lumberjacks who have been chopping wood in a forest for weeks.
The Florida Everblades have an obscene amount of facial hair — and they’re proud of it. The team is following an old hockey tradition of not shaving during the postseason.
The Blades are in their fourth week of the playoffs, so things are, well, very hairy around their locker room.
The superstition builds team unity and shows that the Blades could care less about their appearance at this time. The one and only focus is winning.
“So you might as well be ugly,” said Blades forward Jarret Lukin, whose thick black beard would make ZZ Top applaud.
Florida goalie Jamie Holden, 25, has arguably the team’s largest and thickest beard.
“It’s amazing. He must be taking vitamins to grow something like that,” defenseman Chris Lee said.
Beard supplements? Isn’t that cheating, Jamie?
“I actually scrub my face every day and talk to it at night,” Holden said with a laugh. “I put on some headphones and some music to help it grow like a plant. It’s like a ‘Chia Pet’ right on my face.
“We play, ‘Where’s Waldo’ with my beard. I break out little sticks and I hide them in there and the guys have to look through it.”
Not only can you play games with Holden’s beard, but it’s also a source of entertainment. A couple recently made fun of his facial follicles at a local restaurant. Holden didn’t mind. He’s used to the teasing.
“I’ve had to shave since I was in grade eight, so I’ve had a good playoff beard since I was in Pee Wee hockey, unfortunately,” he said.
Not everybody on the team has a beard like that of Holden. Defenseman Franklin MacDonald, 22, has a thin mustache reminiscent of Johnny Depp’s in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Forward David Brine, 22, has a handful of hairs on his chin. The team calls him “Shaggy” for the “Scooby-Doo” character.
Forward Adam Taylor said that Brine has the worst beard on the team.
“Adam’s isn’t that great, but I guess he’s got some pretty good vision with those eyes of his,” Brine said with a laugh. “But the effort is there on my behalf.”
The players aren’t the only ones who got involved in the tradition. Florida broadcaster Kevin Reiter has a full beard. It’s the first time he’s taken part in the superstition in his six years in the sport.
Fans get involved too. Reiter remembers a female fan who participated last season.
“She’s a huge Everblades fan, so she actually let the hair on her legs grow out for the entire time we were in the playoffs,” Reiter said. “She used to always joke that it drove her husband crazy.”
The coaches don’t have that kind of dedication. Coach Gerry Fleming isn’t growing any facial hair, but assistant Jason Nobili has a goatee. How does his wife feel about that?
“No comment,” Nobili said.
The Blades will break out the shaving cream and razors once they’re eliminated from the postseason. The team hopes that day won’t come for a few weeks. The Kelly Cup Finals are slated for May 23 to June 6.
If the team makes the Cup Finals, Holden said his beard has considerable “upside.” He said he grew a playoff beard for three months as a freshman at Quinnipiac University.
“It was over 2 inches long. I actually measured it,” Holden said. “It was like nothing you’ve ever seen. It was unbelievable.”
Origin Of Playoff Beards
When or how the playoff beards tradition began is unclear.
Don Awrey, an NHL defenseman from 1963-79 and a part-time Southwest Florida resident, said nobody did it when he played.
Some NHL players say the tradition came into vogue in 1980, when the New York Islanders won the Stanley Cup. The Montreal Canadiens had won the previous four Cups and team president Sam Pollock prohibited beards.
Islanders management didn’t mind. The Islanders had beards in the 1980 playoffs, so a tradition was born.