SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The tradition of hockey’s playoff beard goes back to at least the mid-1980s, with the Detroit Red Wings widely credited with beginning the facial hair phenomenon.
The playoff beard rub might have started last month by accident.
Go back to April 26, when the Florida Panthers staved off elimination by beating the Boston Bruins in overtime of Game 5 of the first-round series. Overjoyed in the moment, Panthers teammates Marc Staal and Aaron Ekblad gave each other a big hug on the bench. Completely normal stuff.
Here’s the unusual part: As they embraced, they realized their beards were rubbing up against the other. And since it worked that night, it’s become a celebratory routine for Staal and Ekblad.
“Yeah, it’s a unique one, for sure,” Staal said.
Whatever works. If the Panthers think that it’s helped them to get to the Stanley Cup Final, so be it. Although there’s a superstition that typically prevents talking about how superstitious hockey players are at this time of year, Staal and Ekblad are enjoying their new tradition.
“Just pure happiness, rubbing beards with Marc Staal,” Ekblad said in the din of the postgame celebration when Florida swept Carolina by winning Game 4 of the East final. “That’s what we’ve been doing.”
As one would expect, given hockey’s unwritten playoff rules, there’s a ton of beards in the Panthers locker room these days. Some are new since the postseason started, some are a bit scraggly, some of the younger players are struggling to keep pace — and then there’s the guy who has the locker between Staal and Ekblad, whose beard stands out among all others on the Florida roster.
Radko Gudas’ beard goes well past his chin; in fairness, having one is also part of his regular-season routine as well, and he simply stops trimming it as often for the postseason.
“I try to maintain it as much as possible," Gudas said, "mainly so it doesn’t get in the way of me eating.”
On the other side of the locker room, Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg isn’t surprised that Gudas hasn’t joined in the Staal-Ekblad beard tradition. Put simply, for as nice as Staal and Ekblad's beards are, they just aren't in Gudas' category.
“He’s probably the only one allowed to touch that thing,” Lomberg said. “I would stay away from that beard.”
Lomberg does admit this much: If his beard was as full as the ones Staal and Ekblad have, he might be tempted to get in on their fun.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think I can include myself in that conversation because mine is not even nearly as strong as theirs,” Lomberg said. “Not remotely close to the same conversation.”
There are countless other traditions, rituals, whatever you want to call them. Panthers coach Paul Maurice calls them routines — “we don’t let any of them slide toward superstition,” he said — although it should be noted that he also knows someone who has baked a cake for every game in the playoffs.
And now the beard rub is headed to the Stanley Cup Final, Florida’s first trip to the title series in 27 years.
“You get certain little things that you do along the way,” Staal said. “It’s funny. It’s fun.”
AP NHL Playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press