Beards and boards: Islanders taking part in playoff tradition of growing your facial hair

Brian Strait of the Islanders celebrates his first

Brian Strait of the Islanders celebrates his first period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins with teammate Lubomir Visnovsky during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. (May 7, 2013) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

It's still early, so the mostly humble beginnings of traditional playoff beards on the faces of the Islanders is a good enough start. At least they're in the playoffs after five clean-shaven offseasons, and now the goal is to wind up looking like a bunch of lumberjacks in the wild.

"It's kind of a pride thing," said defenseman Matt Carkner, whose comparatively thick, reddish growth is worthy of the team's strong, two-games-apiece offensive in the first-round series against the favored Penguins. "The longer you go, the bigger your beard's going to be, so it kind of represents your success in the playoffs."

Theoretically, a woolly mammoth is a successful hockey player. And there is anecdotal evidence that the Islanders teams of the late 1970s -- on the verge of their four consecutive Stanley Cup victories the following decade -- initiated the don't-shave-till-you're-eliminated custom.

To current players, not yet born then, playoff beards have "always" been in hockey, Carkner said, so that even in junior competition, those who were able, grew whiskers.

Maybe it's the Samson thing: Hirsute equals supernatural strength. So the just-beyond-stubble on most of the present-day Islanders can represent several realities:

1) The playoffs have just began.

2) This franchise's historical postseason harvest has been stunted for a long time, with no advance past the first round since 1993.

3) There are a lot of young lads on the roster.

"A couple of guys, for whatever reason -- and they're younger -- well, you know when your uncle says, 'You eat this and it'll put hair on your chest.' I guess they didn't eat those things," said forward Brad Boyes, who was quick to acknowledge that his own beard was "just OK."

There is overwhelming agreement that defenseman Brian Strait's heavy, black facial hair leads the team. "I kind of started a little early," Strait said. "As soon as we clinched a playoff bid, when we had two games left in the season or something like that. So it's about 2 1/2 weeks now. I just want to keep it growing."

Strait, Boyes decided, "has a full beard 10 minutes after he shaves. Keith Aucoin, when I was with him in Providence and we went a fair distance, had a good one, but he had some missing gaps, so it was kind of like [mutton] chops going."

Aucoin's 2013 look, he readily admitted, "is not very good. I wouldn't call it a beard. Maybe call it a chinstrap."

But it's there, and though he said there is no chance of competing with Strait -- "I've never seen anything grow so fast in my life," Aucoin said -- he intends to see how much better the chinstrap can become.

Casey Cizikas likewise is struggling a bit to cultivate a crop worthy of his contribution through four playoff games. But he is only 21, and he remembered that, when he tried to grow a playoff beard during Canada's junior hockey Memorial Cup championships two years ago, "it took me a long time. I had a real good mustache at the end, but that was about it.

"This one is a little bit scruffy, but I'll take it."

Then there is coach Jack Capuano, these days sporting just the start of a Van Dyke -- the combination mustache/goatee. It may or may not be considered a playoff beard, because Capuano's superstitious nature so often moves him to switch from facial hair to clean-shaven depending on the previous game's result.

For him, a long winning streak would be pretty hairy.

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