|Kyle Chipchura's face this summer was proof of how much he's grown since being drafted by the Canadiens in 2004.
MONTREAL – Growth. It can come in many different ways: personal, physical, emotional and of course, follicle. Clearly, Canadiens hopeful Kyle Chipchura is no stranger to growth of any kind.
Mature well beyond his age, the 21-year-old has managed to cram a fair bit onto his puck resume since being the Canadiens' top pick at the 2004 NHL Draft. Already the proud owner of a gold medal from the 2006 World Juniors, Chipchura added a Calder Cup championship to his CV this past summer.
Nearly as impressive as those achievements was the caveman-like playoff beard that Chipchura was able to sprout during his AHL playoff run with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Thankfully for Chipchura and his female admirers, he did finally manage to pry his beard from his face.
“Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy,” admitted Chipchura. “It’s a good thing Ryan O’Byrne let me borrow his heavy-duty trimmers. There’s no way I would have been able to hack my beard off with a blade alone. I trimmed it down a little and then I used a blade to finish the job.”
While Chipchura doesn’t miss his dense and furry chin strap, it came in handy at times, especially as a comedic prop.
“I remember during the playoffs I was horsing around at a restaurant and I began sliding toothpicks into my beard one-by-one and they weren’t going anywhere,” recalled Chipchura of soon being upstaged by a Bulldogs teammate. “Then Ajay Baines did the same with chopsticks and they stuck in there pretty good. I couldn’t top that.”
With Chipchura’s facial hair came wisdom. After wearing the “C” in junior and leading Team Canada to gold at the 2006 World Juniors, the AHL rookie in his first complete season with the Hamilton Bulldogs did what he has always has—lead.
With the score of Game 5 of the Calder Cup finals tied at 1-1 after two periods, Chipchura took a deep breath, stood up and spoke his mind in the dressing room.
“I just told the guys that we had 20 minutes left and if we win this period, we’ll go out as champions,” recalled Chipchura. “That’s exactly what we did and I couldn’t be more proud of those guys and what we accomplished.”
The millon-dollar question these days remains: which of the Canadiens bright, young talents will crack the Habs lineup to start the regular season? Might this be Chipchura’s year to make the cut?
“I sure want it to be,” said Chipchura.
He also wanted to win the Calder Cup and we know how that turned out.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com