The tradition of playoff beards is almost as sacred as the Stanley Cup Playoffs themselves, in which players refuse to shave until their team is either eliminated or is hoisting the Cup. It goes without saying when it comes to playoff beards: The bushier the better, signifying a lengthy run in hockey's postseason.
But one Ducks player will enter the upcoming playoffs already sporting substantial facial hair, a majestic beard worn proudly by right winger Patrick Eaves. It's that look and some prolific goal-scoring that has quickly made Eaves a fan favorite since he came to Anaheim in a trade with Dallas last February 24. (That popularity is already reflected in the Ducks' playoff marketing assets, in which Eaves is one of the players most prominently featured, despite having only been in Anaheim for a month and a half.)
Already with 21 goals on the campaign at the time of the deal, Eaves reeled off 10 more in his first 18 games with the Ducks, during which Anaheim not coincidentally went 12-3-3 to launch into a fifth straight playoff berth.
At the age of 32, Eaves eclipsed the vaunted 30-goal milestone for the first time in his career, which he admits, "Means a lot to me, and shows what I can do when I'm put in those positions to score and play those minutes. It's been very nice."
Just having the opportunity to score that many goals is impactful to Eaves, who has endured a number of injuries in his 12-year NHL career, including a nearly catastrophic one on the night of November 26, 2011 while playing with Detroit. A shot by Nashville defensive Roman Josi struck Eaves in the earhole of his helmet, knocking him out cold. He was wheeled off the Joe Louis Arena ice in a stretcher and was later diagnosed with a concussion and broken jaw, struggling through two ensuing months of migraines and sleepless nights. He wouldn't play hockey again for 14 months, finally returning to action in January 2013.
"I couldn't be a parent, I couldn't be a father, I couldn't be a husband," Eaves told reporters that year after being nominated for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL player who demonstrates perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. "I think that was probably the worst part. I was in a dark room for a while. That was the worst part of the whole thing. My wife held the ship together, ran everything and took care of me."
That would be Katie, who was pregnant at the time with daughter Della while caring for their one-year-old, Norah (the couple also has a three-year-old son, Axel). Katie was the one who convinced Patrick to grow out the beard during the 2015-16 season in Dallas, and he hasn't turned back.
"She told me to start growing it, and here we are today," he says with a chuckle. "That wasn't really my choice. I cut it about once a month, or else it would be pretty gross. I've got to take care of it a little bit."
The look gives Eaves the appearance of "a Civil War soldier that went missing in action and ended up at a hockey game," as one writer once described it. It's also the main reason Eaves draws attention in the Ducks dressing room, according to his coach, Randy Carlyle.
"He's a pretty unassuming guy," Carlyle says. "Anytime you're around our dressing room, he's not a guy who stands out. To me, he's a no-maintenance player. You ask any coach, you'd love a dressing room full of no-maintenance people."
Indeed, Eaves' coach in Detroit (and former Ducks head man) Mike Babcock, once said this: "If you can be as mentally tough as Patty Eaves and you keep digging in then you will be fine in life. Patty Eaves is one of those people. He makes people around him better because of his commitment to the team and his mental toughness, and he doesn't let you get in the way of him having a great day."
It's that likability that has helped Eaves fit in with the Ducks, who he says welcomed him almost immediately after the trade. "Day 1, when I met up with the team in LA, I kind of met everyone at breakfast that morning and they made me feel very comfortable," he says. "I was lucky because you never know how that's gonna be. And I was getting text messages after I got traded from guys too, so as soon as the trade happened, everyone kind of rallied and made me feel welcome."
That helps, since Eaves has been living on his own in a hotel near Honda Center since coming to Anaheim, preferring to have Katie and the kids stay back in Dallas until the school year is over. "It's been crazy enough, so we want to keep their routine as much as we can," he says.
Asked if he's okay cooped up in a hotel room all this time he shrugs, "I don't need much."
That only reaffirms the "no-maintenance" label put on Eaves by Carlyle, who says of the vetern winger, "The easiest thing to say about it is he does the simple things. He has a scoring knack, a good release. But he goes to the front of the net on a consistent basis. He makes himself available in that critical area, but he does it unassumingly. He doesn't have a lot of bluster or whatever, but when the puck is on his stick, he finds a way to put it over the line."
That will be invaluable in this postseason to the Ducks, who can only hope over time their playoff beards get close to the girth of Eaves' facial growth. He, for one, is optimistic.
"I like the way we're finding ways to win right now, and we're gonna need that in the playoffs," Eaves says. "I like where we're at right now, and I like where we're going. I feel like we're improving every day and we'll be firing on all cylinders in the postseason."