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Maven's Memories: Playoff Beards An Islanders Invention

Stan Fischler looks back at how the Islanders popularized the playoff beard

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

Having seen Ken Morrow enough times I came away convinced, that he was born with a beard! -- Rich Torrey, son of GM Bill Torrey.

Although you won't find it in the National Hockey League Record Book there is ample evidence that the Islanders invented the "playoff beard" tradition.

Bryan Trottier suggested that the playoff beard tradition originally began in 1975 when the club rebounded from 0-3 deficits against both the Penguins and Flyers. Fair enough but nothing like a beard bonanza was ignited at that time.

Fast forward to 1980 and the popularization - and pluralization - of playoff beards began to take hold with defenseman Ken Morrow. It started rather innocently with the long-haired Morrow and, soon, teammates followed on his beard wagon.

"Not that I meant to (invent any tradition), but I had worn a beard going all the way back to my college hockey days," Morrow said.

Now, as the post-season roars into its second playoff round, beards are all over the ice and for good reason; they supposedly bring good luck to those skaters who have forgotten their razors.

Based on research, memory and interviews, my conclusion is that Morrow gets the crown as All-Time-First Playoff Beard King; but we'll get to that -- and Ken -- later.

Video: Animated Stanley Cup Stories: Birth of playoff beards

The first Islanders beards actually didn't start with Morrow. Both Ken and others acknowledge that beards were grown in the pre-Cup years; it's just that they weren't even worthy of debate.

Richard Torrey, son of the late Islanders General Manager, Bill Torrey, was one of my first contacts in search of the original playoff beard and Rich noted that a couple of Islanders disdained barber shops -- alias tonsorial parlors -- in the old days.

Like myself, Rich points to the 1974-75 season as the campaign in which the first significant Islander beards became apparent. Curiously, it was all because of a trade Rich's dad made with Minnesota GM Jack Gordon that helped catapult the Nassaumen into their first playoff.

Bow Tie Bill obtained the very hairy forwards Jude Drouin and J.P. Parise from the North Stars in a steal-deal for Doug Rombough, Ernie Hicke and Craig Cameron. "Torrey must have had Jack Gordon under ether when he made that trade," noted a rival NHL executive.

In addition to skill, the two French-Canadian snipers brought more facial hair with them than any Islanders fans had ever seen. Bill's son, Rich, who had been hanging out at the Islanders Racquet and Rink hockey school, did a double-take when he saw Parise.

"As far as I'm concerned," Rich told me, "J.P. had the greatest beard of all-time. He literally had to shave twice a day -- and after the second shaving he still had a 'five o'clock shadow.'"

During that first playoff season Drouin also had an impressive facial-carpet. Matter of fact there's photographic proof positive of Jude's rug on Page 41 of the book, "Pride And Passion," the 25th anniversary commemorative team history. 

When the Islanders took aim at the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1980 there still had been no phenomena such as a "Playoff Beard Craze." As a matter of fact that expression was unheard of during the homestretch of that '79-'80 run. 

Then again, so was Ken Morrow unheard of since being drafted 68th overall by the Isles in 1976.

Nobody paid much attention to Morrow in those days; except Ron Mason, his coach at Bowling Green University near Toledo, Ohio. Mason noticed that Ken was the only player on his collegiate squad with a beard.

"One day," Morrow remembered, "Ron called me into his office and asked if I wanted to keep the beard for my senior season and I told him, yes, I did."

Mason didn't mind the chin hair since Morrow was a first-rate defenseman who eventually was invited to play for Uncle Sam's 1980 Olympic team coached by Herb Brooks. At the time Brooks had an unofficial No Beard Rule.

Morrow: "Herbie modified the rule so that anyone who came to the team who previously had a beard could keep it. Which was only me. The coach never asked me to shave it off."

Ken helped orchestrate the Gold Medal victory over Finland on February 24, 1980, enjoyed the festivities and then headed to Uniondale where he was immediately thrust into Al Arbour's starting lineup. I remember something compelling about Morrow during his NHL debut at the Coliseum; he had lots of hair on his chin.

"When I came to the Islanders," Morrow confirmed, "I had my beard and pretty soon the (1980) playoffs had started and I never shaved it off."

Because of Ken's hair surplus, Bow Tie Bill nicknamed him "Wolfee" and as the Isles climbed the playoff ladder, teammates such as Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies, John Tonelli and Butch Goring followed Morrow's hirsute suit.

"We started it (after Morrow) and, frankly, my mother was not too crazy about it," admitted Denis Potvin. "In fact she told me, 'You'd better win another Cup because I hate that beard.'"

Rich Torrey: "Tonelli and Potvin were right up there in terms of the ability to grow a beard. On the other hand, the Sutter Brothers, Duane and Brent, could barely sprout enough facial hair to grow an eyebrow!"

Once that first Islanders Cup was won all but Morrow's beard disappeared. And if you check the team's post-playoff group photo, you'll notice a very tall player in the middle of the last row, his beard as outstanding as was his playing ability.

It was The Beard King himself, Ken Morrow!

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