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Fear the Beard: Ellis Does It All for the Preds

Defenseman's Epic Facial Hair is Just One of the Things That Puts Him On the Top of His Game

by John Glennon @glennonsports / jg1sport@aol.com

The roots for this story go back as far as 2010, when The Canadian Press - in what was likely the first public analysis of Ryan Ellis's beard - used this opening line: "What Ryan Ellis has growing out of his face defies any rational explanation."

Things haven't changed too much over the years.

As easy as it is to detail the impressive growth in Ryan Ellis's game, it's also impossible to ignore the stunning growth on his cheeks and chin.

On Tuesday, the Predators added the 26-year-old Ellis to the team's leadership group and made him an alternate captain, well-deserved rewards for a player who's seen his responsibilities increase dramatically this year. Ellis is averaging 24:33 ice time this season - an increase of more than three-and-a-half minutes from 2015-16 - and is on pace to set career highs in goals, points, hits and blocked shots.

"He's been awesome. He's a terrific leader," Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's unbelievably consistent on the ice. I think his game says everything. He's emerged, for me, as a guy that has not only taken charge on the ice, but in the room as well."

But what about that beard?

It doesn't so much grace Ellis's jaw as it occupies it. It's reddish-orange, thicker than drywall. It looks as if it deserves its own jersey and locker space.

Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, a Finn whose own facial follicles are more challenged, said he can't help feeling jealous of Ellis's wandering whiskers.

"Personally, I can't grow a beard, so I envy those kind of guys," Rinne said. "It's impressive. You don't see that kind of beard too often, so full like that. It's really trendy here in town, too, so I think he fits in really well."

Not all Predators are so kind-hearted.

In the long-established tradition of needling one's teammates, Preds center Ryan Johansen likes to refer to the 5-foot-10 Ellis as a leprechaun.

"Usually before games, I'm encouraging him to go find the pot of gold," Johansen said. "The player he is, he's usually successful. But really, I think [the beard] just distracts everybody from how short he is."

Ellis says he first started growing a beard around the age of 16 to distract everyone from something else - the boyish baby face he had when he was a teenager.

"If I shave, I look like I'm 15 again, so I'm trying to add some years to the belt," Ellis said. "I just like it, I guess. It's different. It's orange. It sticks out a little bit. It's just something I'm comfortable having."

In its present state, the beard has been under construction since the end of last "Movember," when Ellis and a number of Predators wore mustaches to bring attention to prostate cancer.

But it's been longer at times in the past, when Ellis might go several months without a full shave. That's the way it looked before training camp this season, when the beard resembled a small carpet.

"I could roll it up and almost touch my nose with it," Ellis said. "I'm not sure exactly how long that is [from the base of the chin], but I would guess probably about two-and-a-half or three inches."

Ellis does groom the beard from time to time, which separates him from Duck Dynasty look-alikes such as Joe Thornton and Brent Burns in San Jose. But the trimmings don't happen too frequently, despite the occasional urgings by his girlfriend, Kaitlyn, and his mother.

"I'll [groom it] once it starts maybe getting in my mouth and stuff like that," Ellis said. "Or when you start sleeping on it and it feels a little uncomfortable, then you kind of shed a few pounds. But not too often."

The Hamilton, Ontario, native says he gets mostly friendly feedback on the facial hair, especially from a certain subset of the population.

"Usually it's another ginger, someone with red hair, that appreciates it most," Ellis said. "You know, gingers take a bad rap sometimes. So I think they appreciate the shout-out."

Preds fans in general have to be pleased at the role the big-bearded blueliner is playing on the team this year, especially given the injuries that sidelined both P.K. Subban and Roman Josi for long stints.

Video: NSH@CGY: Ellis goes five-hole for PPG late in 2nd

 Ellis is on the ice for a team-high 29.2 shifts per game, an accurate representation of how valuable he is at even strength and on special teams. Once known as more of an offensive specialist, Ellis now sees more penalty-killing time than any of his teammates.

"He's a low-maintenance, unbelievably solid player every night he plays for us," Laviolette said. "He practices hard, and he plays hard."

And as the Predators prepare for their stretch run, Ellis knows he won't have to be distracted by at least one postseason tradition: His playoff beard is already well underway.

"The way I see it, we're pretty much in the thick of the playoffs right now," Ellis said of the congested Western Conference standings. "So I might as well just keep that beard rolling. Every game is important."

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