Arguably the greatest spectacle in all of sports, the NHL playoffs, is about to begin. Have you grown out your playoff beard yet?
By Mike Petrone
Put down those razors and grow out your beards 'cuz the greatest spectacle in ALL of sports is upon us; the NHL Playoffs! You don't even have to follow it to recognize the unparalleled awesomeness that is the grind of playoff hockey. For the next two months we're going to be treated to hard hits, close games and the inviting majesty of NHL playoff traditions.
No other league in North America is as entrenched in its quirks come playoff time as the NHL, and it's those very quirks that serve to ratchet up the intensity and connect us to the games. Sure, the Superbowl is an unrivaled spectacle and the World Series is older than most of our great grandparents, but only the NHL combines the NFL's adrenaline rush with MLB's sense of history into the perfect sporting experience.
So let's take a closer look at some of those wonderful foibles that are either distinctly NHL or originated there...
Do you know what real men do when they part company? They shake hands - EVERY DAMN TIME. They make a point of and would be embarrassed to do otherwise. Even if that company you're parting with just handed your ass to you in a devastating championship loss, you line up, look each and every one of your conquerors in the eye and you shake their hand, leaving with dignity. You know who does that better than anyone else? You guessed it, the NHL. There's none of this will they/won't they nonsense like in the NFL or this casually stroll over and maybe congratulate a few of the other guys crap like in baseball or, what, get in a massive fist fight in basketball. No, these men line up and do it right and we at 13 Folds salute them for it!
This one reportedly started with the New York Islanders of the early 1980's as they formed a championship dynasty that spanned the first half of that decade. Since that time it has spread to many other sports as a sign of team unity and shared dedication to a singular goal. Never the less, it's still most closely associated with professional hockey and, given the length of their postseason, lends itself to the most grizzly examples of playoff beards you're likely to see.
Sudden Death Overtime
All right cry babies, it's the end of regulation and the score is tied. What are you gonna' do? You gonna' let penalty shots decide? Hell no! You gonna' flip a coin and play by a special set of rules? Are you kiddin' me! You gonna' make sure everyone gets another turn so nobody's feelings get hurt? Bitch please! You're gonna' settle this thing the only way real men know how... SUDDEN DEATH!
All right, I need to pause for a minute here and give the balance of this list a mini introduction of its own. You see, the greatness of the NHL playoffs is directly and proportionately linked to the greatness of the prize awaiting the victors at the end of the tournament; Lord Stanley's Cup. Like watching Vikings in combat striving to earn their place in Valhalla, hockey players compete with a level of graceful savagery, hoping it will earn them a place in the hallowed halls of their forebears. And the Cup they'll drink from is a splendid one indeed!
There's Only One Stanley Cup
This one's real simple; when you win the Stanley Cup, you win THE Stanley Cup! All the other greats that have come before you have hoisted that very trophy in victory, enjoyed their time with it as champions and then honorably passed it along to the team that knocked them from the top of the mountain the next season. Between them and you, there is an unbroken chain of glory that weighs 35 lbs and stretches a mere 3 feet, yet spans more than 125 years. Before they tore down Yankee's Stadium, sports jerks would talk endlessly about playing on the same field that all the greats played on. And in a way that was true, but several generations of turf had come and gone between Babe Ruth and Gary Sheffield and the stadium around them had undergone countless changes. Not so with the Stanley Cup. When you kiss the bowl perched elegantly atop the prize, you know it's the same thing Bobby Orr did '70 and Messier did in '94. You simply can't top that!
Hands Off the Trophy
This one comes in two flavors: Players that win their conference title but refuse to touch the trophy and players that refuse to touch the Stanley Cup, or even be in the same room with it, until they win it themselves. In either case, this ties directly back to just how unique and special Lord Stanley's Cup is in professional sports and the captivating power it has over the league's players. Nobody wants to soil their wedding night with the Stanley Cup by banging some skeezy Wales Trophy or Campbell Bowl at their bachelor party.
The Stanley Cup Equals Immortality
All right, here it is, the single coolest benefit to winning ANYTHING! When you win a Stanley Cup, you get your name on it... For all time. It's like when Hercules died and Zeus was so impressed by what a badass he'd become that he turned him into a constellation. The Cup is a catalog of yesterday's champions, a self-contained hall of fame. You read the names of Maurice Richard or Wayne Gretzky engraved upon its silver bands and you know that was the very Cup they fought for and hoisted so many times. But you can also trace the names of hockey's lesser lights. The men who, perhaps like you, weren't so blessed as a Richard or Gretzky. Men that sacrificed everything, played well over their heads and left it all on the ice just to get their names next to those of the gods. No other achievement offers a form of immortality as its prize and so no other tournament demands our attention so completely as the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
So put on your sweater, pull up a chair and crack a beer 'cuz the fun's just getting started!
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