About the Author

Andrew Podnieks

ANDREW PODNIEKS is the bestselling author of more than forty-five books, including World of Hockey: Celebrating 100 Years of the IIHF; The Complete Hockey Dictionary; Justin Morneau: All-Star Ball Star; GEM Hockey; and A Day in the Life of the Maple Leafs. Please visit www.andrewpodnieks.com for more on the author.]]>

Books by this Author

Canadian Gold

2010 Olympic Winter Games Ice Hockey Champions
edition:Paperback
tagged : olympics, hockey
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Canadian Gold 2002

Making Hockey History
edition:Hardcover
tagged : olympics
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Canadian Saturday Night

Canadian Saturday Night

edition:Paperback
tagged : archery
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Essential Blue & White Book

Essential Blue & White Book

The Most Complete Toronto Maple Leafs Factbook
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Fast Ice

Fast Ice

Superstars of the New NHL
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Hockey Heroes: Paul Kariya

Hockey Heroes: Paul Kariya

edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Hockey Superstitions

Hockey Superstitions

From Playoff Beards to Crossed Sticks and Lucky Socks
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey, sports
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Excerpt

THE PLAYOFF BEARD
 
 
The playoff beard is a sure and ubiquitous sign that Stanley Cup hockey has arrived. For a dozen games in the pre-season of September through the eighty-two gruelling games that comprise the regular season, the NHL’s nearly one thousand players are clean-shaven, with a few sporting a beard year-round and only a handful even crafting a moustache. But when the calendar turns to the first day of the playoffs, all players on all sixteen playoff teams put away their razors, vowing not to shave again until they have won the Stanley Cup (or, more likely, have been eliminated).
 
The playoff beard has come to mean several things. First, it is about the team, a way of bonding and showing each teammate that the players are “all for one and one for all” as they begin the quest for hockey’s Holy Grail. Furthermore, it is about perseverance, about each player making a collective vow not to shave, not to care about personal appearance or tonsorial etiquette because looks don’t matter, family doesn’t matter, nothing matters except chasing the dream for the next two months of hockey.
 
Because the beard is not a feature players enjoy the rest of the year, it is also a symbol for the suffering they are willing to endure to win. Wearing a beard, especially in the spring and summer months when the playoffs are scheduled, is as unpleasant in its own way as blocking a shot, losing a tooth, or sticking up for a teammate during a game.
 
The beard is an outward commitment by the players to their fans that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win in the playoffs, willing to vouchsafe all personal cleanliness and focus only on bringing home the Cup. It acts as a constant reminder to each player of this promise, this dedication.
 
Dave Lewis, a member of the New York Islanders from 1973 to 1980, believes that his team started the NHL tradition of the playoff beard in the mid-1970s. However, photographs of the team from those playoffs
don’t consistenly corroborate his claim. It seems to have begun with the Islanders, to be sure, but not until 1980, when the team won the first of four straight Cups (1980–83). Lewis, unfortunately, was traded to Los Angeles late in the 1979–80 season and never won a championship with the team.
 
The 1979–80 team that won the Cup for the first time featured two Swedes—Stefan Persson and Anders Kallur—the first Europeans to win the Stanley Cup (Bob Nystrom, also on the team, was born in Sweden but grew up in Canada).
 
Another irrefutable fact is that Swedish tennis king Björn Borg began a Wimbledon tradition of growing a beard back in 1976. Each Wimbledon he started clean-shaven, vowing not to touch a razor again until the end of the tournament. He won five championships in a row, and each trophy presentation featured a bearded Borg accepting the prize (Andy Roddick tried to mimic this habit in 2008, but he failed to win the lawn championship). It is well within reason to think the Swedish players copied their national legend and brought the beard tradition to the NHL.
 
 
 
THE PLAYOFF BEARD GAINS MOMENTUM
 
 
The successful run of four Stanley Cup wins in a row with bearded superstitions established the New York Islanders in the game’s history, but that doesn’t mean the legend spread from that day to this. Indeed, the team’s success more or less ended the playoff beard for some time. The Edmonton Oilers took over from the Isles as the dominant team for the rest of the 1980s, and those players refused to copy a tradition possibly started by their rivals (many of their great players were probably also too young to grow truly Grizzly Adams–ish beards anyway). So, the Oilers won their Cups with clean-shaven faces and lightning speed and skill.
 
Ironically, while the New York Rangers would never dare do anything similar to the Islanders—or vice versa—it seems that the beard returned with the New Jersey Devils in 1988, the first year that previously sad-sack team made the post-season. Their beards didn’t grow long before they were eliminated, but in 1995, the team continued with the tradition, won the Cup, and never looked back.
 
Momentum picked up as the century came to a close, and now, far from worrying about copying an enemy’s habit, the superstition is that you can’t win the Cup without adopting the team beard philosophy. Ergo, the evolution to today when players on all sixteen teams grow their beards and every spring one team does, indeed, win the Stanley Cup with full beards (proving the superstition’s worth!).
 
 
 
THE PLAYOFF BEARD REACHES THE OWNER’S BOX
 
 
The playoff beard has pretty much been a playersonly tradition, but a new era began in 2008–09 when Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux adopted the superstition along with the team. This isn’t surprising given that Lemieux was (a) a Hall of Fame player himself and (b) landlord to the team’s captain, Sidney Crosby. No doubt at the start of the playoffs, over a bowl of cereal at breakfast, the captain challenged the owner to play along and toss the razor aside for the duration. And so it was that on the ice and in the dressing room after Pittsburgh’s historic victory in June 2009, Lemieux raised the Cup high above his bearded face in triumph. It is highly doubtful that the older and more corporate owners will follow Mario’s lead, but Penguins fans can be sure that Lemieux will continue with the tradition as long as it has strength (having Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the team doesn’t hurt, either).

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Hockey's Greatest Teams

Hockey's Greatest Teams

Teams, Players and Plays That Changed the Game
edition:Hardcover
tagged : hockey
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IIHF Top 100 Hockey Stories of All-Time

IIHF Top 100 Hockey Stories of All-Time

Official International Ice Hockey Federation Publication
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Messier

Dominance on Ice A Celecration of 25 Years in the NHL
edition:Paperback
tagged : sports
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Patrick Roy

Patrick Roy

edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Red, White, and Gold

Red, White, and Gold

Canada at the World Junior Championships 1974-1999
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Return to Glory

Return to Glory

The Leafs from Imlach to Fletcher
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Sid vs. Ovi

Sid vs. Ovi

Crosby and Ovechkin - Natural Born Rivals
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Excerpt

Like a boxer who is repeatedly knocked to the canvas only to get up in the final round and win the fight, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the most survival-tested organization in sports. The team was one of six granted a spot in the NHL in 1967 as part of the doubling of the league from six teams to twelve. Other new franchises included state rivals Philadelphia, St. Louis, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Minnesota.
 
Yet, in each of the three distinct periods of the Penguins, the team faced the very real threat of relocation, such was the sorry state of its on-ice performance and off-ice finances. The first chapter in the team’s history started in 1967 and continued to 1983. The Penguins missed the playoffs in eight of those seventeen seasons and did little damage in the years they did qualify.
 
The lowest point came in 1975, when the Penguins, ahead in the quarter-finals against the Islanders, having won the first three games of the best-of-seven, lost the next four and were eliminated, the first time a team had blown a 3–0 lead since 1942.
 
At the same time, the team declared bankruptcy, when creditors lined up demanding to be repaid on their investment. It seemed almost certain that the Pens would move to Denver. However, another group of investors stepped in and saved the day, keeping the Pens in Pittsburgh.
 
The next low point came in 1983–84 when the Penguins had a record of 16–58–6, their 38 points putting them dead last in the league. They were averaging fewer than seven thousand fans a game and again were in financial difficulty, but finishing last, which they later admitted they did intentionally, entitled them to the first overall draft choice in June 1984.
 
They selected Mario Lemieux, but even this simple announcement turned into an embarrassing moment.
 
The whole hockey world knew well in advance that Lemieux was in a class by himself, but in the days leading up to the draft his agent and the team’s general manager, Eddie Johnston, couldn’t agree on a contract. So, when Lemieux’s name was called on draft day at the Montreal Forum, Mario remained in his seat, neither shaking the GM’s hand nor coming to the stage for the traditional donning of the team sweater.
 
Soon enough, though, Lemieux signed with the Penguins, changing the course of the franchise – though not right away. As the team was slowly constructed around their star player, it missed the playoffs for the next five of six seasons.
 
Lemieux developed into the game’s greatest player not named Gretzky, and the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1991 and ’92. But by 1997, Lemieux was fed up with the league’s refusal to crack down on defensive tactics such as hooking, holding, and interference, and he retired. Much of his salary had been in the form of deferred payments, and soon after he hung up his skates, the team went into bankruptcy again, Lemieux’s millions seemingly lost. He decided to buy the team using this money as equity, both saving the team, again, and recouping his money (sort of).
 
In order to maximize his investment, as it were, he returned to the ice and played successfully for several more years. All along, he had one interest off-ice – to build a new arena.
 
Nicknamed The Igloo, the Civic Auditorium and Mellon Arena was old and without luxury boxes, had few revenue streams beyond ticket sales, and would be the ruin of the team if it wasn’t replaced. Years of frustration forced Lemieux to put the team up for sale early in the 2005–06 season, this despite the fact the team had just won the right to draft Sidney Crosby. Research In Motion’s co-CEO, billionaire Jim Balsillie, bought the team, but as soon as Balsillie made it clear his intention was to move the Penguins, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stepped in and disallowed the sale.
 
Eventually, Lemieux got the City of Pittsburgh on board for a new facility. He retired because of heart palpitations in early 2006, and Crosby became the focus of the franchise, taking the team to a Cup win in 2009. The Consol Energy Center opened soon after, and the Penguins are now a thriving franchise in a league awash with financially unstable teams.
 
Although the Washington Capitals have never had the financial troubles of the Penguins, they, too, have had a history clearly divided. Washington was granted a team in 1974, along with Kansas City (the ill-fated Scouts), which promptly went out and had the worst season in the history of sports, the Caps winning only eight of eighty games in the first year, scoring just 181 goals and surrendering 446. They won only one of forty road games, losing a record thirty-seven in a row. They missed the playoffs each of their first eight years in the league, but in 1982 the team turned a corner when incoming GM David Poile engineered a blockbuster deal with Montreal that got them Rod Langway, Doug Jarvis, Brian Engblom, and Craig Laughlin.
 
The Caps then made the playoffs for fourteen straight years but never went far until 1998, when they made their first and only trip to the Stanley Cup finals. They were swept in four games by the vastly superior Detroit Red Wings, and a year later Ted Leonsis took control of the team. A more aggressive owner, Leonsis made a huge splash in 2001 when he lured Jaromir Jagr away from the Penguins, signing the scoring champion and MVP to a seven-year contract worth $77 million, the largest in league history.
 
While it was a noble attempt to bring success and celebrity to the team, the results were disastrous, and Jagr was traded three years later. Undaunted, Leonsis later signed Alex Ovechkin, to the new biggest contract in NHL history, midway through the 2007–08 season, a thirteen-year deal worth $124 million. Ovechkin had been selected by the Caps first overall at the 2004 Entry Draft and after only two and a half years established himself as one of the most dynamic goalscorers in the game. Ovechkin has proved popular, later becoming captain, but he has yet to deliver playoff success. His presence, though, has ensured sellouts at the Verizon Center (formerly the MCI Center) and financial stability for the team, and, in turn, he has been given a contract of value commensurate to his star value.
 
And so, as the second decade of the twenty-first century unfolds, Pittsburgh and Washington have the two best players in the game on their respective rosters and have created a rivalry around these stars. They are both captains of their teams and have won several individual awards, but so far only Crosby has won the Stanley Cup. Ovechkin still has plenty of time to win his own, as both are only now reaching their prime. The rivalry is young and the Cup old. Who will get there next?

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Stanley Cup Championship Book A East

Celebrating Winnipeg's return to the NHL
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Team Canada 1972

Team Canada 1972

The Official 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Summit Series
edition:Hardcover
tagged : hockey
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The Blue and White Book 1997

The Blue and White Book 1997

The Most Complete Toronto Maple Leafs Fact Book Ever Published
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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The Complete Hockey Dictionary

The Complete Hockey Dictionary

Over 12,000 Terms, Words and Phrases Defining the Game of Hockey
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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The Red Wings

The Red Wings

The Most Complete Detroit Red Wings Book Ever Published
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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The Year of the Boston Bruins

Celebrating the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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The Year of the Chicago Blackhawks

The Year of the Chicago Blackhawks

Celebrating the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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The Year of the Los Angeles Kings

The Year of the Los Angeles Kings

Celebrating the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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The Year of the New Jersey Devils

Celebrating the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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The Year of the New York Rangers

Celebrating the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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The Year of the Phoenix Coyotes

Celebrating the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions
edition:Paperback
tagged : hockey
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Three Stars and Other Selections

Three Stars and Other Selections

More Amazing Hockey Lists for Trivia Lovers
edition:Paperback
tagged : trivia
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Where Countries Come to Play

Where Countries Come to Play

Celebrating the World of Olympic Hockey and the Triple Gold Club
edition:Hardcover
tagged : hockey, history
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World of Hockey

World of Hockey

Celebrating a Century of the IIHF
edition:Hardcover
tagged : hockey, history
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