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In February of this year it was announced that “The Global Wool Market had closed”! Just one more fallout from the devastation of Covid-19 — sabotaging the profits of another market. Thousands of pounds of this furry substance continue to lie unsold in depots around the world.
For countless owners of flocks of sheep this is bad news. But it must have the same effect on two NHL hockey players—Joe Thornton and Brent Burns. The value of the wool on their respective faces has plummeted for them—with publicity only surrounding the worst facial hair demonstration in the game’s history.
Unshaven faces and untrimmed locks have, from time to time over the years, been hot topics of controversy in the world’s fastest game. It reached its peak in the hippie era, when the majority of younger players snubbed barber’s chairs, creating an appearance which caused one old grandmother to snap: “Unless you can see their chest you can’t tell whether it’s a boy or a girl!”
The extremes during those 1970’s varied. Some, like Darryl Sittler and Pete Stemkowski opted for “longish” locks; while others like André Savard and Bobby Sheehan demonstrated the style intimated by that complaining grannie. To see players like Jean Ratelle or Cliff Koroll with a “bizz” job akin to the 1950’s was a rare sight indeed.
During that era reactions varied, both on the part of the fans and at the management level. When Mike Palmateer showed up for the 1974 team photo, he had the makings of a decent beard. Harold Ballard was so put out that he had his “head lopped off” and replaced by his picture from the previous year’s pose.
Many will recall Ned Harkness’ conservative policies along this line. He insisted that his troops have crew cuts, eliminating any resemblance to the popular trends of the day. In fact Garry Unger dug in his heels so firmly about his golden locks, that he was traded way.
Bobby Hull made no bones about what he thought of the mod look. Not surprisingly Don Cherry echoed how manliness was undermined by the girlish appearance of those who should be looking like men since they were playing a man’s game.
While Lou Lamoriello was chief cook and bottle washer with New Jersey, his rules were hard and fast about “no facial hair”. This scenario once again came into the spotlight when he became General Manager of the Maple Leafs. That stipulation has since been relaxed, resulting in the most unlikely upper lip foliage in the league — namely, Auston Matthews sporting a cookie duster.
Looking like refugees from Haight-Ashbury, the majority of NHL’ers continued that stance through the 1970’s and on into the next decade. From Ricci’s ringlets to Commodore’s carousel, the clean-cut look was passé. Even the “boy-next-door”, Wayne Gretzky, sported a moderate mullet.
Gradually, the more conservative hair styles of the 40’s and 50 evolved into the norm. Despite a few hangers-on, it wasn’t until the New Millennium approached that the mountaineer mode made a significant comeback. Probably Jaromir Jagr with his frizzy foliage may be thanked for reviving that trend. And, while the majority of NHL’ers display a style not unlike those familiar when Red Kelly, Gordie Howe and Andy Bathgate were household names, there are currently those who have chosen to return to the stringy strands betraying the Rip Van Winkle philosophy. Erik Karlsson, Chris Simon, Michael Handzus, and Scott Harnell are prime examples.
But this abbreviated chronicle about follicle fantasy is not the first time in NHL history that a different look has grabbed the headlines of sports pages. There was also the debut and the evolution of the moustache hitting the spotlight in this league.
Strangely enough, not only in the NHL, but in amateur vintage contingents, players sporting upper lips masked by whiskers were unusually rare—in contrast to the common style for all men during that era. In a photo of the 1901Winnipeg Victorias championship squad, only three displayed soup strainers.
It may well be that the clean shaven look held a purposeful stance. While they could not be classified as professionals, for all intents and purposes they were the pay-for-play crowd (and many were compensated “under the table”) And it was at the most skilled level of the game that it had become increasingly rough. Those who played were often considered ruffians. Perhaps the bare-faced look was meant to counter their demeanour on ice during action. Regardless. To find any skaters with other than clean upper lips was like finding a four-leaf clover — not impossible, but rare.
The history of the moustache is a lengthy one. It goes back as far as the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. During the Middle Ages, those in places of authority — like Kings — expressed their authority and assertiveness by avoiding razors on their upper lips. Historians agree that, during those past years, this patch of hair spoke of manhood and masculinity. It often coincided with military service. In the 19th century it was virtually mandatory for British soldiers to leave that portion of their face unshaven. It was a “code of comradery”.
My Grandfather Goodhand wore one. I have a photo of him in a family portrait when he was about 20 years old. His top lip was as smooth as his sister’s who sat next to him. But the first snapshot I have of him sported these bristles. He was never seen without it. His motive was, no doubt, to demonstrate maturity. My brother did the same. As a young fuzzy-faced public school teacher, it made him look more like an adult.
Generally speaking, alternative motives include novelty, counterculture, and yes (blush), as evident during the golden years of movies, (as it is termed today) “sexiness”. Men like Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, and Tom Selleck (Magnum) were those who made women’s hearts beat faster — just from looking at them.
How many and what portion of these incentives entered into shinny society is unknown. But what is known is that the first NHL’er to deck himself out in this fashion was none other than “Jolly Jack” Adams, who became famous on the management level with the Detroit Red Wings. He was a member of the 247th Battalion in 1916. He then wore the togs of the OHA Sarnia Sailors, before turning pro with the Toronto Arenas in 1917-18 when they won the Stanley Cup. It is not known whether he first appeared sporting his cookie duster or if he sprouted it the following season.
But in 1918, the Toronto Telegram picked up this little tidbit from the Montreal Herald. The sports editor was having a little fun when he posted a news item, written as if to the founder of Gillette safety razor fame:
“Mr. Gillette. Take notice that the NHL now boasts a player wearing a moustache. Jack Adams, the ex-soldier — forward for the Blues (Arenas) — boasts a tooth brush decoration to keep watch on his nose. But you’ve got to look pretty closely to see it, as he is blonde!”
The opinion of his teammates during that championship season is unknown. But when 1918-19 ended, it was evident that their second campaign in the league had not been a successful one. Rumour has it that they picked Adam’s tache as a jinx, and he was forced to shave it off.
There is an apocryphal yarn emanating from the era of Jack Adam’s later years, first with Vancouver, then back in Toronto and Ottawa. From 1926-27 through 1929-30. Frank “Moose” Goheen starred in the American Hockey Association with the St. Paul Saints. Mindful of the continuing irritation concerning facial hair, at the management level, Goheen’s pals were kibitzing about him, and any future decision he might make to ignore that disapproval. “If Frank lets whiskers on his upper lip grow, would he have a MOOSEstache?”
Because the account of Adams is not well known, a number of historians credit Andy Blair with sporting the first NHL hair lip. In fact, one chronicle tracing the “History of the Moustache in the NHL” commences with ,“Start with Andy Blair”. The Winnipeg-born forward actually first appeared displaying this decoration 10 years after “Jolly Jack”.
He was studious as well as athletic. He earned his B.A. from the University of Winnipeg, where he starred in football as well as hockey. In fact he was the key ingredient in the winning formula which brought the Allan Cup to that school’s trophy case in 1928. Impressed by his on-ice-accomplishments, Conn Smythe signed him with the Maple Leafs the following autumn.
Blair was a bit of an enigma. Standing at 6’2” and weighing in at 180 pounds he was intimidating for his day. Conversely he was what they called a “dandy” in the pre-depression era. He dressed like Beau Brummell; was prim and proper in every way—with not a hair out of place. He kept a handkerchief up his sleeve — even when in hockey togs. He resembled a college professor more than a puck chaser; and his neat pencil-thin moustache only capped off the impression. But when under pressure, he suffered from serious stutter.
There is a favourite tale which always accompanies his biography. As studious in the dressing room as he was in the classroom, he ate up Smythe’s emphasis on “strategy”. One night, in the era when there were no delayed penalties, in a game against Ottawa, the referee’s zeal left only goalie Chabot and Blair to stem the tide. Before the face-off with the threat of being overwhelmed by those odds, the gentlemanly Manitoban skated over to the bench, daintily extracted his hanky, blew his nose; and stammered: “”Wwww—w-well, C-c-Conn. What’s the s-s-s-s-strategy n-n-n-now?”
Andy spent his final season at the elite level with the Chicago Blackhawks. He parted company with his nose warmer in the Windy City. There was an underlying pressure to start with. But when big Charlie Conacher became spokesman for Palmolive Shaving Cream, that sunk the ship..
It was two decades later that January 28, 1948 issue of the Hockey News featured a column entitled “The Moustached Marauder”. NHL’er number three was in the spotlight. Garth Boesch’s executive-style moustache stood out front and centre in the accompanying photo. This was no publicity stunt to draw attention to his debut in the world’s premier circuit. He began growing it when he was 18 years old, then a member of the Notre Dame College Hounds. He was aware that it was frowned upon at the Junior and pro levels; but liked it and would not be swayed.
With the Hounds, he was a right winger; but switched to the blueline when he advanced to the Senior level with the Regina Rangers. He was voted league MVP, and contributed largely to their Allan Cup championship. In 1944, he joined the RCAF, and played for the Winnipeg Bombers.
He was actually in the position to become part of the New York Americans. But when “Red” Dutton heard about his moustache, he said ”because of that he has two strokes against him before he starts!”
He apprenticed with the Pittsburgh Hornets in 1945-46 before becoming a valued rearguard with the Maple Leafs.
While no official biography comments on it, one reporter casually commented that (like Clarke Gable and company) members of the opposite sex found his styled whiskers to be appealing.
There is an old tale which comes out of a 1940’s Toronto dressing room tomfoolery. Even though every skater knew what Conn Smythe would think of facial hair, on one occasion the guys were jokingly imagining a beard-growing contest among themselves. The discussion was capped off with a comment by Prairie farmer Nick Metz, who was almost stubble free even as an adult: “I can’t grow anything but wheat!”, he confessed.
The wording of the aforementioned column about Boesch suggests that the Rangers’ rookie Don Raleigh may have faced the same challenge. He was “…doing research in the growing of whiskers” was the way the press worded it. It is said that he did manage to line his lip with follicles. But, as with Adams, it was so blond that it could barely be noticed. But whatever razzing he took for his silk strands he made up for with finesse. Called “Bones” because he carried only 150 pounds on his 5’11” frame, he was a magician in playing “keep away”, hanging onto the disc like it was on a string.
It will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue listing moustachioed pucksters in chronological order. When this facial rapport began to become widely popular, little was made of it. Therefore, just who exactly followed in the razorless crowd after Boesch and Raleigh is uncertain.
As near as it can be determined, the vote goes to Derek Sanderson. In the 1970 Bruins team photo he is as clean shaven as his cohorts. But when the team’s Fact Book for 1970-71 was released, there he was as big as life with an imitation of a small Fuller Brush on appearing under his nose. That is no great surprise. The long hair era, followed by the 1967 expansion, doubling the number of teams, and offering more independence to non-conformists, makes “Turk” the choice for fitting the bill. Capping one’s lip with whiskers was still frowned upon. But Sanderson’s motto was “I’ve got to be me!” Living outside the confines of propriety was typical of his part of his “me first” philosophy. If there were boundaries or borders involved they were a nuisance and an annoyance to him. Drugs and booze, plus an undisciplined lifestyle eventually brought him gradually from the top to rock bottom. To thumb his nose at anything which would get under management’s skin was his way to go.
Not surprisingly, Eddie Shack’s unconventional stance along many lines, starting with public school education, saw him join the pack. But it was not until he returned to the Blue & White in 1973 that he showed up with bristles on his countenance. His first version with the Maple Leafs was a rather moderate (see below). But as time passed it developed into a “walrus”; and finally, the “handlebar”.
By 1973-74, there were or had been at least five Philadelphia Flyers who had abandoned the bare top-lip look: Brent Hughes, Bernie Parent, Rick MacLeish and Dave Schultz. That same season, only the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings had all players with every inch of their faces bare.
To unveil a list of the order in which these dozens of players joined the nose warming club represents a mission impossible. Hence, instead, this missive will close with examples of the various types of cookie dusters which were spotlighted as the years passed.
After Blair’s, and Boesch’s (and perhaps Raleigh’s if it could be seen) made their daring foray into face lifting featuring the “pencil style”, most of the early soup strainer pioneers preferred the unspectacular “chevron”, most easily remembered as worn by the aforementioned Sanderson. While Shack varied the versions of his crop, his early attempts at catching the public eye favoured what is called the “English” style. Whirling and swirling in his own wild “all wings and machinery” approach to the game prompted the dressed-up debut each game to come unravelled; but before the action began, the hairy ends were twisted and pointed—often held in that place by some entrepreneurs by “waxing”.
Dennis Maruk, whose full playing career began in 1971 and ended in 1999, must have used a potent follicle fertilizer to foster his generous bushy version of the “horseshoe”. The bountiful growth under his nose continued down either side of his mouth to his chin. Dave Schultz preferred the same pattern, but it was a thinned-out product.
While Rick MacLeish came close to displaying the “walrus” tache, one must go behind the bench to find the most genuine example of that type. Paul MacLean displayed this genre in the early 1980’s while with the Jets; but to see a full-blown example of that category one must catch a shot of the now mature French-born bench boss gesturing to his troops.
There is no NHL’er who has ever modelled a classic “Fu Manchu” – perhaps the most extreme of all ilks, save (very briefly) for the playoff runs of the Bruins in 2002 and Canadiens in 2004). But Maxime Talbot imitated it in his Boston Bruin days in 2005. If you wish to see a genuine image, you’ll have to take in one of Christopher Lee’s flicks. It resembles a very thin “horseshoe” — suggesting it must be a substitute shoe lace — but with a space between the sections on the top lip. But at least the LeMoyne, Quebec native demonstrates the general stringy lines of it.
To forget George Parros would be an injustice. But he changed styles so often it is difficult to limit him to one category. The most familiar shot pictures him while with the Canadiens. Technically he was then wearing a “dallas” type moustache; and in it he gives the impression of an angry villain. But he changed categories even more than Eddie Shack. For a time, there was the bushy bristles with a goatee — then the same with a beard—then he sported an unkept tangle of facial hair. It seems no two images are the same with him.
It will be no surprise to anyone to read that the moustache of all moustaches is the “handlebar”. And who else but Lanny McDonald leads the way in that category. (Taking a moment to check out the vintage examples , one will find that even his seems miniature in size. Those worn in 1800’s bring to mind the horns of a charging steer).
Most serious fans recall the bare-faced rookie when he first skated for the Maple Leafs. Next came the “walrus” which seemed to grow bushier each campaign in Colorado. And eventually it blossomed into the feathery wings which became synonymous with his permanent career with the Calgary Flames.
Every skater who has chosen to decorate under his nose in this fashion has not necessarily followed the official patterns discussed above. Bob Nystrom, for instance, possessed what might be loosely termed an “unkept ENGLISH” version. Mike Brown boasted a “semi HORSESHOE” pattern. Harold Snepsts appeared to have chickened out in going all the way with his “abbreviated Fu Manchu”. And Steve Stamkos chose a “stingy HANDLEBAR”. So, several have just followed their own whims with their personal picks.
It has been said that “our character tells the world you are a man. Your moustache is merely the exclamation point!”
In no other setting is that more applicable than it is in Canada’s National Sport.
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