Thu Apr 21 10:30am EDT
The beard Ryan Miller(notes) wore as the starting goalie for the U.S. Olympic hockey team in 2010 was a scraggly bit of facial foliage that made the goalie look like he had just finished kicking around a hacky sack at Bonnaroo.
So it was initially jarring to see Miller's design for a 2011 Stanley Cup Playoff beard with the Buffalo Sabres: a mustache and large sideburns, looking as if he's preparing to shoot an ad for men's cologne in the 1970s.
But forwards Drew Stafford(notes) and Nathan Gerbe(notes) are sporting the same look. Ditto defenseman Jordan Leopold(notes) and others on the Sabres, who are battling the Philadelphia Flyers in a quarterfinal series.
What's behind this odd playoff grooming trend? It's a tribute, to one of the franchise's most beloved players, who tragically lost his life earlier this year.
On Sunday, March 14, Rick Martin was driving through Clarence, N.Y., when his car drifted from the westbound to the eastbound lane and then into a utility pole. He died from Hypertensive Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease, having a heart attack behind the wheel during the one-car accident. He was 59.
Two weeks earlier, Martin was at center ice of the HSBC Arena being loudly cheered, as the fabled French Connection line of Martin, Rene Robert and Hockey Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault were reunited to the delight of Sabres fans and new owner Terry Pegula.
He was as popular a player as the Sabres have seen, not only for his on-ice exploits -- he's second in team history with 382 goals -- but because of his connection with the fans and selfless commitment to the community.
The current Sabres understood that, and wanted to honor his legacy beyond wearing a commemorative sticker on their helmets. That's when things got hairy.
As part of the team's annual playoff beard-a-thon for charity, and as part of the grand tradition of the playoff beard, some of the Sabres are growing big sideburns and mustaches in honor of Martin, who sported the look in the 1970s and on hockey trading cards.
"We see pictures of him all over the place and thought it would be a nice tribute," said Stafford to the Buffalo Business Journal.
The beard-a-thon benefits the Sabres Foundation, which does everything from assisting youth hockey initiatives to supporting children's health and wellness initiatives. Fans can pledge donations in support of their favorite player's beard.
What makes the tribute perfectly symbolic of Martin's impact on the franchise: The fans are in on it, too.
Shutdown Pair, a Sabres blog, suggested a "Mustaches for Martin" campaign that quickly caught on in social media. From Buffalo 74:
The latest fan effort to emerge from the Twitter Sabres convo is "Mustaches for Martin," a heart-felt push to convince fans to grow serious 'staches instead of the traditional unkempt, mangy playoff beards. It's an awesome idea. Besides the rallying power this has for fans, imagine how the city would look for tourists (on their way to Niagara Falls), or at least non-hockey fans (heretics), when thousands of hungover mustachioed Sabres fans are roaming the streets after game nite. How wonderfully creepy.
The campaign gained an official Twitter tag -- #MustachesForMartin — and was spreading like an unwieldy sideburn as the Sabres tied their first-round playoff series with the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-2, on Wednesday night.
Sure, the Sabres will look like extras from the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" video if they keep advancing. But as hockey tributes go, it's a woolly, worthy effort.