An Ode to the Flow: Hockey Hair through the Years
Flow noun: Long, wavy or curly hair on a hockey player that can be seen moving in the air as the player skates down the ice (coming from the term long, “flowing” hair).
Flow is an unwirtten and highly admired object of desire in the world of Ice Hockey. It’s prevalence can be seen throughout the years in the NHL and hockey world in general. Hair without restrictions, free to flow wherever it pleases defining players over decades of hockey. But flow was not always what it is today, in fact, it used to be quite different.
Ice hockey was seen in its earliest forms during the middle ages in Scandinavia as a game played with a curved stick and a ball on ice. So we know right away where hockey gets its incredible roots in flow from, historically the Vikings had some of the best long flowing hair in the history of the world. Lets fast forward a few hundred years to a more civilized society. Hockey in its first official organized form was started in late 19th century. So all you Canada haters out there, don’t say they never gave us anything. Hockey began to gain some appreciation and in 1917 the NHL was formed. The flow in the early days of the NHL was defined by hair a few inches long, above the ears, and with massive side and middle parts until about the 1950s as demonstrated by Montreal Canadien, Toe Blake (all pictures of players for this post are in a slideshow down at the end of the post). In these times flow was certainly interesting but everyone had the same hairstyle. It was very hard to distinguish yourself, but then times began to change. The 1960s were an experimental time in North America in regards to lifestyles, fashion and other “recreational activities” we’ll call them. Men began wearing their hair longer in many walks of life and this was no exception in the NHL. As the 60s transitioned into the 70s we began seeing players like Phil Esposito, Bob Nystrom, and Guy Lafleur setting standards for flow. he sported long, flowing hair that waved in the crisp rink air as they strided and glided up and down the ice. We even saw the emergence and image of flow being reinforced in Hollywood with the release of the 1977 film Slap Shot. The Hanson Brothers helped shape the image of the hockey goon, but more unnoticed than that they set the bar for flow extremely high. The freedom and uninhibited styles of flow were very representative of that time. The rules weren’t nearly as strict as the are today and less equipment meant more space on the ice and room to move freely, just as their hair remained liberated and unrestricted to move as it pleased. Yes, hockey flow seemed to be unstoppable and the trademark look for hockey players everywhere.
As the 70s gave way to the 80s terror struck. The NHL made a ruling that starting in the 1979-1980 season players who signed contracts after June 1, 1979 were required to wear helmets. How was the image of hockey players having long flowing hair supposed to stay in tact when they are now required to wear a piece of equipment that covers your hair. The 70s were unabashed and long hair was encouraged, but in an attempt to clean up their acts men in the 80s began cutting their hair shorter and styling it in goofy ways (i.e. flock of seagulls haircut). And yet again we saw the hairstyles of the time being reflected in the NHL. Players began wearing a plethora of moronic looking helmets. Instead of free-flowing hair that made players look like gods of the ice rink they began to look like crash test dummies and robots designed by the nerds from your local Jr. High School’s AV club. In fact the old cooper helmets were used as a part of the standard costume in the movie TRON to help represent people and programs with in the computer’s mainframe. With more young players entering the league, the more helmets we saw, the less flow we saw. A few players attempted to keep flow alive namely The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. But the look of hair popping out the back of the helmet was too before its time. It’s safe to saw the 80s were a dark time for flow due mostly to the helmet. But what are hockey players known best for? Their grit. The hockey world grit their teeth (or at least the players who had teeth) and stuck it out till the 90s where flow returned to glory.
The resurgence of flow had to come on strong with the helmet now in play and to say that flow came on strong in the dirty 90s is an understatement. Grunge was taking over and mullets were at an all time high. Needless to say, long hair was back… WITH A VENGEANCE BABY! The 90s said, “If helmets prevent flow from occurring on the top of the head then we’ll just have our’s come out the back!” The flow game was totally reinvented. Instead of flow being on the top of one’s head, it had now migrated out the back of the helmet. Flow now looked like an extension of the helmet and, in some cases, of the Jersey. With flow players like Chris Simon, Mike Ricci (who looked an awful lot like Steve Zahn with long hair) and Al Iafrate were rocking in the 90s it was not enough to say they had flow. Ney, they had OVER-flow, too much hair to handle. The crazy flow these guys had you would have thought they were front men for their own heavy metal band! Their flow dragged down so far that you couldn’t even read the names and numbers on their jerseys. But none came close in comparison to the flow of Jaromir Jagr, the holy grail of flow AND mullets. Jagr wore an absolute mane of beautiful black hair during the 90s. His flow alone is enough to send him to the hockey hall of fame and to win a Billy Ray Cyrus look alike contest. So to the men of the 90s, thank you for keeping the flow alive.
As we entered into the new millennium players began to clean up their acts a bit and cut their hair shorter. Chris Simon shaved his head and Jagr cut the mullet. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact players were beginning to look too scummy and shorter hair was a breath of fresh air. Jeremy Roenick rocked some great flow in 90s alongside Ryan Smyth and Anson Carter (who showed us that the 2000s had all the elements of awesome flow but looked much more clean and controlled. Except Michal Handzus, I guess he didn’t get the “no mullets” memo, he looked like he could he could have been singing backup vocals for Skid Row.
As we now enter the decade of 2010 flow is alive and surging. It keeps a clean, slick look embraced by the NHL’s youth. Kris Versteeg, Steve Stamkos, TJ Oshie, David Booth and Patrick Kane with his playoff mullet are just a few young players who fell the flow. For the most part you don’t really see any players with out of control flow (with the exception of Mike Commodore and Scot Hartnell’s long hair) like you saw in the 90s. More often than not though, flow is under control and alive these days. While flow is not a necessary part of hockey, it certainly is a great way to associate yourself with the hockey world, great flow = great respect. Flow helps define the hockey culture, no other major sport (sorry lax bros) that I can think of has such an unspoken respect for flow that it can make your image improve so vastly. Players I mentioned like Handzus, Simon and Ricci aren’t known (at least to me) for their incredible skills or hall of fame numbers but their flow, alongside many others will live on in infamy. LONG LIVE THE FLOW.