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There’s a backstory behind Liam O’Brien’s beard that we’ll get to in a minute. Suffice to say that he never wanted to shave it. That’s why he gave his Hershey Bears roommate, Chris Brown, such a tall task in a game of What Are the Odds when O’Brien was first breaking into the pro ranks in the Washington Capitals’ system.
“He had to pick a number and I gave him between one and 80; it might have even been like one to 200,” O’Brien said. “Anyway, he guessed the number, I lost the bet and the team is like, ‘You gotta do it.’”
O’Brien is confident that nobody leaked the number. Brown just had ridiculous luck.
“It was an honest guess so I was like, ‘Alright, I guess it’s time,’” he said. “So I went all the way down to the iron and they didn’t even know who I was. They finally saw my chin.’
“It was so bad and I got heckled so much that I vowed I would never shave my face ever again.”
That is the reason that O’Brien grew his beard in the first place.
“When I was a kid, I used to get bullied a lot for the color of my hair,” he said. “I’m a redhead, right? So it was, ‘Ginger.’ ‘Fire Crotch.’ ‘Carrot Top’ and that kind of stuff so I just kind of let it go.”
While his beard grew, O’Brien also grew in stature, rounding out to his current measurements of 6-1, 213 pounds.
“I don’t get bullied anymore,” he said, laughing.
Bullying sucks. Hopefully, the kids who did that to him got what was coming to them, but O’Brien’s initial pain was Coyotes fans’ gain. O’Brien’s beard stands out on the current roster, but it is also one of the best beards in franchise history; ring of honor material.
The beard is so good that it has inspired another Coyote to follow suit. Lawson Crouse had a memorable summer. He got engaged to longtime girlfriend Claire Stewart in Paris, and he signed a five-year, $21.5 million extension. That spawned another venture.
“After I got engaged I didn’t shave,” he said. “I’ve never really grown out the beard. I’ve had stubbles here and there but I thought maybe it was time for a new look. Obviously, I will keep it cleaned up but I’m gonna see how it looks.”
Crouse has O’Brien-esque aspirations.
“I’m gonna try,” he said. “It’s funny, when the guys who ask for autographs out front see me they’re like, ‘O’Brien! O’Brien!’ I’m like, ‘No, that’s not me. Shorter ginger beard.’ I don’t know if I can compete with Obi. He’ll probably blow me out of the water, but Claire’s asking me already: ‘Are you gonna have that on our wedding?’ I don’t know. Time will tell.”
O’Brien wore his at his own wedding this summer outside of Prague. He has strong opinions about Crouse’s wedding.
“I hope he rocks it at the wedding,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien isn’t wed to the current look. He admits that if he were involved in a long playoff run, his beard would look a lot like Brent Burns’ does, and he is open to other ideas.
“Maybe I’ll go with a goatee for a little bit,” he said.
Still, he has his standards. He’s not about to get his Burns or Joe Thornton on in the regular season, where there are whole Horton-Hears-a-Who worlds growing inside of the beard.
“Burnsy and all those guys have got great beards, but I’ve always been someone who wants to have a well groomed beard,” he said. “I like to keep it clean and shape it and you know, blend it into the hair, too. That’s important.
“It’s taken some time for it to grow in kind of the way I wanted it to. I’ve kind of let it do its thing at times, and then it’s kind of just shaped into what it is now.”
That’s his advice for Crouse.
“Lawson’s is coming in nicely,” O’Brien said. “There’s an awkward phase, kind of like when you want to grow your hair long. There’s always that awkward phase where you’re just super uncomfortable with the way it looks, but you’ve just kind of got to battle it and get through it. He’d definitely be able to do the exact same thing as me. He’s able to grow it. He’s just gotta let it go a little bit.”
Daily maintenance is also required.
“I just use kind of like a beard pomade and I don’t even use it that often,” he said. “I’ll use it every once in a while, like if I’m going to a nice dinner.
“I had a beard shampoo for a while there, but honestly, it wasn’t much different than just regular hair shampoo so I’ve just kind of been using a nice hair shampoo on it. Sometimes, less is more.”
O’Brien figures that Burns and Thornton must have greater management routines with their beards because the growth presents some obvious problems.
“When you’re eating, stuff gets in there all the time, so you just kind of battle through it,” he said. “The worst is the mustache. If the mustache overgrows, then you start eating the mustache. That’s when you know it’s time to go to the barber shop. My guy, Josh, in Scottsdale, is a professional.”
There aren’t many burgeoning beards on the Coyotes roster. Zack Kassian had a pretty good one during the playoffs last season with Edmonton. O’Brien thinks that Conor Timmins could grow a good one, too.
“We’ve got to put some pressure on him,” O’Brien said. “We don’t have a lot of beard guys. Chychy (Jakob Chychrun) is good looking enough without a beard. Kells and Guenther have some time.”
While Clayton Keller and Dylan Guenther may need a few years before they can sport their own beards, O’Brien is playing the beard game from the opposite end.
“When I start losing my hair, at least I’ll have a beard, right?” he said. “And when I get to like 40 or 45, I’ll just start shaving my face and everybody will tell me I look good for my age.
“I’m saving my face for the future.”
Top photo of Liam O’Brien via Getty Images
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