Joe Sullivan laughed when he talked about the look some Big Ten officials gave his NCHC crew last weekend when they crossed paths at a hotel in Minneapolis.
“Here they were all clean-shaven and looking good and here we were all hairy and scruffy,” Sullivan said. “But they got it. It’s a lot of fun and it’s for a great cause.”
“It” is Movember, the month of November dedicated in the NCHC to growing facial hair in support of men’s health. NCHC official TJ Likens got the league to start urging its players, coaches and officials to grow mustaches when the NCHC was formed three years ago, and the movement’s popularity continues to grow like hairs on a lip.
Sullivan and Don Adam, director of NCHC officials, now lead the charge. Adam has the distinction of having grown the only mustache that has its own name, “El Diablo.”
Approximately 36 of the 44 conference officials take part along with several players in the league.
“Some can’t because of work reasons,” Sullivan said. “But hands down, Don’s El Diablo is the best among the officials and I think Gage Ausmus from North Dakota has one of the best for players because it comes in thick and you can see it though the mask. St. Cloud State’s Joey Benik has a good one, too. Mine isn’t nearly as good. It’s light and doesn’t come in so well.”
Adam oversees NCHC officials, so most of the guff the Colorado police officer receives at games is from the media in the pressbox.
“I don’t get on the ice like Joe and the others but I hear it a lot,” Adam said. “The name El Diablo came about after a fellow officer called me it one day. I introduced it at the rink and it has taken off. The guys at the station love it, too. I do some fundraising with it on Twitter and Facebook, but nothing major yet.
“I just grow it for Movember and then it comes off. I’d say most of the people doing it do the same.”
The NCHC is the lone college hockey conference officially taking part this season, but thousands of males around the world, including several NHL players and officials, are growing facial hair to bring awareness to male health problems in much the same way wearing pink raises breast cancer awareness.
Last season, NCHC officials raised about $900 in donations through its website.
So far this month officials have raised more than $3,300, thanks in part to Adams’ “El Diablo” campaign and a golf tournament fundraiser at the course Sullivan manages in St. Louis.
“A lot of people grow mustaches for fun,” Adam said. “We’re asking them to do it for a reason.”
The Movember Foundation lists its mission as a challenge in the month of November to grow facial hair to inspire one another to live happier, healthier and longer lives. Since 2003, millions have joined the men’s health movement, raising more than $650 million and funding over 1,000 projects focusing on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical inactivity.
Sullivan said he joined to help raise awareness or male depression, suicide awareness and preventive healthcare for men.
“I read a statistic where women are 100 percent more likely to take part in preventive healthcare than men,” Sullivan said. “It’s an ego thing and that hit home for me when a good friend from high school died of esophageal cancer. He felt something wasn’t right but he wouldn’t go to the doctor like many of us. By the time he couldn’t take it and went, it was too late. He died shortly after finding out he had it and that’s something to think about with preventive care.
“Suicide and depression is also important to me with all of the news about concussions’ long-term affects. I’ve had four in my life that I know of and it’s scary to think about the repercussions down the road.”
Adam and Sullivan say everybody has a story when it comes to why they participate in Movember. Some are personally affected, others know a family member or friend who’ve dealt with prostate or testicular cancer and a myriad of other men’s health issues.
“It’s accurate to say Movember is to men’s health as wearing pink is to breast cancer awareness,” Adam said. “We want this campaign to grow.”
The bright side of Movember is seeing people who don’t typically wear facial hair — or look particularly good in it — brings coaches, players, officials and even fans together.
“Warmups are always a good time to check out each other’s mustaches,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes, during the coaches meeting you catch them checking the ‘staches and you say ‘hey, eyes up here!’ It’s always fun to add a little razzing before we end up having to call penalties.”