Playing hockey in Minnesota is a rite of passage. And for the past decade, so has being honored for “hockey hair.”
While competing in the Minnesota State High School tournament, each player is introduced by skating up to a camera. Many of these players have unusual or eccentric hair styles, and the favorites get the honor of being chosen for the Minnesota High School All-Hair Team.
“You have to make it to the state tournament from your section, and then at the first game everybody gets introduced one by one and we skate up and look into the camera and he’s always watching and chooses his top 10 guys from each year and does his commentary,” said Dallas Duckson, a forward from Mahtomedi who was named to the All-Hair Team in 2016 and was an honorable mention in 2017.
The “he” Duckson referred to is John King, who decided to combine his love of hockey and hair in 2011.
That’s when the High School All-Hair Team was born.
“I had been to the tournament and there were just so many people down there and I thought there should be awards for the best hair,” King said. “It’s just crazy the stuff that the kids do. So I cut [a video], but it was before YouTube and all that.
“Five years later, both my kids were on multiple teams, so we were really into the hockey thing, and I sent letters to sponsors asking them to pay me if the video gets 5,000 views and nothing if it doesn’t, and no one wrote me back. Then I went to the movies with my wife after 2011 and I probably texted the link to maybe 50 people as we headed into the theatre, and when we came out, all of a sudden, there was all these views on there, and the next day there would be another 10,000 and another 10,000 and it just kind of took off from there. Everything was organic.”
King watches all the players introduced before choosing his top 10 players as well as honorable mentions before making the videos. The 2015 edition has over 2.9 million views, and the 2016 version over 2.3 million.
Duckson said when the state tournament was approaching, he and his teammates knew they had to do something to get noticed.
“I always have kind of kept my hair a little longer, but it was definitely something we all kind of thought about when it got to that time,” Duckson said. “Of course, growing up in Minnesota and stuff, every kid dreams of playing in the tournament, so when we got there, I’d like to think we were focused mostly on the hockey side, but we definitely thought about it. Our whole team bleached our hair bleach blonde.”
Duckson, who also had a Fu Manchu to go along with his dyed hair, said he didn’t know he was selected right away.
“I had no idea because when we go to the tournaments, we made the decision to leave our phones and everything at home so we were just focused on hockey, so I didn’t even know about it until like three days later when I finally got home how big it had actually gotten,” Duckson said.
Daniel Sandvig, a forward who played with Burnsville, was selected along with three of his teammates as the No. 1 hockey hair for the 2016 tournament.
“Yeah, I mean it’s a crazy honor. I wasn’t expecting that at all,” Sandvig said. “There’s a group of four of us, beard, mullet, ginger, afro, who were on an episode of “E60″ on ESPN and there were local news here. So once we made it to state, I kind of did the mullet and the [Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick] Kane with the three stripes on the side of his head. I don’t have the mullet growing now, but we’ll see if I bring it back.”
King, who always makes it about the players, has some nice flow himself.
“The joke on the hockey hair is that I’m this bald, 65-year-old man living with my mother,” King said. “That’s kind of the vibe of the video. I take my hair seriously, yes. … In today’s world, it’s nice to make something that a 14-year-old might like and a grandma might like.”
After the 2019 version, King said that would be his last one, but he returned in 2021 knowing how the videos help raise money for the Hendrickson Foundation, which seeks to enrich the lives of individuals with disabilities through hockey.
“When I went to the Hendrickson Foundation Tournament, all these kids were coming up to me and they didn’t understand why I wasn’t doing it [anymore] and I had always said it was never about me ever,” King said. “… So why not keep doing it, keep raising money? As long as it’s funny, I’ll keep doing it.”
King said with the help of his videos, “well over six figures” has been raised for the Hendrickson Foundation. And over the years, the videos have evolved as well.
“Part of it was special hockey, military hockey, they’re really the exact same mentality, so to kind of start going and trying to put some of those kids and get girls on the team was pretty cool,” King said. “I think we just tried to make it inclusive and big and fun. It was never mean-spirited.”
Now eight past members of the High School All-Hair Team will get to skate on an auxiliary rink at the 2022 Discover NHL Winter Classic between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild at Target Field on Jan. 1 (7 p.m. ET; TNT, SN1, TVAS).
“It’s going to be crazy. It’s a dream come true,” Sandvig said. “I’ve always wanted to be at the Winter Classic, just watching the game. Just to be on the ice now too, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Like my hair got me here? That’s amazing.
“It’s going to be fun just to see other guys and kind of get their stories and just talk to them like, ‘Hey, how’s your season going?’ and just kind of soak it in as a group of eight. This will show people that Minnesota is the State of Hockey. I hope the Winter Classic brings that atmosphere and is just a moment people won’t forget.”