Minnesota and mullets: The grand tradition of hockey hair

The captains of the Burnsville hockey team
Burnsville High School hockey team captains Eric Otto, Cade Borchardt, Nolan Sawchuk and Brenden Larsen adjust their hair after practice at the Burnsville Ice Center in late February.
Tracy Mumford | MPR News

Minnesota has a strong tradition of high school hockey — and when the helmets come off, another spectacle begins: The hockey hair showcase.

The players in the state's championship tournament come prepared to play with standout hair, from full-grown mullets to sweeping tides of "flow."

But let's pause here to define "flow," a term critical to any talk of hockey hair.

Flow is "luscious lettuce, flowing back. Looks like there's always a fan blowing on you — flying back, coming out the helmet."

Got it?

"Lettuce" is hair.

So is "salad."

And "chop."

You'll need to know this to hang in the hockey hair game.

Burnsville hockey team captain Cade Borchardt
"I think my hair's perfect, honestly, nothing's wrong with it," said Burnsville hockey team captain Cade Borchardt. "I think I have perfect flow."
Tracy Mumford | MPR News

That definition of "flow" is from Cade Borchardt, one of the captains of the Burnsville High School hockey team. (For the record, he says, he has "perfect flow.")

Nobody knows exactly when the first player hit the ice with a mullet — the prototype of today's flow, salad and chop — but it's been a mainstay in arenas and on ponds since at least the 1960s. Some say it was first done for warmth, to keep a little fur on the neck. Others blame Canada, saying the hairstyle trickled down from our hockey-loving northern neighbors.

Joe Kimlinger, a former Chisago Lakes hockey player, thinks it's just practical.

The Chicago Blackhawks and their hair
Chicago Blackhawks players Patrick Kane, left, has one of the most famous mullets in the NHL. His barber keeps a special pair of scissors engraved with Kane's jersey number, 88, just for trimming it, according to the Chicago Tribune.
M. Spencer Green | Associated Press 2010

"You can have the long hair in the back and the wings out the sides, but you can also have the short hair that keeps your head cool," Kimlinger said. "I think it's ideal for hockey."

Big hair is part of a hockey player's reputation — a calling card with curls. The uglier, the better.

Burnsville team captain Brenden Larsen
Burnsville High School hockey team captain Brenden Larsen poses after practice.
Tracy Mumford | MPR News

"Hockey players are looked at like mean muggers, brawlers, so you gotta have an ugly hair style," said another Burnsville captain, Brenden Larsen.

"You can't be looking good out there."

Larsen, for the record, sports a mullet. Those long curls in the back are key: "I think if you want to get a little respect on the ice, you gotta have some locks coming out the back."

The rise of the "All Hockey Hair Team"

In 2011, a Minnesota man turned hockey hair into a competitive sport all its own. John King launched the "All Hockey Hair Team" videos, celebrating the longest, sleekest, most voluminous 'dos on the ice.

Every year, his videos highlight the finest hair the Minnesota State High School League teams have to offer. His running commentary rolls over footage from the state tournament's player introductions, when every player's name is announced.

One by one, they skate up to the camera. Some wink, some preen, some say hi to their moms. Lots of them adjust their flow.

"Texas has their Friday Night Lights and Indiana has their Barnyard Hoops," this year's video proclaims. "Here in Minnesota, it's the Land of Ten Thousand Locks: Hockey is king."

The videos' deadpan narration has introduced new terms to the world of hair criticism, like "dual exhaust" and "Flow-bio". The videos have racked up millions of views on YouTube, making Minnesota the flow capital of the country.

Last year's All Hockey Hair Team montage was viewed more than 2.5 million times. This year's video, released on Sunday, has more than a million views so far. Even outlets like ESPN and GQ have covered the mullet madness.

The All Hockey Hair Team has become so legendary, high school players are now actively pruning their 'dos to make the cut.

There's no exact formula for winning the honor: Sometimes a great beard can do it, sometimes a well-timed hair flip for the camera is all it takes.

Joe Kimlinger, the former Chisago Lakes player who is now a freshman at Notre Dame, was a surprise pick in 2014. He went for the slicked-back look, and was called out in the video for his "Clark Gable / Cal Clutterbuck" style.

"I didn't know I had the stuff to make it," Kimlinger said. "Thankfully, I did." That year, his team had two players on the All Hockey Hair Team cut.

"We didn't do so well in the tournament, so it was good to have one small victory."

Rocky Copiskey, a senior on the Bemidji High School Hockey team, was also surprised when his well-tended locks made the video in 2015. He was relatively new to the hockey hair game.

"Normally, I wouldn't flow, I'd have like a Justin Bieber-type hair and it would always get in my eyes and I finally got sick of it and I started flowing," Copiskey said. "That was probably my turning point."

Copiskey pulled off a rare feat at this year's tournament: He earned an honorable hair mention, giving him back-to-back appearances in the All Hockey Hair Team videos. He has his mustache to thank for that.

Burnsville hockey team captain Nolan Sawchuk
Burnsville High School hockey team captain Nolan Sawchuk after practice.
Tracy Mumford | MPR News

"Definitely the facial hair is a big thing now, too," he said.

The Burnsville team had a strong showing in the All Hockey Hair Team video, too, this year, even though were knocked out of the tournament by Wayzata in the first round.

Captain Nolan Sawchuk made the top ten for his below-the-shoulders look, which he'd been growing out since the end of last hockey season. The video dubbed it the "Legends of the Fall."

"We grow it out just because it looks good, flowing out of the helmet," Sawchuk said.

The Burnsville Blaze
This year's "All Hockey Hair Team" video gave the Burnsville Blaze team a salute for its combination of Afros, mullets and beards.
Courtesy of YouTube

The Burnsville team as a whole got some hair love, as the video declared them "the super group of salad."

(Remember: "Salad" is hair.)

Spencer Kramer has spent 20 years shaping players' salad — basically, mullets — even if players don't always call them that.

"I think they're a mullet," he said, "but, for the most part, they either call it 'hockey hair' or 'trim their flow."

"They say, 'I want hockey hair, but I don't want it to look like a mullet.' And that's kind of hard not to do."

Spencer Kramer at Dick's Sports Barber
Spencer Kramer has been cutting hair at Dick's Sports Barber in Edina for more than 20 years.
Tracy Mumford | MPR News

Kramer fields all kinds of hockey-related hair requests at his family's business, Dick's Sports Barber, in Edina. He does everything from shave stripes in the sides of boys' hair to carve their high school hockey team logos on the back of their heads.

"We get a lot of them that refuse to get their haircut during the hockey season because they want their hair to be as big as possible, come state tournament time," Kramer said.

The state tournament is when players really let their hockey hair loose.

Their hairdos have taken months, if not a whole year, to perfect. They've endured judgmental looks from strangers, and pleas from parents to shave it off. They've pushed the limits of hair gel, and now they have one moment, 10 seconds of solo camera time, to show the world their flow.

Will their coif catch the eye of the ultimate hockey hair aficionado?

The man behind the All Hockey Hair Team videos remains something of a mystery — an untouchable connoisseur. John King rarely gives interviews on his pastime of follicular criticism, and did not respond to requests for comment.

In his most substantial interview on the subject, from Minnesota Hockey Journal in 2012, it appears King interviewed himself. That's some meta-mullet media.

To ward off any worries that players may feel the weight of King's critique, in 2011 he assured the public that he is honestly impressed by the 'fros, flows and peroxide dye jobs he features.

"We're laughing with the kids, we're not laughing at them," he told the White Bear Press. "We legitimately think their hair is fantastic."

King has also managed to turn the hair phenomenon into a philanthropic effort. Starting last year, Warrior Sports has sponsored the videos, donating money to the Hendrickson Foundation, which provides a hockey experience for injured veterans, amputees and those in wheelchairs.

Who knew a mullet could be good for humanity?

Hockey hair: A glossary

Here are few terms to know if you want to talk "flow."

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.