Despite Loss Of November Schedule, Movember Still Growing Strong In NHL

The NHL lockout claimed November last week as approximately 200 games were lost due to the ongoing labor strife between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association.

Yet, the darkening of the league's 30 arenas hasn't stopped its players from darkening the area above their upper lip for charity.

"Just because they're playing pond hockey right now doesn't mean that they can't grow mustaches and have a good time with it," Movember Manager of Grassroots Engagement JJ Owen said in a phone interview Thursday.

Entering its 10th year, Movember is a worldwide charitable organization aimed at creating awareness for men's health issues, particularly testicular and prostate cancer. Men -- also known as "Mo Bros" -- start clean-shaven on Nov. 1 and grow a mustache, effectively becoming walking and talking billboards for Movember in the process. Participants can also set up an online portal on Movember's official website and raise funds with their facial hair.

According to Owen, the NHL's involvement -- like the movement as a whole, which was founded in Australia in 2003 -- began a few years ago "with a couple passionate 'Mo Bros,'" and as word spread, players and teams across the league began to take notice. That evolution reached an unprecedented peak last year, when the NHL's official Movember network featured 919 members -- about 300 of whom were players -- and raised $252,000.

"The teams and the players have really embraced it," Owen said. "They're knowledgeable about the subject and they recognize themselves not only as stewards of Movember, but also stewards of health.

"Something like health doesn't necessarily come up all the time, but then you have big dudes, like [Florida Panthers forward George] Parros or something. If they grow a mustache and talk about men's health, you're gonna listen."

Parros, the hulking, Princeton-educated enforcer who sports one of hockey's most notable dusters, came for the "shared interest in the mustache," but stayed for the message. 

"It's become a part of what I care about," he said over the phone Thursday. "I try to find every way I can to get the message out."

Even though he isn't taking part in any on-ice competition, Parros is still going to head-to-head (or more appropriately, face-to-face) with Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mike Brown in a fundraising contest. Parros has assembled a team of fellow locked-out NHLers, including Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, to compete against Brown's team. The winner gets to select a tie for the loser to wear to the arena on the first day of the season if and when it begins.

"It's unfortunate that we lose a little bit of visibility because we're not playing, but we're still public figures and we can still get ourselves in the public eye," Parros said. "A lot of us have followings on Twitter. We can still support the cause."

Owen admitted that the cancellation of the entire month of November did originally cause him "a little bit of concern," but the NHL's effort in laying the groundwork for Movember, now one of Hockey Fight Cancer's charitable partners, and the work of dedicated players like Parros assuaged his fears.

"We're at a point where the fans have embraced it, the players know what's up," he said. "Both groups are reaching out and still participating despite the lockout, so I think the foundation laid in the last few years has been so strong that it's almost self-sustaining at this point, which is really cool."

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