Since arriving on the Semiahmoo Peninsula last September – just prior to the Surrey Eagles opening training camp – Daniel Gentzler’s hair has been getting progressively longer.
And though he’s refused a trip to the barber’s chair all this time, the California native earned nary a second glance from his head coach, who thought nothing of his veteran forward’s long blond locks.
He wouldn’t be the first superstitious hockey player to let his hair out during the season, after all.
But Gentzler, a 20-year-old Manhattan Beach, Calif. native, has had good reason to stay away from the stylist’s scissors – he’s growing his hair long enough so it can be cut off and made into a wig for a cancer patient.
“To be honest, I had no idea he was doing it,” said Eagles coach Matt Erhart.
“But it really doesn’t come as much of a surprise that he’d be doing something like this. That’s the kind of guy he is.”
The cause is a personal one for Gentzler, who is taking up the cause in honour of Karen Beebe, the mother of Gentzler’s childhood friend, Brett Beebe, a forward at Western Michigan University.
Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, but fought it off and was in remission, until the disease returned last June in her liver and lungs.
“My hair was already kind of long, but not too long. When we found out (the cancer had returned), Brett told me he was growing his hair out for his mom, and I just said, ‘OK, I’m doing it with you,’” Gentzler explained.
“It was a no-brainer. I’ve known (the Beebes) my whole life, since we were five or six. We grew up playing hockey together, starting with roller hockey.”
In order to donate his hair, it must be 10 inches long. Gentzler said it was about four inches long to begin with, and has reached about eight now.
He’s had to adjust his helmet size a few times throughout the season, as his hair has grown.
“I haven’t measure it in awhile, but I’m getting there,” he said, adding that both he and Brett will likely wait until the end of the summer to cut it.
Gentzler admitted that Karen’s diagnosis has been tough to stomach, but is confident that she’ll be able to beat the disease a second time.
“Doctors caught it early, so they think she can beat it again… she’s a strong woman, and she’s always such a happy person and so bright-spirited, and that gives all of us hope,” he said.
“She’s just a great lady… a real battler.”
And though his hair is nearing the point of being unmanageable, Gentzler said it also offers him a continued reminder of what Karen is going through, which helps put hockey in perspective.
“Every time I wake up it’s a battle combing it, and I think I’ll be happy to go back home with short hair, but it’s all worth it,” he said.
“I think of her and what she’s going through every time I look in the mirror.
“It makes you realize how good we have it. I mean, here were are, just playing hockey, playing a game.”
In addition to growing his hair for cancer patients, Gentzler, like many of his teammates, has also relished the opportunity to give back to the community in other ways.
At Christmas, he was one of a handful of Eagles to help deliver Teddy bears to sick children in the hospital.
“I think we were able to brighten their day, and that was great. It’s always nice to give back. It’s an opportunity I’d never turn down,” he said.
Even with Karen’s cancer battle weighing on his mind, Gentzler has enjoyed a solid season with the Eagles after being acquired by the club in the summer from the U.S. Hockey League’s Wichita Falls Wildcats.
In 48 games with the Eagles, he has 14 goals and 37 points, and has been something of a Swiss Army knife for Erhart, whose been able to use him in multiple roles.
“Whatever role we’ve asked him to fill, he’s embraced, whether it’s been as a checking-line guy and a penalty killer, or playing on our top lines as more of a scorer,” the first-year head coach said. “I even had him on defence for a little bit against Cowichan on the weekend. He’s very versatile, a jack-of-all-trades.
“The only unfortunate thing is that he’s 20 years old so we only have him for this year.”