It took the demands of the playoffs to reveal the flaw in Albany rookie forward Chris Terry's game.
The playoff beard. It's just not working on his 21-year-old face. Hockey traditions become that way for a reason. But if Terry had been part of the first group of players who thought harvesting whiskers was a good thing to do before the postseason, that notion might have died an ugly death before it was handed down through the generations.
"There's not much on my face, but a lot on my neck," he said. "It looks pretty bad when it's long. This is probably the longest I've let it grow all year. When it starts to look a little ragged, I'll get rid of it, keep it clean."
The Carolina Hurricanes couldn't care less what Terry looks like in the mirror these days because he's already shown he has the only look that matters -- that of a very good prospect. His varied contributions throughout the season first put the River Rats into playoffs and then helped them sweep Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to reach the second round for the first time since 1998.
At the beginning of the season, Albany coach Jeff Daniels stressed to his players the importance of rounding out their games. Think Terry, Carolina's fifth-round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, was paying attention? Let's see.
Offense? Check. His 47 points (17-30) ranked second on the team, behind only the other-worldly Jerome Samson.
Defensive responsibility? Got it. Daniels has grouped Terry, Nick Dodge and Steven Goertzen together on an effective checking line for much of the season.
Power-play contributions? Yup. Terry has the versatility to run the point on the second-team unit.
"For me, he's been our biggest surprise, the way he's gotten better as the season has gone on," Daniels said. "It's a lot of responsibility for a younger player. The message right from training camp was be a complete player. It sunk in with him. Chris has come in and opened our eyes from not being sure what his role was going to be to us being in the playoffs, and he's playing a big role for us."
Terry gets a handle on his game right down to the tiniest details, especially before games. He's one of the most meticulous Rats when it comes to taping his stick, lacing a candy-cane wrap of black tape from about one-quarter way down the shaft to one-quarter the way from the bottom.
He must re-tape his first stick before every game, regardless of whether the previous tape job is holding up. The backups aren't re-done unless they are used in a game.
"I spend a lot of time with my stick," he said. "My hands slide if I don't have that tape there. I guess it's just a feel thing. My sticks come with a grip, but it's not enough for me."
It's understandable that Terry has to do whatever he feels helps him stay ahead of, or at least keep up with, one of the most talented peer groups in the AHL. Forwards Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman and defenseman Jamie McBain, all rookies, probably ranked a little higher on the organization's prospect depth chart heading into the season.
Each of those three got time in Carolina this season; Terry did not.
"I don't think I was overlooked," Terry said. "Those players are great players in their own right. I think having those guys called up gave me more experience. In the end, it probably helped me establish myself and get a more permanent spot on the (Albany) roster. I came in with the mindset to establish myself here. You wonder if you are going to get the call, but you can't get frustrated with it."
Terry often focuses on other things to keep a grounded outlook. Playing for Plymouth of the OHL last season, he was the recipient of the Dan Snyder Memorial Trophy as the league's humanitarian of the year last season and he's been one of the Rats' most visible faces in the community.
But Terry was slow to make an equal impact on the ice this season. He was a huge scorer for Plymouth the last two years, finishing second in the league in scoring with 94 points (39-55) in 2008-09. Overall, he's third in Plymouth history in assists (175) and fourth in goals (114) and games played (253).
After introducing himself with goals in each of his first two games with Albany this season, however, Terry registered the same number in his next 25.
"In juniors I was a goal scorer, very offensive," Terry said. "When I got here this year, it took me 20 games to get comfortable. Everything became very familiar to me, knowing the systems, feeling comfortable out there. I probably didn't think it (his points total) was going to be that big a number. I was probably aiming for 30 points, or so."
Terry soared past that to help the Rats establish themselves the second half of the season. He went 2-9 in 14 February games and 5-8 in 14 games in March. He then shook off the pressure of his first AHL playoffs with a goal and 3 assists against the Penguins.
"He's got a good shot. He thinks the game so well offensively. It seems like at times he's one step ahead of people."
-- Jeff Daniels
Terry's chess match moves toward the grand masters category now. The River Rats' "reward" for toppling Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is a second-round date with defending champion Hershey. That puts Terry's trio flush into the meat grinder for a matchup against the Bears' almost unstoppable line of Alexandre Giroux, Keith Aucoin and Andrew Gordon.
"Those three are all talented players," Terry said before the series started. The Rats currently trail 0-2. "You have to be defensively strong any time they are on the ice. I think we see it as a challenge. It's not something you are afraid of. I'm not going to lose sleep over it. You try to go out and play, be conscious of where they are on the ice."
Failure to follow that oft-stated but seldom carried out strategy likely will mean a clean shave of his beard at last, which would be a relief in most circumstances. Not now. Look a little rough because things are going smoothly for his team? Terry will live with that tradeoff.
"The longer it gets, the better you are doing in the playoffs,"’ he said. "It can get pretty itchy. But it's well worth it as long as we are winning."