Colton Saucerman: Behind the beard with hockey's everyman

Lindsay A. Mogle / Utica Comets

Colton Saucerman has a created-for-hockey name and a gnarly red beard that, quite frankly, would hold its own just fine alongside that of Brent Burns. It was only a matter of time before the 26-year-old defenseman became a viral sensation.

But the Colorado native played four years for Northeastern University, and since he left in 2016, he has suited up for eight different teams across the AHL and ECHL. It wasn't until he was called up to the Utica Comets last week when the internet fully took notice.

And boy, did it blow up.

ESPN on Ice caught up with Saucerman this week to discuss that infamous facial hair -- which, by the way, he had to shave off in October 2017 while trying out for the Lou Lamoriello-managed Toronto Marlies -- life as a journeyman minor leaguer and, of course, his decision to dress as Gritty for Halloween.

ESPN: Has your life been crazy since becoming a viral sensation?

Saucerman: It's been kind of a whirlwind. You never really know what to expect when you get called up, but I definitely didn't expect this much attention, for sure. It's funny because this isn't my first call-up, so it's funny that it hasn't taken off before this. But I guess the right media attention just needed to help it out.

ESPN: Has it been harder to live up to your name or your beard as a hockey player?

Saucerman: I just try to live up to the name and what I'm known for as a player. When people watch me play, I think the facial hair is always just going to be there. I don't plan on shaving it any time soon. I think just trying to live up to my reputation as a hockey player and follow the way I play and what I like to bring to each team that I play on.

ESPN: So you had a tryout with the Marlies last year and had to shave the beard because Lou Lamoriello was running the Toronto organization at the time. So you grew this entire thing in less than 12 months?

Saucerman: So the story was, I got invited to the Marlies camp probably two days before the camp started. And my agent calls me and goes, "Yeah, they want you to come but ... you have to shave." And I literally ... I almost told him no. I didn't want to go originally. I called my dad and was like, "Is this for real?" And he said, "Yeah, just shave it. You can grow it back in less than a year anyways." Did the camp, at the start of October I went back to Manchester, and probably from that second week of October until February is how long it took to grow it back.

ESPN: Have you ever figured out what the facial hair thing with Lamoriello is? Or why a team would want to take this personality bit away from a player?

Saucerman: I completely understand his thought process. It's the same as the Yankees, the old-school, classic, look-professional type thing. I've got nothing against that. It's just, in my personal opinion, I don't think that facial hair, or tattoos for that matter, mean a guy is non-professional. I think it's just how you carry yourself on and off the ice that determine if you represent your team or your city well.

ESPN: Hockey is a contact sport. It's sweaty. You've got a helmet on. You're skating around with your beard. ... What's the most disgusting thing that's ever happened with your facial hair on the ice?

Saucerman: Water, Gatorade, my own spit, blood ... it all kind of goes in there. I guess I've never really had anybody spit on me or anything like that. I had one guy grab it. Only one player since I've been growing it out just grabbed it. It's probably my own doing with the Gatorade and water and stuff.

ESPN: Is blood in the beard a washout or a cutout?

Saucerman: I haven't actually been cut, thankfully, with it. Sticks and pucks have glanced it, and I get these pressure cuts kind of, so it bleeds a little, but there's no need for stitches. So it's always washout. I've never had stitches where docs have had to cut it or anything like that. I probably wouldn't let them. I would just have a hole in my face.

ESPN: You played for four years for Northeastern University. Your last season was 2015-16. By my count, you've played for eight different teams since then, and that doesn't include stints like showing up for Marlies camp last year. Could you share what it's like when you're bouncing around in the minors at this stage in your career?

Saucerman: Everybody's path is kind of different, right? You have some guys that are drafted and they are franchise players. I just wasn't that guy. I am still chasing the dream that all of us have, and that's playing in the NHL one day. I look at it like, the more people that get to see me play, the more opportunities I get to play in front of other general managers, coaches, stuff like that, and maybe that's a good thing.

Obviously I'd love to stay somewhere and not have to travel every other weekend. But I just embrace it. I don't have a family or anything right now, so it's easy. Nobody is affected by it but me. You get to see some pretty cool cities and get to meet a lot of great guys. I'm definitely just enjoying the ride.

ESPN: Obviously you've gotten some renown lately. But when you walk into that Utica room for the first time, what's the reaction? Do you feel like you need to prove yourself, or are people like, "You know what, this is a hockey guy right here"?

Saucerman: I walked in there like, "Hey, they're going to give me an opportunity." We all kind of know the drill. When guys get hurt, guys go down, guys come up, it's all about trying to win. So I think the guys just embrace it, they embrace me like, "He's here to help." We have some injuries, let's see what he can do. For sure I've got to go out and prove myself that I belong there and earn that respect on the ice. I just try to approach it like I'm here to help and just have fun with it.

ESPN: Bouncing around as much as you have, how difficult is it to know everyone on the team? Is there ever a situation where you're on the ice and you don't know anyone's names you're playing with?

Saucerman: That's the funny thing -- and I'm terrible with names, too -- but by the time I learn first names ... the thing in hockey is that nobody goes by their first name. I could learn everybody's first name, because when you introduce yourself to everybody you say, "Oh, hi, I'm Colton." Well, nobody calls me Colton but my mom, I think. [On the ice] it's usually a lot of, "Hey, I'm open." or "Hey, bud." I just try to not mess it up, I guess, and not call somebody by the wrong name.

ESPN: Everybody loves your name and the beard, but you dressed up as Gritty for Halloween. You clearly have eyes on becoming a Kardashian-level viral sensation in 2018. Tell us about your decision to dress like Gritty.

Saucerman: I was bullied! I was bullied into it. I didn't want to do it. The guys in Manchester, they started calling me Gritty for a week or two before Halloween. It was actually Gasper Kopitar, the one who started it. That's Anze's little brother. He was like, "You look like Gritty, man. You have to go as Gritty for Halloween." I was like, "No, I don't look like him." And I was mad at him for like a week.

Then finally I was looking at pictures online, trying to find maybe a costume, and I was like, "Man, I'm Gritty. It's too perfect." So the equipment manager helped me out and did a custom Flyers jersey for me and definitely went above and beyond for whatever he has to do for his team role to help me out for a one-night costume. But it was a blast.

ESPN: So you were bullied into it. Part of Gritty's backstory is that he was also bullied as a child. Are there any other ways you see yourself in Gritty?

Saucerman: I think my energy and enthusiasm. He seems to have a lot of excitement. He enjoys just being around, doing what he does. I guess I consider myself the same way. I try to bring that to the rink every day.

ESPN: Is it tough when you go viral and people are talking about you, but they're not necessarily talking about what you're doing on the ice?

Saucerman: It's funny, after my first game, the general manager walked by as I was getting interviewed and was telling the reporters to ask me a hockey question. I know that it comes with its own amount of attention. I just embrace it and enjoy that. But I want to be recognized too for hopefully being a decent hockey player and trying to do my role. I definitely want that first and foremost, and obviously everything on the side is just a bonus.

ESPN: If you ever make the show, will you fight Brent Burns? We need beard vs. beard in a fight.

Saucerman: That wouldn't be much of a fight. He'd probably sit me down pretty quick. Maybe, if I ever make it there, and he agrees, then we'll do beard on beard.