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Maybe it's the hair: Long-locked Liles ties NHL assist mark to start a season

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

DENVER - Teen pop sensation Justin Bieber recently mocked New England quarterback Tom Brady in a rap video for growing his hair in a style similar to that worn by the singer.

Somehow, Colorado Avalanche defenceman John-Michael Liles doesn't think his curly, long blond locks will inspire Bieber in quite the same fashion.

Liles doubts Bieber even knows who he is, much less cares about his new look.

"Although, Bieber is Canadian, so maybe he does have an idea about hockey," Liles joked.

Around hockey circles, it's hard not to take notice of Liles, for reasons besides all the hair jutting out from under his helmet.

Liles is on quite a hot streak, dishing out at least one assist in eight straight games. That ties him with Ottawa's Filip Kuba for the NHL mark of consecutive games with an assist by a defenceman to start a season, a record Kuba established in 2008-09.

Liles can break the mark with an assist Tuesday night in Vancouver.

This fast start has gotta be the hair, right?

"A lot of people are saying that," said the 29-year-old Liles, who decided to grow his tresses long on a whim over the summer. "You don't mess with the streak—if your hair is long, keep it long."

So, the barber will have to wait.

Despite the ribbing from his teammates, Liles insists his hair doesn't resemble the style worn by Bieber—or Brady for that matter.

"Those guys have hair that looks like it's always in one place and looks like it's perfectly done,”Liles said. "Mine? Definitely not. It's everywhere."

That's why he frequently dons a cap, just to keep his hair out of his eyes.

There's definitely been nothing wrong with his vision this season as he leads defencemen in scoring with 10 points, all coming on assists.

"He's playing unbelievable," forward Milan Hejduk said. "Seems like he's playing with even more confidence."

Last season, Liles had very little. He struggled throughout the season _ his name even popping up in trade rumours _ and finished with the worst point total (31) of his career.

"When you're down and don't have that confidence, you question a lot of things," Liles said. "It took almost taking a step back and refocusing on what got me here."

That would be his speed—being able to join the rushes down the ice, then quickly zoom back to his defensive responsibilities.

This season, he's back to doing just that.

"He fits so well into today's game, with that ability to skate well and move well," Hejduk said. "He sees the ice so well."

Liles has attempted to downplay the assist streak, not giving it too much thought. Sure, it's nice, but something to be appreciated down the road.

"The streak is a novelty, a feather in the cap more than anything," Liles said. "It's showing that I'm doing what I can to help generate offence.

"You definitely get a few lucky bounces and get the puck to the right guys. That's the reason the streak is intact. I don't think it's anything more than that."

Given the recent rash of injuries to the Avalanche's defensive crew, Liles may be logging even more minutes. Adam Foote (head) won't accompany the team on their two-game trip through Canada and Scott Hannan (head) remains questionable.

However, Hannan returned to practice Monday, an "encouraging" sign coach Joe Sacco said.

At five-foot-10, 185 pounds, Liles is far from the biggest defenceman in the league. His quickness, though, more than makes up for it, along with his grittiness.

"What can you say? He's playing great," forward Matt Duchene said. "He's riding a hot streak, been a great offensive defenceman for us. That's something we lacked a little bit last year at times."

Liles couldn't agree more. But with a renewed confidence he's contributing in a big way.

"It's fun playing right now. It feel worlds away from last year, when maybe I didn't have a lot of confidence," he said. "Confidence is a very funny thing."

Liles' flowing locks may not inspire a Bieber song, but his play with the new look is definitely causing his teammates to contemplate growing out their tresses.

"It works for him," Hejduk said. "So I just might."



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