From the bunched-up brigade of bulky red sweaters, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby emerges, as he always does. No matter where he skates on the ice or what he’s doing there, he stands out because his golden mane — think Chris-Hemsworth-as-“Thor” level flow — cascades from the back of his helmet. The Swedish prospect’s problem is that he’s not always a fan of his own iconic mop.
“To be honest, I really don’t like it on the ice,” Jonsson-Fjallby said Tuesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. He also grimaces at pictures of the hair flapping out of his helmet. “It’s too long. But off the ice, I want to have a man bun, so …” He trailed off and sighed.
The 20-year-old’s pursuit of the man bun began four years ago, about the same time Tom Brady, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jared Leto started carrying hair ties. Jonsson-Fjallby doesn’t remember who inspired him to adopt the style, but he saw it around, dug the look because he thought it’d make him look older and felt comfortable challenging the boundaries of masculinity.
His hair finally grew long enough to bun just as the craze peaked in November 2015, according to Google Trends. Even though those who made the style famous have long since lopped off their locks, Jonsson-Fjallby has hung on. This year, the forward discovered adjusting to the smaller rinks of the NHL from the Swedish Hockey League — where he tallied 16 points in 42 games last season — might be easier than re-normalizing the man bun, which he fields questions about often.
The interest stems, at least in part, from a hockey culture that encourages, if not demands, players prioritize “the boys” before bone and brain. Though only longtime general manager Lou Lamoriello, now with the New York Islanders, mandates players keep clean-shaven, benches across the league reflect the players’ code: In the playoffs, every player grows the best beard he can. No exceptions.
Against this backdrop, Jonsson-Fjallby’s distinctive hair could be seen as drifting toward the third rail of self-promotion, but he dismisses the idea he’s building a brand, because someone trying to do that would follow a specific hair-care regimen. He uses whatever shampoo is available in the dressing room.
“It makes people recognize me, but that’s not why I have it,” Jonsson-Fjallby said. “I know that it stands out, especially here in North America because there are few people who have long hair, but that’s not something I think about.”
Steve Richmond, the Capitals’ director of player development, dismissed the style — “I don’t comment on hair,” he said — but gushed about the “tremendous” progress Jonsson-Fjallby had made since last season’s development camp. He bulked up from 170 pounds to about 185, and his size became apparent in this year’s world junior championships. In the toughest test for under-20 competition, Jonsson-Fjallby posted four points, including a game-winning goal, as the Swedes surged into the final, where they lost to Canada.
“That was his coming-out party for everybody else,” Richmond said. “All of a sudden he got on a big stage, and now people in the U.S. and Canada are watching him like, ‘Who is this guy?’ … He’s going to come in and open some eyes.”
Internally, Richmond said, Washington projects Jonsson-Fjallby to develop into a “no question” fourth-line penalty-killer who also has enough “sneaky skill” to perhaps propel him onto the third line.
Jonsson-Fjallby wants to find any opening he can because last season he noted the Capitals’ willingness to lean on rookies; the team regularly rotated in five of them. In camp, he’s focused on increasing his strength, maturing with the puck and aligning his game with the smaller rink.
He grinned thinking about another personal goal, getting more physical along the boards, because it’s there that Jonsson-Fjallby receives feedback on his hair from other players. When asked how the peer-reviews usually go, Jonsson-Fjallby cackled and said, “We don’t have to talk about that.”
He’s used to the ribbing. His best friends from back home tell him to cut his hair all the time.
“It doesn’t bother me really,” Jonsson-Fjallby said, sweeping the hair out of his eyes and pulling it back.