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NHL’s new unis? Among Sharks, uniform disapproval
By John Ryan
Wednesday, December 20th, 2006 at 1:51 pm in General news, Sharks/NHL.
It has been awhile since the NHL did something really dumb. But don’t worry, the folks in the league office haven’t been laughing about the NBA’s fiasco with the new ball; no, they’ve been thinking about how they can erode another of their better traditions.
This won’t be a blunder along the lines of the glowing puck, but I don’t think it’s going to be good. Think of the most distinctive symbol of the NHL. The one thing that gives the league any cool points with the general public. The sweater.
It’s changing. Not for the better, either, according to at least three prominent Sharks I surveyed today after practice, where they wore new jerseys and socks under the watchful eye of the research and development team of manufacter CCM (a subsidiary of Reebok). The Sharks apparently are early in the rotation, so expect to hear a lot of similar talk in the coming weeks.
The league is scheduled to do a big dog-and-pony show next month at the All-Star Game regarding its new jerseys and socks. In advance, each team will work out once with the new gear; players are miked for their reactions during practice and asked about their impressions afterward. According to The Plan, these opinions will then be taken into account and the uniforms adjusted, with the full rollout for the 2007-08 season. But you have to wonder, if the big debut is a month away, how many alterations can be made.
I can tell you the league is very, VERY nervous about the reaction. The suits from CCM flipped out a little bit when they realized reporters were actually listening to them talk to players five feet away in an open locker room. And standing five feet away from me, the leader of the R&D team didn’t want to talk about the changes, instead relaying answers to specific questions through a Sharks spokesman (who was standing three feet away from me, so I guess he truly was the middleman).
The double-knit polyester is being replaced by a moisture-wicking fabric, hardly an uncommon switch in the athletic world. They’re also making everything tighter.
The reasons are twofold: performance and protection.
“These are to add protection?” Jonathan Cheechoo said.
Yeah. Apparently the tighter fit holds pads into place better.
“It does do that,” Cheechoo said. “I’ll give it that. But it also gives opponents a bird’s-eye view of where your equipment stops.”
His point: For players who are injured, opponents will essentially see an MRI of the body and know exactly which spot is most vulnerable. The sweaters hide a lot of that, particularly in the playoffs.
As for performance, players will feel lighter because the water washes away instead of being absorbed. Nice for a runner. For a hockey player?
“If it gets rid of water, great, but where does the water go?” Kyle McLaren asks. “If it’s going to go down to my gloves and skates, that’s too much water.”
Now, McLaren is a large man. One of the NHL’s biggest, but not the biggest. So it’s kind of interesting that he says the jersey fit OK but he wouldn’t want to go any smaller. And what if he wanted to go a size bigger? … Uh, problem. There isn’t a size bigger. Apparently, in the faster, sleeker NHL, the size limit is 6-foot-5, 230 pounds.
It’s gotta be the … socks?
McLaren had no opinion about the socks because he wouldn’t wear them. Smith said they’re tighter but not bothersome; the biggest problem is the extra sliding once you hit the ice. I’d love to hear his reaction after wearing the stuff for three or five or seven days in a row; betcha that tightness would become a bigger problem.
Performance. Protection. How about physiques?
What the company — through the Sharks over that insurmountable five-foot cone of silence – didn’t cite as a reason was the marketing aspect. But some observers think the move toward tighter fits is meant to show off players’ bodies. It isn’t a totally irrational thought, since probably not many people know how closely Patrick Marleau resembles your basic NFL middle linebacker.
So let’s leave it to free spirit Smith, who was wearing one of the microphones and whose feedback will probably leave CCM’s ears ringing.
“When I watch Modano skating down the ice and his jersey is flowing in the wind, that’s what I want to see,” Smith said.
At the end of the day, players were asked to leave their jerseys hanging in the stalls.
“I’ll hang it right in the garbage,” Smith said.
If you love the traditional sweater, buy one this season.
Just leave the jerseys alone!