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Scott Cruickshank, Calgary Herald
Published: Sunday, December 24, 2006


Imagine being a National Hockey League forward. Imagine that a significant chunk of your workload involves hustling into corners and standing in front of nets.

Now imagine that everyone in the rink can see where your padding is -- or, more to the point, where your padding isn't.

That's what scares Jonathan Cheechoo about the league's push for form-fitting jerseys -- the telling exposure.

"It's a bird's-eye view of where your equipment stops," says Cheechoo. "Are you going to tell me that Chris Pronger or Dion Phaneuf isn't going to cross-check someone in the back if they see an opening? You see an opening on a player, especially in the playoffs, you're going to take it, you know. It could hurt somebody."

Wednesday at practice, the Sharks had been in for a Christmas treat -- Reebok's prototype sweaters and socks.

With no choice, they shoe-horned on the space-age gear.

"Whatever," says Mark Smith, "I just didn't want to look like an idiot out there."

(Although, when asked to leave the fancy garments hanging in the stalls after the workout, Smith had spat: "I'll hang it right in the garbage.")

Reebok reps did seek feedback, which gave the models a chance to gripe. Clearly, many aren't embracing the trend away from the standard old-school fit.

"I've got no comment," one player says. "I'm a traditionalist. Um, I'm just going to say that. I don't want to get into trouble."

The snug togs are soon to be foisted by the NHL upon players and fans, unveiled as early as the 2007-08 season.

Each team gets to audition the new duds this season -- the Calgary Flames' day on the cat-walk is still coming -- and hockey players aren't proving to be the most open-minded of souls.

"I don't know why we try to change the rules, change the jerseys, change everything, year after year," says Smith. "Obviously, there's an evolution . . . but to push changes on the game? Look around the league. We've got great jerseys. Why change a good thing?"

Surrendered, too, would be esthetics unique to the sport -- such as sweaters snapping in the wake of speedsters.

"I grew up watching Pavel Bure, one of the best skaters," says Cheechoo. "You used to be able to see his jersey flying through the air. That was pretty cool, I thought. I was like, 'I want to get a big jersey, so I can flop it in the wind.' It's what I grew up watching, what I enjoyed watching."

Cheechoo worries the clinging jersey may even hamper his signature shiftiness.

Currently, when he feints to the left, then goes right, his sweater doesn't change direction as quickly, meaning it's easier to sell the move. If the shirt doesn't billow, giving him that extra split-second of deception, is his effectiveness reduced?

"They're going to do what they're going to do," shrugs Cheechoo.

One advantage, theoretically, is the duds are waterproof, ensuring night-long dryness.

But Kyle McLaren poses a question about sweat. "Then where is it going to go? If it's going to go down into my gloves and skates, that's too much water."

It's not all bad, though.

Cheechoo liked the way the jersey keeps his elbow pads in place, while Steve Bernier appreciated the tightness of the socks.

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