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Uni Watch doesn't mean to kick the NHL when it's down, but have you been following the news coming from hockey HQ lately? Despite the lockout or, more likely, because of it the NHL and Reebok have big plans for a new uniform silhouette in 2006. One report described the new look as "flashier, sleeker and more form-fitting." Another told of a league official "who has seen the prototypes [and] describes them as 'sleek,' something that implies motion even at rest, like a ski racer's uniform or Spider-Man's costume."
Hmmm, Spider-Man on skis. Where could they have possibly gotten that idea?
You don't have to be a curmudgeon to see that this could be a disaster of Bengalian proportions. It dovetails nicely with one of the NHL's other brilliant marketing ideas, now being tested in the minors: painting the ice blue while changing the blue line to orange and the red line to blue. (For further depressing details, look here.)
Unfortunately, the folks at Reebok turned down Uni Watch's request for a sneak peek at the prototypes. "We feel it is best to hold off on unveiling the uniform until a more appropriate time," their e-mail said. "We value your column and see it being a part of our PR plans, to assist in creating a buzz through the industry around the time of the on-ice and retail launches." Ladies and gentlemen, Uni Watch doesn't know what to say it's not every day one attains the exalted status of Reebok PR shill. Can't wait to get promoted to sales.
But enough of this cynical grousing that's too easy. Instead, let's play devil's advocate for a minute. Even though Uni Watch generally likes the hockey uni the way it is, it's easy to see how the novice fan might find it to be a bit unusual and that's without even knowing the players are wearing suspenders and garter belts beneath all those layers. Is a more streamlined look possible? Let's examine three problem areas that, at least for argument's sake, could stand some modernization:
1. The untucked jersey. Hockey's untucked look dates back to the days when the game was played outdoors and players wore wool sweaters. But hey, figure skaters used to compete outdoors, too, but you don't see them dressing like this anymore. Notwithstanding a few untucked aberrations during the sartorially challenged 1970s (the Marquette basketball team, the Chicago White Sox), most sports have stuck with the tucked-in look, and with good reason: Untucked jerseys look like pajamas. Hockey should consider getting rid of them.
Yes, yes, Uni Watch can already hear the objections: freedom of movement, so much padding to cover, what about the fight strap, blah-blah-blah. But come on, if football players can do it, so can hockey players. Remember, Terrell Owens wasn't fined for whipping out the Sharpie; he was fined because his jersey was untucked.
2. The short pants. The neat thing about hockey shorts, at least from a design standpoint, is that they provide a block of contrasting color. But let's face it, they kinda put the "dork" in "dorky." In fact, they put the "dork" in "Dude, you look so totally dorky that your sport's TV ratings have dwindled to zero and nobody even cares that you just canceled your season." At one point it looked as though the answer might be Cooperalls, which the Flyers and Whalers wore in the early 1980s, but that turned out to be a short-lived experiment. Now's the time to revisit it can it really be so hard to come up with a sharp-looking pair of long hockey pants? Or full-length stockings, without the shorts? Uni Watch hates to invoke so shopworn a cliché as "If we can put a man on the moon ..." but the phrase does seem made for situations like this one.