Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Brief History of Cooperalls

The sartorial splendor widely known as Cooperalls made their NHL debut when the Philadelphia Flyers took to the ice in their full-length pants versus the Detroit Red Wings on October 9, 1981.

Cooperalls logo

While many scoff at and scorn the Cooperalls, ranking them with other such sports uniform misfits as the 1976 Chicago White Sox shorts, we here at Third String Goalie embrace not only the concept of the Cooperalls, but their look as well. In our opinion, they made the players look taller and sleeker. If football and baseball players can look good in long pants, why not hockey players?

Flyers 81-82 Cooperalls

Even the basic idea of long pants for hockey players just makes so much sense to us. Why players would ever wear short pants for a winter sport played on ice, we will never quite understand...

The Cooperalls were first developed in order to increase player safety and protection, as the pads under the Cooperalls were held tightly to the body, unable to shift out of place like the current pads of the day, which would leave the player exposed to injuries, their tailbone in particular.

The original "Cooperalls" worn by the Flyers in 1981-82 were black with an orange stripe trimmed in white which ran down the length of the leg and were actually not Cooperalls, but a CCM version of the long pants called the CCM Pro Guard. Philadelphia completed their first season in the long pants with a 38-31-11 record, which was good for 87 points, placing them sixth in the Wales Conference.

Flyers 81-82 Cooperalls

Cooperalls were also reportedly worn by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1981-82 pre-season, but despite a reported game worn pair for sale on ebay, no photographic or video evidence of game action to support this claim is readily available.

Maple Leafs Cooperalls

For the 1982-83 season, the Flyers long pants returned, only this time in solid black, adorned only with a large Flyers logo at the ankle of each leg. Philadelphia rose to a 49-23-8 record, good for a Patrick Division title and second overall in the Wales Conference. Unfortunately for the Flyers faithful, they would be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs both seasons at the hands of the New York Rangers, with their final game coming on this date in 1982.

Flyers 82-83 Cooperalls

The Flyers were joined by the Hartford Whalers in wearing "Cooperalls" for the 1982-83 season, with the Whalers version featuring a full-length pair of blue stripes surrounded by three white stripes, which again were actually the CCM version.

Whalers Cooperalls

The Whalers did the full length pants look no favors with their on-ice performance, as they tied for last in the league with 45 points following a 19-54-7 record.

Following the 1982-83 season the NHL outlawed the long pants on the grounds of player safety, as the outer fabric of the pants was made out of what was comparable to a nylon windbreaker which was more slippery than the traditional hockey pants/knit socks combination, and any player who fell while wearing them would skid relatively unabated into the boards at a much faster speed than previously, which makes today the anniversary of the final appearance of the CCM Pro Guard long pants, bringing to an end a brief, but memorable and controversial era in NHL history.

Cooperalls fall

Still, it wasn't just the Flyers and Whalers who wore the "Cooperalls", as Canada's junior leagues and high schools in Minnesota also wore them for a period of time.

Shanahan Knights
Brendan Shanahan of the London Knights in his Cooperalls

Brett Hull Penticton Vees Cooperalls
Brett Hull of the Penticton Vees sporting his Cooperalls

For those of you who think that 1983 was the last of the "Cooperalls" on NHL ice, think again, for it was on Halloween night in 2002 that Jeremy Roenick took to the ice during warmups for the Flyers upcoming game against the Phoenix Coyotes wearing a blond wig, blacked-out front teeth, striped "Cooperalls" and a #16 Bobby Clarke sweater!

Roenick Clarke Cooperalls

Perhaps it's now time to revisit the idea of the long pants. We're actually surprised that Reebok hasn't taken this one on yet. After all, they were bold enough to reinvent the hockey jersey, so why not change the pants while you are at it? Doing so certainly would have no doubt taken away some of the negative attention the the jerseys at the time.

Additionally, in the last 30 years there certainly have been many innovations and advances in fabric technology to the point that the basic excuse for banning Cooperalls in the first place, the slick fabric, could now easily be addressed by any number of equipment manufacturers.

After all, think of all the other men's sports at the Winter Olympics, alpine and cross-country skiing, bobsled and luge, curling, figure skating, speed skating, ski jumping and snowboarding, and just how many of those winter sports feature competitors wearing short pants? Right. Not one. Not even figure skating's Johnny Weir.

Even if the old guard would refuse to allow the return of the late, great Cooperalls full time, there is an opportunity staring us in the face that is just too good to pass up. The Flyers have been chosen to host the 2012 Winter Classic. In advance of that announcement some clever designer proposed a Flyers jersey based on the original Philadelphia franchise of the 1930's, the Quakers. While it is a darn fine concept, it was immediately put into production by the Chinese knockoff industry, ruining it's chances at life, as to now select that design would be to validate the bootleggers already extensive production run which has now flooded the market.

With that design now seemingly out, and the Flyers having had so few changes in style of their sweaters over the last 40 plus years, the one thing that has changed has been their pants, and the time is right for a return to the Cooperalls/CCM PRo Guard long pants of yore. It is, after all, an outdoor game, and wouldn't a nice warm pair of long pants (perhaps lined with some modern high tech Therma Base/Polartec/Thermal Dri-FIT/Play Warm fabric) be just the thing to keep you warm against winter's chill rather than shorts and socks? Jeremy Roenick thinks so...

Roenick Clarke Cooperalls

Today's featured pants are the 1981-82 Philadelphia Flyers "Cooperalls". Not actually Cooperalls, but CCM Pro Guard pants, they were worn for only a single season. These pants, with their elegant long stripe down the leg, which served to accentuate that the pants were indeed full length, were a shock to the established look when they first appeared.

The stripe on the Flyers pants disappeared for the second season, with just a Flyers logo waaaaay down by the ankle of the otherwise all-black pants. Meanwhile, four hours to the north, the Hartford Whalers also adopted the long pants for one season and went all out to call attention to the full length of their pants with no less than five alternating white and green stripes.

While Philadelphia and Hartford actually both wore the CCM Pro Guard pants, the name "Cooperalls" has become the popular nomenclature for the full length hockey pants in the same way that all brands of tissues are commonly referred to as "Kleenex" while copiers are often referred to as a "Xerox machine" regardless of brand.

Philadelphia Flyers 81-82 Barber Cooperalls

Today's video segment begins with footage of the Flyers wearing their Cooperalls from the first season of use, noted by the orange stripe down the legs.

This next clip from the WHL features Cam Neely of the Portland Winterhawks going toe-to-toe with Shawn Green of the New Westminster Bruins while both were wearing Cooperalls in the 1983-84 season.

In this next clip from the 1984 Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament, St. Paul Johnson takes on the Hill-Murray Pioneers during the Cooperall era. Note the clear boards of the old St. Paul Civic Center to complete the rare obscurity double of long pants and clear boards!

Even French-Canadians and Soviets liked Cooperalls!

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