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Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Brief History of Cooperalls - From the Broad Street Bullies to Brass Bonanza

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the sartorial splendor widely known as Cooperalls, for on this date in 1981, they made their NHL debut when the Philadelphia Flyers took to the ice in their full-length pants versus the Detroit Red Wings.

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 Cooperalls called 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.

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.

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

Perhaps we could be so bold as to suggest denim Cooperalls for that "old time pond hockey look" for this year's Winter Classic? Now we're talking!

Flyers denim pants
Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne and Braydon Coburn modeling the Flyers 2010 Winter Classic jerseys, complete with long pants,
an idea whose time has returned!

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 obscurity double!

Even French-Canadians and Soviets liked Cooperalls!


  1. A couple of issues,

    1 - As you can clearly see in some of the pics, the Whalers and Flyers did not wear Cooperalls. They wore CCM's version of the girdle and shell equipment "system". Cooperall is a brand name exclusive to Cooper.

    2 - Later versions of the pants got away from the windbreaker material to a type that was more slide- friendly. The bigger problem remained that the pants still got cut up a lot and looked like crap with slices and big stitch / patch repairs on them. Kinda destroyed the look. It also cost a lot more for new shells than new socks, which happen to be much easier to repair in the first place (no comment on the new RBK socks - I doubt they're so easy to darn.

    3- the other big issue with the shell system was that they were hot as hell. Players complained about sweating like they were in a sauna in them. For amateurs in cold rinks, a hard shift followed by a seat on the bench could lead to a clammy, gross experience.

    4) "Cooperalls" were also available in short beezers that you'd wear socks with, just like a regular hockey set-up. Many players wore this, and perhaps still do. It's an older pic, but you can see the girdle peeking out from under Steve Larmer's breezer:


    5) Brendan Shanahan's London Knights were /are an Ontario Hockey League team, not a WHL team. All the Canadian hockey league teams (OHL, WHL and Quebec Major JHL) wore Cooperalls as part of their cooper sponsorship.

  2. Cooperalls made by CCM? The Flyers wore CCM Pro Guard pants that first season. Thus the CCM logo on them. Cooperalls were made by Cooper, a rival company.

  3. Ironically, the "Cooperalls" worn by the Flyers and Whalers were not made by Cooper but by CCM. I don't know what CCM called their product.

  4. Thanks to everyone for the information. We've always heard of the full length hockey pants referred to as "Cooperalls" despite the obvious CCM logos on them and think this is a case of a brand name becoming the widely accepted term for a product, despite not always being technically correct, as in the case of "kleenex" or "xerox machine" even if made by Puffs or Toshiba.

  5. True, "Cooperall" has achieived genericized brand status. Funny, considering the iconic look wasn't around for more than a couple of seasons.

    I can't remember what the title CCM used for their product, but one major faux pas I remember was that, unlike the grey of Cooper, the CCM girdle was... "flesh", beige... some colour like that. On my team growing up, the kid with the CCM girdle/pant system was teased mercilessly for having "pink Cooperalls". Needless to say, nobody else was interested in crossing the brand divide.

  6. Don't have the catalog anymore, but the long pants were just a part of the Cooperall 'system'; they were matched to a new jersey design, with vertical stripes that ran up the sides to the armpits, then became large contrasting colors on the sleeves.

    Completing the total elimination of horizontal stripes was that the new jerseys were truncated at the waist; unlike traditional jerseys with the stripes at the hips, these didn't hang any lower than the average polo shirt. Topped off with the XL7 (a very strange looking, very light weight and thoroughly unprotective helmet), and you had a classic 80's look that's best left to rot in peace. And I'll second the hot comment; some manufacturers resorted to using mesh to allow them to breathe with limited success.

  7. Oh would we love a look at that catalog to see the full intended look, including the jerseys.

    With all the comments about the girdle and pads paired with the long pants we read on various forums while compiling this article, the majority (or at least a vocal minority!) were fans of the fit and protection the girdle offered as well as the option to purchase additional lower priced pants in other colors to suit the multiple teams they were members of without the expense of multiple pairs of traditional hockey pants with the built in pads if they required multiple colors.

    None of those comments we read ever referred to the vertically striped Cooper jerseys though, which really piques our interest.

    Meanwhile, we hope you approve of the edits to the original story with the added information about the CCM Pro Guard being the actual brand worn on the ice.

  8. I loved the fit of the girdle and the flexibility to just purchase a shell to match the team colors. I will email a photo I have of a Cooperall jersey that shows the shoulder and vertical stripes. It is cut much shorter than a traditional jersey.

  9. they looked bad and argueing to bring them back is a bad idea. leave the cool colourful look of socks alone! geez...

  10. Parents loved the Cooperall system for youngsters. All they had to do was pull the pants over the girdle and shinpads; no need for a garter to hook up the socks. The thing is, kids want to look like the pros, and when the NHL essentially outlawed the long pants, kids wanted to look like the pros, not like...er..."kids." That's too bad. As a rec player, I wear a roller hockey girdle with an Adidas nylon unlined long shell warmup pant. It's less to mess with. If I played competitively, I'd dress in whatever way the rest of the team went.

  11. I remember wearing the CCM version of these pants back in the 80's! I distinctly remember mine had two sections connected with a zipper just above the knee. It came in handy when the long pants fell out of style; the bottoms just zipped off and basically became a typical short shell.

  12. I wore Cooperalls for 2 full seasons of Senior A hockey in Minnesota from 81-82 and 82-83. Then I quit playing for 35 years and packed the girdle and shell. I started playing again in 2019 and opened the box to find my Cooperalls (and girdle) in perfect condition. I now wear them about once a month. Of course the young guys have no idea what Im wearing.. They ask if they are ski pants.
    I never found them to be too hot. The real issue is the girdle. It gets slimy and is very difficult to dry out. Its a real bitch if you wear them every day.


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