Has Individuality Disappeared in the NHL?

Tommy GCorrespondent IApril 16, 2009

BOSTON - APRIL 10:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals holds the puck he used to score in his 100th point of the season after scoring in overtime against the Boston Bruins on April 10, 2006 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The goal was the 100th point of the season for Ovechkin. The Capitals defeated the Bruins 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The recent criticism over Alexander Ovechkin’s 50 goal celebration has led me to notice that the NHL is losing its individualism.


I’m not just talking about player celebrations and antics.  We could all do without Sean Avery’s immaturity and selfish behaviour. 


It’s the equipment that players use that has me wondering if the NHL is becoming a private school with standard clothing and accessories.


Wayne Gretzky was known for his 1970’s JOFA helmet and long cuff gloves.  Mark Messier sported the unique Winn Well/Cooper helmet his whole career when everyone else stopped wearing them long ago. 


Guy Lafleur and Craig MacTavish didn’t even wear helmets and this transcended into an era where most players wore head gear.  Conversely, Leonard “Red” Kelly was forced to wear a helmet in a time when they weren’t worn.


Today’s players switch equipment like dirty underwear and leftovers from a generation ago are inconceivable.  The majority of players look identical like they just stepped off a factory assembly line.


I can only think of a few players today, compared to many more just 10 or 15 years ago, that maintain a certain style in equipment throughout their career. 


Teemu Selanne is probably the only player in the NHL that still uses the round JOFA helmet that was introduced in the early 1990s.  Jason Blake still uses the older long and flat visor along with Tackla hockey pants.  Martin Broduer still uses small pads even if the brand has changed and Chris Odgood continues to use a helmet with cage as a mask.


Their differences may be small but they give these players a personality and they are quickly recognizable.


Similarly, accessories add unique personalities for players like Kelly Hrudey’s handkerchief used to absorb sweat on his head or mustaches grown by players like Lanny McDonald.


I’m glad to note that players like Ian White and George Parros have reintroduced today’s generation of hockey fans to the mustache.  We need more unique appearances and personalities to breakthrough.      


The other part of the problem is equipment manufacturers who have been monopolized like many businesses in our present world.  Gone are the day’s where players had a large variety of brands to choose.  It seems like every manufacturer is owned by Reebok.


JOFA and CCM are properties of Reebok which is it self owned by ADDIDAS which uses its subsidiaries to infiltrate the game of hockey rather than using its own brand.


Nike bought Bauer in 1995 but recently decided to fuse both brands into one unified product.  TPS who bought Louisville had recently decided to stop using the Louisville name altogether.


There was a period in the 1980s and 1990s when we could see a variety of manufacturers being represented on the ice.

Some of the brands that were used were KOHO, JOFA, Canadian, Christian, Louisville, Titan, Montreal, Brians, Brown, Vaughn, Itech, Sher-wood, Cooper, Bauer, Easton, Nike, Victoriaville, Tackla, DR, Rawlings, Winn Well, Northland, Heaton, Hespeler, and TPS.


These companies were mostly independent and they created different hockey products and some competed with similar items.  One thing that you could count on is that the competition allowed for diverse styles.  Especially with helmet manufacturers like CCM, JOFA, and Cooper who had different and distinct shapes.


Today everything is owned by just a few companies and even if they’re not they create very similar looking products.  Equipment is standardized and that causes a loss of individuality despite players’ lack of loyalty to any specific piece of equipment.


Many brands disappeared for various reasons, including the change to composite from wood sticks, and new companies have emerged to compete with Reebok, Nike, and Easton.


Eagle, Warrior, Mission, Salming are some of those brands but their products also have similar designs and marketing plans.


Goaltending equipment has also received a major redesign in the past couple of years.  Pads, gloves, and blockers have lost a lot of colour and have reverted to mostly white. 


Brands also have similar designs for goalie equipment and it looks like the majority of goaltenders are using the same equipment minus the difference in the small amount of colour.


What’s the reason for all this assimilation and why have goalies gone back to mostly white equipment?  Could it be that they see the black puck better?  I'm not sure but I know that it’s depleting the eccentricity in the NHL.


There’s little doubt that the days of equipment overlapping generations is over so keep your Denis Potvin “bubble" helmet in the attic. 


Monopolized hockey equipment companies that produce similar designs are part of the problem but veteran players have also ditched the old for the new.


They choose to assimilate rather than stand out as the veterans that have played over two decades.