Penguins training Camp: Players say uniform changes all wet
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The Penguins agree, pretty much to a man, that the high-tech sweaters they will be wearing this season are lighter and more comfortable than the ones they replaced.
They also concur that the new sweaters are extremely effective at repelling moisture, exactly as planned.
Trouble is, quite a few have concluded that is not necessarily a good thing.
Right winger Mark Recchi, for one, understands what the league was trying to accomplish by adopting a sweater that does not absorb fluids, but does not think the designers took into account the moisture -- to wit, perspiration -- generated under a player's uniform.
"[The sweaters] don't soak anything in, which I guess is what they wanted," Recchi said. "But the problem is, it goes through all of your equipment. It goes into your gloves, goes into your skates."
And eventually saturates the leather in both, leaving the players feeling as if their hands and feet are immersed in liquid. Perhaps because, at least in some cases, they are.
"They do what they were designed to do, as far as repelling the water," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "But we've found, the last three or four days of wearing them, that, when the water's repelled, it has nowhere to go but into your skates and gloves.
"By the end of the second [period] or the start of the third, your skates are sloshing around and you have to change your gloves because they're [soaked]."
Not all players are unhappy with the new equipment system -- center Maxime Talbot said he "definitely" prefers the new sweaters because "they're comfortable, they're lighter, they stretch" -- but that appears to be a minority opinion.
"It's very good that the water doesn't stick on it, but the sweat all goes into our gear," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "Sometimes, it gets really wet."
Veteran left winger Gary Roberts, who was to make his preseason debut when the Penguins faced Detroit at Mellon Arena last night, said he planned to withhold judgment until after wearing the new items in a game, but wasn't pleased with what he experienced during practice.
"My hands are soaked, my feet are soaked," he said. "I feel like it's May, in the playoffs, I'm sweating so much. That seems to be a complaint with a lot of guys."
Frank Brown, the NHL's vice president of media relations, said in an e-mail interview that "every equipment system requires a period of adjustment," and that the sweaters, which are made of four materials, are part of a uniform "upgrade" intended to "help optimize performance and protection."
Officials of Reebok, the company that developed the new equipment system, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
While other elements of the equipment system also have gotten negative reviews -- some players have mentioned that the socks that cover their shin pads are so taut that they are more prone to tearing than the looser-fitting ones worn in the past -- the sweaters have received most of the attention.
Recchi suggested that, although some complications caused by the new sweaters will be evident immediately -- like how some players will have to alter their in-game routines to deal with unduly wet equipment -- others might not be apparent for a while.
"My gloves never got soaked like [they do now]," he said. "They're literally drenched by the end of an hour[-long] practice.
"I'm going to have to have two pairs of gloves ready [for games]. I've never done that. I've always used one pair a game. Some guys are used to that, but that's going to be different. Maybe I'll have to change my socks between periods, which I don't like doing. You start sloshing.
"I think you'll see skates break down quicker because of it; they'll absorb more [perspiration], because it's all going down into your skate and your socks."
Whether the league and Reebok will consider altering the material that goes into the sweaters to make them less moisture-repellent isn't clear -- "They have a great feel, but I just think they have to find a way to maybe have some absorbency," Recchi said -- so it's hard to say how long the current ones will stay in use.
At least a few players, though, would prefer to see the league go back to the uniforms players used to wear, although they realize that probably is not a viable option.
First Published September 23, 2007 12:00 am