Elvis Merzlikins' face lit up, as the Blue Jackets goalie looked like the proverbial kid in a candy store.
Except for the Blue Jackets goalie, his version of a candy store is a haberdashery.
As Merzlikins was questioned early this season about some of the suits he's worn to games -- fits that have earned him acclaim from CBJ fans and around the league -- it was immediately obvious this was a subject the Latvian netminder was excited to talk about.
Now with two NHL seasons under his belt and never lacking for personality, Merzlikins has made the decision to get creative this year, and that starts with a visit to a friend's shop in Columbus to pick out some of the things he wanted to wear.
"It is awesome," he said of the establishment. "They have so many fabrics that it's paradise. It's like, for a little kid, getting 1,000 toys."
The effort certainly has been worth it. When the sports news website The Athletic started ranking NHL player style at the start of this season, Merzlikins placed second in the league in the initial power rankings based on the purple Joker-inspired suit he wore to the season opener in honor of the late Matiss Kivlenieks.
The only player in the NHL to outrank him? Teammate Patrik Laine, who captured the attention of social media with a purple jacket atop a black turtleneck with matching purple glasses that The Athletic writer Sara Civian described as "a look that can only be described as a crossover between Zoolander, Batman villain and 80s car salesman." A game later, a three-piece suit was paired with a yellow beanie and yellow glasses, all the better to match his Lamborghini, he told one fan.
"It's nice to make at least one top-10 list, even though it's the suits," Laine said. "It would be more fun to make it related to hockey, but it is fun. Guys like what I wear, but I'd still rock the same stuff even if guys didn't like it. As long as I like it, that's all that really matters to me."
Merzlikins was similarly honored to find out his looks were catching notice around the league.
"I am happy," he said with a smile. "Thank you for the compliment. My suit guy is definitely going to like that."
The two aren't the only Blue Jackets who haven't been afraid to take a style risk this season. Of note, Columbus native Jack Roslovic has brought some heat this season, including a blue suit with red- and white-trimmed lapels for the season opener among other looks.
"I thought I looked better than them," Roslovic said when asked about the rankings honoring Laine and Merzlikins.
But at the end of the day, it's not really about competition or one-upping one another, Blue Jackets players said. According to the league's collective bargaining agreement, "Players are required to wear jackets, ties and dress pants to all Club games and while traveling to and from such games unless otherwise specified by the Head Coach or General Manager."
The Blue Jackets have relaxed some travel rules -- track suits can be worn for longer flights, for example -- but players have worn sport coats and dress pants (ties optional) to games so far this season. Skullcaps and other knit hats also have been allowed.
So the challenge is to be creative within that structure, and a number of CBJ players have taken that on headfirst. Roslovic gets together with his friend Ethan Weisman, owner of Pantheon Limited, a luxury clothing brand that works with a number of athletes as well as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, to come up with some looks to wear throughout the season.
"We've done some experimenting with stuff, and it's just a fun little hobby of mine now and good business for him," Roslovic said. "I don't do much of the designing, I just wear it. We talk about ideas, and if I have anything I want to do I'll ask him, but for the most part I just let him go crazy."
Laine, meanwhile, said he often consults with his girlfriend on some of the outfits he wears to games, and he picks up accessories like his now famous purple glasses whenever he sees them out and about.
"I like to wear different kinds of stuff," he said on The Inside Edge earlier this year. "I don't want to look like everybody else. I think that's great for the game, that guys will bring their own personality out a little bit more. I like that kind of style, and I think it represents my personality. I have a couple more things for you guys hopefully in the future."
While that will have to wait, with Laine going on injured reserve Friday, he said the key to his looks is matching colors -- "You can't look like a rainbow out there," he said -- and then repping everything with the belief that it looks good.
"Everything you wear with confidence looks good," he said. "If it looks good in my mind, that's all that matters, really."
Merzlikins, like Roslovic, has a local clothier that he works with, and like Laine, he's not afraid to show off his personality. Of note, he's incorporated hats into many of his fits this year, with more to come, and the goalie says he's felt more comfortable when it comes to showing off his style now that he's in his third year in the NHL.
"I think this is how you feel about yourself and your personality and what you feel comfortable to wear," Merzlikins said. "I really love the suits. I love the fabric and I love the particular stuff. Even the inside of the suit has to be particular. I don't like boring, simple stuff so I am always going to make something particular."
The hope for many NHL players is to see the league relax the dress code even further, in part because of what fashion has done to spotlight NFL and NBA players in recent years. Even the existence of an NHL style power rankings column shows just how much fits can appeal to the average fan and perhaps even bring more people into the tent to watch and grow the sport.
"Hopefully it's heading in that direction a little bit more," Laine said. "I think it just brings out guys' personalities a little more. I personally like wearing suits -- it's not an issue for me -- but it would be nice to have some other options if you just want to be comfortable for one day. That would be all right, but hopefully it's moving to a more relaxed direction and guys can go a little bit looser sometimes.
"I think it would be great for hockey overall to expand and grow the game. I think that's part of it. Obviously the main thing is the on-ice product, but I think off the ice, we can expand the sport and get more viewers and add to hockey, so I think it would be a good thing."