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Unmasked

Goalies face colorful dilemma with equipment

Some believe white creates illusion of size, others buck trend

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Ryan Miller is joining the dark side, but only for one game. 

Miller has a stylish new set of pads, gloves and a mask ready to match the retro black skate jersey the Vancouver Canucks will wear Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of ongoing 20th anniversary celebrations at Rogers Arena. But as good as the gear looks, with an orange and yellow "V" set against the black pads, Miller has no intention of switching from his usual, predominantly white equipment.

He's not alone. If it seems like a lot of NHL goaltenders are wearing mostly white these days, that's because many believe it looks bigger compared to darker options. 

"This is a one-off, so I thought why not have fun with it?" Miller told NHL.com. "I thought it would look good with the jerseys. I wasn't thinking big or small. It's just one game." 

Asked if the possibility of looking smaller was one reason he wouldn't consider darker equipment beyond that game, Miller, who added more blue to his pads this season, admitted the difference might matter more over time. 

"Yeah, maybe on a daily basis," Miller said. "Perception matters. Guys are looking for the net and when you really get down to fashion and all that, black is slimming." 

Many goalies believe darker equipment also makes it easier for shooters to quickly identify where their gear ends and the net begins. In a game where every half inch and tenth of a second matters, it's not an advantage some are willing to surrender. 

Marc-Andre Fleury was known for signature yellow pads early in his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but ditched them during the 2007-08 season after an Ottawa optometrist pointed out yellow was a color the human eye recognizes fastest, meaning shooters were able to distinguish his equipment from the background faster than other colors. Fleury brought back the yellow pads in 2014 to wear with the Penguins retro "Pittsburgh Gold" jerseys, but there are still some goaltending coaches at the professional level that mandate white equipment. 

Despite all that, there is good news for any fans who miss the colorful, creative patterns that dominated goaltending just over a decade ago. Beyond Fleury's special occasional yellow and the one-off black sets that will be worn by Miller and Jacob Markstrom this weekend, some NHL goalies are bucking the wedding-white trend in favor of darker equipment. 

The list is topped by Chicago Blackhawks' No. 1 Corey Crawford, who won the Stanley Cup wearing mostly white equipment last season, but alternated between a dark and light mask to match the home and road uniforms. He had two sets of pads and gloves ¬-- one mostly white, one black with red striping -- made up for this season with plans to alternate similarly, but after playing well early Crawford has stuck with the black equipment. 

"It was just something new, something fresh," Crawford told NHL.com. "I wore black pads my first two years in Norfolk and they looked kind of cool, especially with the red jerseys, so I wanted to go back to that. We were kind of joking about it, that if things didn't go so well then maybe I'd have to switch early." 

Crawford admitted holes might be easier to spot for shooters, but with a .931 save percentage that ranks fourth in the NHL, it doesn't seem to be hurting him. 

"It's true. You do see holes, but it's a different kind of view. Your five hole looks bigger, but what closes first when you're a goalie?" said Crawford, whose playing partner Scott Darling also switched to dark gear. "Really, for me, the play stays the same. And once a guy's closing in on you, that space goes away, right? It looks a lot different when you're further away than when you're right in tight. I don't know, but mostly it was a different look, a better look." 

Other goalies have started to embrace the idea of mixing fashion and function this season. 

When current St. Louis Blues starter Brian Elliott first wore a dark blue set of pads and gloves as a tribute to Curtis Joseph in mid-January, one of his puck-stopping peers told NHL.com he "looked smaller out there." But Elliott, who made 46 saves on 49 shots that game, has continued to wear the dark blue gear with "Cujo" stitched into the sides, and is 5-2-2 with a .954 save percentage since switching. 

So much for looking smaller. Instead, Elliott and Crawford are inspiring others to try it. 

Count Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Eddie Lack among them. Lack was already one of the NHL's more stylish stoppers for the way Brian's Custom Sports worked the team logo onto his custom equipment, but he hesitated for more than a year to try dark pads. 

"There's a lot of talk you look smaller, but I don't think Crawford looks smaller; I think he looks bigger," Lack told NHL.com. "I kind of want to try it to make up my own mind, but the gear definitely looks sick and Crawford is having a really, really nice season." 

Lack, who wore maroon-and-tan retro Canucks equipment in the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic game, also got encouragement from Chris Joswiak, the pro services rep for Brian's, who also make Darling's gear. 

"He convinced me that at least in beer league you get quicker whistles because the gear is black and the referees can't see the puck," Lack said with a laugh. 

Ordering it in the NHL proved a little more complicated. An equipment manager needed to call Carolina general manager Ron Francis for approval because he'd never ordered dark pads before. 

"I was like, 'Maybe this is a bad idea,' but at that point it was too late and I am excited to see them and try them out," said Lack, who hopes to have them later this week. 

Maybe, like Crawford and Elliott, the effect will be positive. Maybe, as Miller suggested, it really is as simple as looking good, feeling good and playing well. 

"Honestly, whatever makes you feel good you are probably going to play better," Miller said. "So if you are the kind of person that really thinks you need dark gear because you look good and you feel good, you are probably going to play better, but for me I am always probably going to trend towards more white, just optically I like the way it looks." 

If that includes looking bigger, it can't hurt. 

~ With Files from NHL Correspondent Brian Hedger in Chicago

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