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Cooperalls made Flyers 'look bigger'

Philadelphia players from early 1980s reflect on pants in running for Greatest NHL Uniform

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The secret to the Philadelphia Flyers' size and strength in the early 1980s apparently wasn't their big, physical players.

It was their pants.

When the Flyers switched from traditional short hockey pants to the full-length Cooperalls for the 1981-82 season, forward Bill Barber said they "made our team look bigger, look taller."

 

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The uniforms the Flyers sported those two seasons, highlighted by the all-black Cooperalls, are in the field of 100 in the battle for Greatest NHL Uniform.

Cooperalls were a lower-body uniform system that featured an elastic girdle that went from the rib cage to the top of the knees and had foam pads sewn into them. The design was covered by full-length black nylon pants, with an orange stripe down each leg.

"Most people hated those things," defenseman Mark Howe said.

"It was weird the first time you put them on but I liked them," forward Paul Holmgren said. "They were warmer, which I didn't mind. They were very comfortable. I didn't have any problems with them."

The extra warmth was one change some players frowned upon. Another was the restrictiveness of the girdle. Barber compared it to wearing tight football pants, and said the Cooperalls restricted his skating stride. That is, until he came up with a solution.

"I had to cut the backs of them a little bit so I could get my stride," he said. "It restricted my stride, stretching out to get going. … We could cut the backs of the girdle and the inside part of the pants. You could cut it so you could stretch and get more stride. 

"I found where my hamstrings were sore at [training] camp when we first started wearing these things because it restricted your whole stride. But once we made the adjustments there they were a little bit better."

Another issue came when players would fall.

"If you ever fell you gained speed with the nylon long pants," Barber said. "You didn't have any grab on the ice. You picked up speed, not slowed down."

Holmgren said, "Not like we blocked shots like players do today, but if you went down to slide to block a shot wearing those things, you slid a lot further. You'd slide yourself right out of position. So there was some getting used to it in that regard."

Whatever issues the players had wearing them, it didn't affect the Flyers in the standings. The Flyers made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the two seasons they wore the Cooperalls, including finishing first in the Patrick Division in 1982-83.

But it was the eye test the Cooperalls failed. The Flyers were only team to wear them in 1981-82. The Hartford Whalers joined the next season, wearing full-length green pants in 1982-83.

"I don't know you could term it, if it was weird or whatever," Barber said. "But you wondered if it belonged in hockey."

After the second season of Cooperalls, the NHL banned them, and the Flyers and Whalers went back to wearing traditional hockey pants.

"I was ready to go back to the other ones," Barber said. "Something you wore all your life, there was no adjustments necessary with the old equipment. These things you had to [adjust to]. I was kind of glad to get back to the original pants, the way hockey should be."

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