It’s almost never a good idea to take something that is working just fine and changing it to the point it becomes unrecognizable. Yet, we do it all the time. Coca-Cola had been churning out it famous sweet brown drink for some 80 years, and yet they just had to bring out “new” Coke. Pepsi couldn’t resist unleashing Crystal Pepsi upon the masses some ten years later.
Hockey is no stranger to tweaks that became full-scale abominations. Fox television just HAD to add a laser to the hundred-year-old hockey puck and, well, do any of you see lasers on pucks nowadays? On that note, I present to you the latest induction into the Hockey Hall of Shame, the most infamous piece of hockey equipment since the California Golden Seals’ white skates: Cooperalls. But first, a little background info…
Cooperalls were the creation of one Brian Heaton, who later became famous for designing goaltender equipment. Back in the mid-1970s, however, Heaton was the senior designer for Cooper Canada. Anyone who has ever played hockey in Canada, especially in the 1970s and 80s, has owned several pieces of Cooper gear. It was often handed down from brother to brother and father to son, and eventually, when the equipment became just too stinky to keep zipped up in a hockey bag, it provided great equipment for some kick-ass road hockey tournaments. Cooper knew their hockey, that’s for sure, but they misfired big time when they unleashed Cooperalls upon the world. Think of them as overalls by Cooper. Cooper-alls. Clever, right? Unfortunately, the name was the only clever thing about them.
Cooperalls were meant to provide greater protection to hockey players because these nylon pants contained padding that would nestle snugly against the players legs and shin. They were also a lot lighter than traditional hockey pants, and provided greater freedom of movement, so Cooper was really onto something with this invention. Many junior hockey teams started adopting Cooperalls in the late 1970s, but the look of the players should have been enough to send these things back to the sports store bargain bin. I mean, look at poor Barry Trotz (yes, that Barry Trotz) here.
See how miserable he looks?
I think the priceless reaction from the great Bill Murray à la Stripes sums up the Cooperalls look best.
“What the hell were these guys thinking!?”
The NHL didn’t like the idea of players wearing Cooperalls, so they accepted CCM’s version, the Propac, which looked almost identical. During the 1981-82 season, the Philadelphia Flyers became the first NHL team to adopt the Propac pants as part of their standard uniform, and it is a good thing toughies like Dave “The Hammer” Schultz and Don “The Bird” Saleski were no longer roaming the Spectrum ice, because I’m sure they would have picketed outside the arena bemoaning the heinous dismantling of the Broad Street Bullies’ nefarious image. I’m sorry, but I don’t care if you’re a Chara-like giant with huge meat hooks that can rip a man’s throat apart, there is not one hockey player in the history of mankind, not even a four-year old pipsqueak who can barely stand on his own two feet, that will be intimidated by those things.
The following year, the Hartford Whalers also took the plunge. Even Hall of Famers Ron Francis and Bill Barber couldn’t make these things look cool. I can’t even imagine how strange it looked to see the Whalers and Flyers play each other… Oh my God, there’s actually a YouTube clip of the Whalers and Flyers playing in these abominations. You can check it out here.
Good lord, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that’s a high school girls ringette game.
Not only did the Propacs look dreadful, they were a lot warmer than traditional pants, and goalies found it difficult to see the puck because it matched the colour of the Flyers pants. They were also a major safety hazard as the material that covered the padding created much less friction against the ice than normal hockey pants, so when players wearing the Propacs were checked hard they would fall onto their poopers and slide violently into the boards. Hey, that gives me an idea for an alternate name to these things: “Pooperalls” **patent pending** It works on so many levels, I tells ya!
Even though the Propacs are what everyone remembers because of their link to the NHL, any long hockey pant is usually referred to today as Cooperalls. Once the league noticed the risk the players were putting themselves at risk by wearing these pants, the league outlawed them completely and that was all she wrote for Cooperalls at the NHL level. Throughout the 80s and early 90s, boys and girls would often go to their house league games wearing old Cooperalls that had been handed down from their older siblings. Today, the last of the old Cooperalls have probably disintegrated to nearly nothing in long-forgotten hockey bags in basements across Canada. God bless you Coops, we hardly knew ye!