GRAND FORKS, N.D. — As a member of the media covering North Dakota hockey in advance of the Frozen Four, I’ve spent the past week asking tough, probing questions of the Fighting Sioux coaches and players.
Curiously, I seemed to be the only reporter willing to broach a delicate subject, a subject UND coach Dave Hakstol was not eager to address: Will the Sioux wear their black Nike Swift jerseys when they play Boston College in St. Louis on Thursday?
To some, inquiring about the jerseys UND wears on game day might appear trivial. That, however, indicates a lack of understanding about the power and mystique surrounding these incredible garments. The fact is, the Sioux are 6-0 in games in which they’ve worn their black uniforms with the Nike Swift jerseys.
Evidence suggests that these jerseys helped UND rebound from a poor first half of the season (7-10-1) to an implausible second-half finish (17-3-4), paving the way for a third consecutive Frozen Four appearance. For example:
• UND was one of nine college teams selected to debut the Nike Swift jerseys in late December. Three of those teams — the other two being Maine and Michigan State — are in the Frozen four.
• The first time UND wore the jerseys was against Dartmouth Dec. 29 at the Ledyard National Bank Classic in Hanover, N.H. Coming off a 1-7-0 losing streak, the Sioux beat Dartmouth and went on to win the tournament, now considered a key turning point of the season.
• When UND wore its traditional green road jerseys on St. Patrick’s Day to play Minnesota for the WCHA Final Five championship in St. Paul, the Sioux lost to the Gophers 3-2 in overtime. The following weekend, when UND played Minnesota at the NCAA West Regional in Denver, the Sioux wore the black Nike Swift jerseys and won 3-2 in overtime.
• UND punched its ticket to the Frozen Four at the West Regional by wearing the Nike Swift jerseys for wins against Michigan and Minnesota, the first time all season that the jerseys were worn in back-to-back games.
What makes these jerseys so special? According to a Nike Bauer Hockey Inc. news release (and who doesn’t believe news releases?), the wind tunnel-tested jersey designed by the Advanced Innovation Team “reduces overall uniform weight, adds increased mobility and comfort while making the jersey the most advanced in the world.”
If this is the case, why wouldn’t a hockey player want every advantage he can get on the ice, especially during the Frozen Four? The best people to answer that were the team members themselves. When I put the question to them, here’s what they said:
Forward Jonathan Toews: “They make me feel pretty good. Hopefully we can keep the streak going if we keep wearing that jersey. They’re not that different. I just think they look good. It’s not the traditional Sioux jersey. All that black and green goes pretty good together.”
Forward Kyle Radke: We’re undefeated in them — knock on wood. I’m sure we’ll be wearing them come Thursday. Personally, I don’t like the way they fit. There is more ventilation through them, definitely. It’s nothing significant, not enough to make a difference where you really notice it. They’re intimidating.”
Forward Rylan Kaip: “Yeah, I like them. They’re a little bit lighter than the other ones. Lots of guys don’t like the way it feels, but I’m not going to complain.”
Forward Erik Fabian: “Do they feel a little lighter? Yeah. I just like the way the black jerseys look. That’s the only preference I have for them. They make us look thinner out there.”
Defenseman Taylor Chorney: “It’s a little different material than the regular ones. It’s a new look for us and our team plays with a lot of confidence in them. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the jersey, but I guess we are undefeated in them. I know we like wearing them.”
Defenseman Robbie Bina: “Personally, I like the black jerseys. I like the way they feel and the way they look, too.”
Defenseman Zach Jones: “I just like the way they look. I think they’re pretty cool.”
Defenseman Chay Genoway: “I like them just because as a smaller guy, they make everyone look slim. It just brings me to everyone else’s level. I kind of like them in that sense. It kind of makes me look bigger in relation to the bigger guys.”
Goalie Philippe Lamoureux: “I love them. They’re a little bit different kind of material, a little bit thinner and not as hot to wear on the ice. When they get wet, they don’t get heavy. I personally like wearing the black jerseys.”
As for the coach’s opinion, when I asked if he liked the Nike Swifts, Hakstol replied: “I don’t know. They’re jerseys. They’re a new look and a nice change. We’ve had a little bit of success in them. The jerseys don’t win hockey games. The people in them do.”
On SiouxSports.com, a website for UND fans, the initial reaction to the new uniforms last December was decidedly mixed. Many either disliked them or preferred the traditional style. But because the black Nike Swift jerseys have played a role in improving UND’s fortunes this season, most Sioux fans would like to see the team wear them in St. Louis.
In an unscientific poll conducted at SiouxSports.com, almost 90 percent of the 180-plus voters said UND should wear the black jerseys during the Frozen Four. Nearly two-thirds said it was because the team won when it wore them and 24 percent it was because they liked the looks of the Nike Swifts.
Hakstol has good news for the players and fans who want the team back in black jerseys against Boston College: “I don’t know if they’ll be hanging in the stalls or not, but they’ll make the trip to St. Louis — as will the greens and the whites.”
As the visiting team, Hakstol will decide Thursday morning whether UND wears its green or black jerseys. However, he might have tipped his hand on his preference for the Nike Swifts when he said, “Every little thing counts. If there is a little extra excitement when the players walk in the locker room, it’s a positive for us.”
As for me, let’s face it: These jerseys weren’t designed to appeal to middle-aged guys with paunches. I’ll wear my traditional, voluminous replica Sioux jersey to cover up my spare tire until the day I manage to acquire a Bowflex body.
In other words, no matter how popular they become, Nike’s not going to sell me a new Swift jersey any time soon.