Mark Scheifele admits when it comes to making a fashion statement he refrains from adding flamboyant and eye-catching attire to his wardrobe.
The Winnipeg Jets centre prefers to play it safe.
"I like to keep it simple. I like my blues," said Scheifele, donning a well-tailored navy suit, sans tie, on Wednesday at the Rink Hockey Academy. "I like a suit to fit well, that’s the biggest thing. I like good shoes, that’s my one flair. I like to change it up with my shoes. But I’ve tried to learn about wearing different colour sports coats and slacks."
Scheifele dropped in to surprise the Winnipeg Ice and present every member of the Western Hockey League squad with a new suit, courtesy of Canadian retailer RW&CO as it launches its fall line.
For most of these young players, sporting a jacket and tie is nothing new. They’ve been conditioned to get gussied up on game days all the way back to their time in minor hockey as another way of expressing the tight bond they share as teammates.
The Jets and the rest of the NHL take it a big step further. A dress code is written into the collective bargaining agreement requiring players to wear suit jackets, ties and dress pants to and from the rink on game days.
Scheifele totally buys that philosophy but quickly points out that when it comes to fashion sense no two teammates are alike.
"Nowadays, you see a lot of guys try to add a little bit of their own flair into the suit, and that’s the cool part. I think it’s great we’re expected to dress well in a suit, and it’s all part of that team camaraderie. But we all have our own style. Add a cool tie, new shoes, a hat... everyone’s different," he said.
Turns out Josh Morrissey is the team’s resident clothing guru. Scheifele said he regularly turns to the defenceman for advice to prevent any kind of fashion faux pas — the sort commonly committed by a certain No. 1 goaltender, it seems.
"Morrissey’s pretty good with that stuff, so I usually go to him for advice. (Connor) Hellebuyck is definitely the worst, by far. He’s got some terrible, terrible style," said Scheifele, flashing a grin. "I go with Morrissey. He’s got a really clean and proper look. It’s not like he’s super outrageous but he can change it up subtly and make it look good. He’s my go-to guy for style."
Just about any garment gaffe will be met with scorn and ridicule.
"Anything you wear you’re going to get chirped by at least one person, so I think you have to be ready for that," said Scheifele. "(Adam Lowry) and his hats, he got a lot of chirps early on but I think now it’s all part of his style."
Ice head coach James Patrick, a Winnipeg product who retired in 2005 after a 21-year playing career in the NHL, said the fashion police were in business long before he broke into the league.
Early in his career in New York, the leadership group of Ron Greschner, Tom Laidlaw and Don Maloney were merciless with youngsters who tried to make a fashion statement.
"All the young guys were fearful. I remember one of my first practices we were on the road and one of our players was wearing a real funky dress shirt. Some of the guys found a little table, put the shirt down and put a plate, glass, fork and knife on it, like it was the tablecloth," recalled Patrick, who coached the Ice in Cranbook, B.C., for two seasons before the organization was moved to the Manitoba capital.
"Getting dressed up is a hockey thing. It’s commonplace, it’s tradition. I love when I see Don Cherry recognizing how good the guys look and how well dressed they are. It’s a sign of respect for how much we appreciate the best athletes in the world, and they’re showing the respect back to the people that follow them and support them," added Patrick.
Scheifele said he became accustomed to wearing a jacket and tie when he was 15 year old with the Kitchener Jr. Rangers midget team. Back then, he still hadn’t mastered the art of tying a tie, so he cheated.
"I remember when I was (Ice players’) age. I had a few clip-ons and a few that looked like they were tie-up but they were actually on a zipper. I had a few I never undid, just slipped it over my head," he said. "Obviously, I know how to tie a tie now. I think I was 16, my dad taught how and from then on it’s just been trial and error. I consider myself a pro now."
Scheifele, 26, went from owning one suit while playing in junior with the Barrie Colts of the OHL to doubling his selection with the purchase of a new suit for the 2011 draft — he was chosen seventh overall by the Jets. By his first full NHL campaign (2013-14) he had four suits to choose from, and now figures about 15 suits or jacket-slacks combinations hang in his closet.
"I’m not a big shopper. Some guys do. Once in a while guys find a store that they like, or you’re in Chicago or New York and you’ll go to check out a new shop. I do a lot of my shopping online," he said.
Meeting Scheifele and getting fitted for a new suit wasn’t what the Ice players expected when they returned to the rink late in the afternoon. They thought they were being punished for a lethargic morning practice.
Patrick was part of the ruse, portraying the role of irked coach prepared to point out every fault during an extra video session.
"Usually it’s a practice and workouts in the morning, school in the afternoon and then we’re done for the day. So, coming back wasn’t normal. They told us we’d be going over some video, and based on the tone (the coaches) weren’t too happy with us," said defenceman Carson Lambos, getting set to play his inaugural WHL campaign in his hometown.
"We’re all sitting in here and (Patrick) told us he wasn’t happy with the way we’re dressing on the road and then he just brought in Mark, so it was pretty surreal. Being from Winnipeg, I’m obviously a huge fan."
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Updated on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 at 10:38 PM CDT: Adds photo