Sweater Versus Jersey: The Hottest Debate On Ice

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(Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
(Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

As the San Jose Sharks attempt to nibble at the lead the Pittsburgh Penguins have established in the Stanley Cup finals, a debate is raging across North America.

That garment that a hockey player pulls over his shoulder pads: is it a jersey? Or is it a sweater?

"Sweater. Definitely, clearly, sweater," says Vipal Monga, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. "It says a lot about the romance of the sport, and I think that adds a lot to the aura, the mystique of the sport."

Monga usually writes about corporate finance and other matters even more important than this. But when the question of sweater versus jersey came up, he could not keep silent. See, Monga was raised in Canada. He moved to New York 17 years ago. And while he's always been firmly in camp sweater...

"To my dismay, though, there have been moments when I’ve caught myself in the midst of calling it a jersey," he says. "And, you know, it’s sort of like a creeping takeover that’s happening as I spend more time here."

Monga understands that hockey players no longer wear thick woolen sweaters to stay warm. In fact, today's hockey jerseys are made from double-knit polyester and other synthetic fibers meant to keep players cool. And Monga knows that, like the Sharks in this year's Finals, he might be fighting a losing battle.

"The NHL, I believe, calls it jersey," he says. "All the marketing materials call it jersey. The Hockey Hall of Fame calls it jersey. But just because they’re the official institutions does not mean they’re right."

"If you want to call it a sweater then by all means call it a sweater," says former NHL player Dave Silk, a.k.a. the guy we call whenever we have a hockey question. But what does Silk think it should be called?

"Jersey," he says.

Before winning Olympic gold with the Miracle on Ice team, Dave was just another kid playing in rec leagues south of Boston, where fistfights did not exactly break out over what to call the uniform the players were wearing.

"Everybody wore a jersey," he says. "There were no such things as sweaters. That’s what the people in the stands wore."

Once Silk made it to the NHL, his acquaintance with the hockey sweater began. By then, he knew better than to be surprised by unfamiliar expressions.

"Once you start getting used to playing with and against Canadians, you come to understand that they have a whole other language," he says. "And, I remember one of the first times that I played against a Canadian team, when I was still in youth hockey, and, you know, there was the usual pushing and shoving, so I think I probably swore at a guy, and one of the guys said, ‘Your mother swims after troop ships, eh?’ And I had to go back to the bench and ask the coach, ‘What does that mean?’"

My friends on the western end called it a jersey, which led me immediately to question their Canadian bonafides.

Vipal Monga

It would be easy to assume that this is merely a semantic difference between the languages spoken in the U.S. and Canada, but even within this country, Silk says, hockey players have a language all their own.

"You go out to Minnesota and they call hockey pants ‘breezers,’" he said. "There’s a regional distinction for sure."

And it turns out that those regional differences play out north of the border as well, as Monga found out this week after his exposé on the jersey versus sweater controversy was published in the Wall Street Journal.

"My friends on the eastern part of Canada all said sweater," Monga said. "No doubt, sweater. My friends on the western end called it a jersey, which led me immediately to question their Canadian bonafides. But, that could be a dividing line: ‘Old Canada’ versus ‘New Canada,’ or as I like to say, ‘Right Canada’ versus ‘Wrong Canada.’"

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to agree that there is no “right” or “wrong” with regard to the debate about jerseys and sweaters? I mean, in this contentious world, couldn’t we…

This segment aired on June 4, 2016.


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Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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