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Tuck or No Tuck: The History of the Jersey Tuck Debate

Written by Emily Erson

No, Costanza, we aren’t talking about tucking in bed sheets here; we’re talking about the jersey tuck and its interesting history in the sport of hockey. Is the famous Gretzky tuck just the Great One showing a flair for fashion? Or, is having a tucked, half-tucked jersey a competitive advantage?

While it’s not much of a debate in youth hockey, I still think it’s interesting that it’s even a rule at all.

What’s with the NHL Rule 9.5, also known as ‘the tuck rule?’

The History of The Untucked Hockey Jersey

Interestingly, hockey is one of the only major sports that started out using untucked jerseys. That’s because those early “uniforms” were wool sweaters (imagine having to wash a wool sweater every time your son or daughter stepped off the ice, ugh!) They weren’t comfortable to tuck in for obvious, itchy reasons.

As the hockey jersey grew into what we’re accustomed to seeing today, the untucked style just sort of stuck. There were always players here and there that chose to tuck their uniform into their pants. Bue, none of these players were as famous as Wayne Gretzky. The Great One always tucked a portion of his jersey into his hip pads.

The Great One’s Hockey Fashion


The Gretzky fashion statement started from his youth hockey days. He was only six-years-old when he began tucking his jersey. The origin for the tuck was because his youth jerseys were always too large for him since he often played up in older age brackets. By tucking in his two-sizes-too-large jersey, it wasn’t as big of an annoyance during games. From there, it just grew into part of the Gretzky mythos.

Fast-forward to Gretzky’s professional days in the NHL. There was suddenly no way to stop the jersey tuck. Millions of youth hockey players, sportscasters, and even fellow NHL stars adulated the Great One. It was only a short matter of time before the jersey tuck was trending. Even the NHL embraced it for a while. They commissioned CCM, the manufacturer of NHL jerseys at the time, to make custom uniforms for Gretzky that had two logos on the shirttail. So, no matter how he tucked it, at least one would be visible.

Gretzky wasn’t the originator of the tuck.  But, it’s hard to think of another player that was as fundamental in bringing the tucked look into major popularity. Other stars that have adopted the hockey jersey tuck include players like Patrice Bergeron, Alex Ovechkin, Jaromir Jagr, Mikhail Grabovski, Ilya Kovalchuk and tons more.

NHL Rule 9.5, The Tuck Rule

As mentioned before, the NHL tolerated the tuck for a while, but it didn’t last. Preceding the 2013-14 NHL season, general managers voted to begin enforcing NHL Rule 9.5. The rule that existed since 1964 states that:

All protective equipment, except gloves, headgear and goaltenders’ leg guards must be worn under the uniform. Should it be brought to the attention of the referee that a player is wearing, for example, an elbow pad that is not covered by his jersey, he shall instruct the player to cover up the pad and a second violation by the same player would result in a minor penalty being assessed.

Rule 9.5 governs all protective equipment, including pants. Players are not permitted to tuck their jersey into their pants in such a manner where the top padding of the pant and/or additional body protection (affixed to the pant or affixed to the player’s body) is exposed outside the jersey. The back uniform number must not be covered or obstructed in any fashion by protruding pads or other protective padding. (NHL Rule 9.5)

What’s the reason for the new enforcement?

It’s not clear why the NHL’s general managers decided to resurrect the tuck and begin enforcing it. Although, there are some theories. In some reports, injury prevention is the reason for the new focus on jersey tucking.  Some argue an untucked jersey will prevent/reduce cuts by a skate blade. If this sounds suspicious to you, you aren’t alone.  These types of accidents are freak and rare. Not to mention, empirical evidence suggests that the tucking or untucking of a jersey would not prevent a razor-sharp skate blade from doing damage.

Other hockey people felt that the change might be preparing for sponsors and advertisements to be placed at the bottom of jerseys, in an attempt to drum up more money for the NHL operations. A third theory is that the rule enforcement was merely trying to mimic other hockey leagues and organizations, notably the Olympics.

“Tuck Rule” Backlash and Relaxed Enforcement

Whatever the reasons behind the tuck rule were, the suddenly-enforced Rule 9.5 was met by a lot of disgruntled hockey players and coaches. Many players, like Patrice Bergeron, argued that jersey tucking wasn’t always intentional.  Assessing a penalty for something that just happens during play is unreasonable. Other skaters said that jersey tucking was part of a player’s identity, as was indeed the case with Wayne Gretzky.

In response to the backlash and a general understanding jerseys can unintentionally become tucked, the league relaxed its enforcement of Rule 9.5. Their modification of the rule eliminates penalties and even warnings for jersey tucks that occurred while on the ice. When a shift starts, a player’s jersey must be tucked in. This means players don’t have to worry about their uniforms riding up while they are playing.  They can focus on playing hockey instead.

Conclusions

 Jersey tucking is a harmless act. And, it’s hard to reason why anyone would have an aversion to it. Some player’s tuck just out of habit or comfort. Others do it simply as part of their hockey identity. Other times, tucking just happens.

How do you feel about jersey tucking? Is your son or daughter a tucker or a non-tucker? Please share in the comments.

Don’t forget to join us for hockey mom talk in my Facebook Group, Hockey Mom Hacks.  We’d love to have you talk hockey with us.

About the author

Emily Erson

I am a full-time teacher, mother, driver of children, cooker of dinner, washer of laundry, sayer of whatever is on my mind and hockey mom extraordinaire. In my free time --like that exists--I blog in order to vent the frustration that comes with raising 3 kids. My mantra, blogging and ranting are better than a drinking problem.

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