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Leafs players model new lightweight jerseys on eve of opening training camp

"Wouldn't that be great," says right-winger Darcy Tucker. "As a team, you always want to think that when you change something it's going to lead to better results.

"Hopefully, that's part of what we can accomplish this year."

The Leafs will have no special edge since all 30 clubs will be using the Reebok-designed duds that were unveiled at last winter's all-star game. Tucker and teammates Tomas Kaberle and Jason Blake modelled the new look on a Leafs TV set just inside the main entrance to Air Canada Centre on Wednesday and adjourned to the arena's apparel and souvenir shop to talk about them.

"They're a nice look, and very light," Tucker said. "I can definitely vouch for that.

"How light and how they'll feel in a game situation, we'll have to wait until the first exhibition game, but they do feel good."

The new jerseys are 14 per cent lighter and repel moisture, retaining 76 less moisture than those previously worn. Wind tunnel tests showed that they caused nine per cent less drag and the ventilated fabric keeps players cooler.

The main visible difference fans might notice in Leafs jerseys will be the removal of logo patches on the shoulders. A small NHL crest has been added at the bottom of the V-neck and there will be two rings around each elbow.

The Leafs, who missed the playoffs by one point last spring, open training camp with medicals and fitness tests Thursday. On-ice workouts begin Friday although most players have been skating at the club's practice rink. Now head coach Paul Maurice and his staff move in to crack whips.

GM John Ferguson, whose contract expires at season's end, can wait no longer for a successful campaign. Toronto hasn't made the playoffs since 2004.

"We expect nothing less than to get into the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup," said Ferguson.

Leafs defenceman Wade Belak has been quoted as saying he feels the new jerseys are too tight, and a lot of players are increasing their sweater sizes to retain the looseness to which they have become accustomed during their careers.

"I went to a little looser size," said Tucker. "I didn't like it too tight.

"I like to make sure I have a little bit of looseness to my equipment. I'm a traditional guy. I liked our old jerseys, but if there was going to be a change these are a great way to go."

Kaberle also moved up one size.

"I think everybody did," said the defenceman. "It's a little tighter (than the previous jerseys), but it feels pretty good. They're simple, nice jerseys.

"I don't know if we're going to be faster with lighter jerseys but we know what we have to do this year. The main thing is to get into the playoffs and think then about what's going to happen after. We have to start right from the first game. We've got some new faces, a few new guys, and it's going to make this team even stronger."

Blake, whose 40-goal season with the New York Islanders earned him a long-term deal worth US$5 million this season when the free-agent market opened in July, is eager to get started.

"Any time you go to a new team, whether you get traded or whatever the situation is and you meet new guys, there's definitely a little more fire there," he said. "I was on Long Island for a length of time but now it's like I'm a little kid again.

"This is great. I've dreamed about playing in Toronto and now I've got the opportunity so it's 'Let's make it work now."'

Blake wore the new Reebok design during the 2007 all-star game.

"I like it," he said. "It's lighter and it breathes better. If you feel good out there, you're going to play good."

Keith Leach, director of NHL uniforms for Reebok, calls the new design "more anatomical."

"Basically, the old jersey was more like a square," he explained. "If you look at these (new ones), the shoulders are more rolled so they fit with the equipment better."

There is mesh under the arms.

"When players move and stretch, they will have better range of motion and better agility. We don't look at it as being a tighter or more snug design but one that is more anatomically fit for the player."

It's not surprising to him that some players are going a size up.

"Players will be individuals," he said. "What you'll find is that they're looking for a customized feeling in any product they wear."

Dallas goalie Marty Turco went down one size, he said.

"He's found he moves even better not having excess material," said Leach. "Players have played their entire lives in one type of feel so it's a process on how they'll adjust to the new technology."



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