It’s a little known fact that the Mattamy Athletic Centre turns into a runway of sorts before every Ryerson Rams men’s hockey team home game.
First there’s coach Graham Wise, looking all business in his suit and tie as he arrives and heads beyond the great divide of doors between the outside world and the locker-rooms.
Next there’s a mob of purple — although the colour always changes depending on which team has come to challenge the Rams.
In this case, it’s the Western Mustangs, wearing matching purple tracksuits so bright they’re almost blinding to stare at.
Finally, there are the Rams. You can tell they’re the home team because each player that walks through the front doors looks like he’s off to a fancy dinner party. Ties are knotted around their necks, ironed shirts are tucked into dress pants and dress shoes are laced up tight, all for a 30-second stroll from the arena’s front doors to the third-floor dressing rooms.
The pristine outfits have purpose, though. As do the purple tracksuits, and even Wise’s behind-the-bench attire. Each article of clothing is part of a dress code culture that’s followed hockey for years, an unwritten rule that’s about tradition, respect for the game and an overall attitude.
“Ever since these kids were young hockey players, usually when they had to go to a game, they had to put a shirt and tie on,” said Wise. “Plus, I think when you get dressed up, you feel good about yourself.”
Wise has implemented a dress code for his players throughout his years as an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) coach. Back when he helmed the York University Lions for 19 years, Wise would bring a bunch of ties he’d accumulated over the years and leave them in the dressing room after some of the guys claimed they didn’t own one.
The dress code is part of a list of player responsibilities highlighted at the beginning of the Rams’ season and given to each team member in writing. Other responsibilities include being on time and ready for games, as well as a 48-hour dry rule. Wise himself follows the dress code rule along with his coaching staff, despite admitting that he hated dressing in a suit while going through university at Michigan Tech.
“There’s a whole protocol of preparing for a game that we like them to follow as a team,” said Wise.
The dress code extends to away games as well, although it has changed over the years. Initially, Wise says players were forced to wear suits and ties to away games as well as home games. But after realizing how uncomfortable sitting on a bus in a suit for many hours could be, and as tracksuits became more synonymous with a team identity, the rule was adapted.
“It’s more appropriate,” Wise said. “You’re going in the back door of an area, you’re leaving by the back door, but as long as you look like a team and you look smart, that’s our rule.”
According to both Wise and assistant coach Johnny Duco, none of their players have ever complained about the dress code, although they’ve had players try and go without a tie, as well as adapt the dress code as fashion has changed.
“There might be a guy back in the day that would try and slide into the room in that situation and you just say to him, ‘Hey, where’s your tie? Put your tie on, show a little respect.’ You know?” Wise says.
“The majority of the time they have an excuse. ‘Oh it was dirty’ or they spilt something on it,” adds Duco. “Usually it’s not that big of a deal, but most of the time there’s no problem. For the most part they’re all in a full suit.”
Right now, the OUA doesn’t have a league-wide rule. Each team mandates all dress codes presently in place individually, league communications and new media co-ordinator Matthew Walker told The Ryersonian in an email.
However, the idea of a league-wide dress code isn’t too far off.
Back in 2005 a suit-and-tie dress code was written into the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement. The NBA adopted a “business casual” dress code that same year as well.
But both Graham and Duco say the idea of dressing in a suit and tie before a home game, and a tracksuit on the road, has become so natural for most players that OUA doesn’t need to implement a rule.
Some of their players think otherwise.
“I think it would be better for the OUA, make it more prestigious, so to speak,” says left-winger Lucas Froese. “I think it would be better for the fans to see the athletes come dressed up like they care and want to play well.”
Centre Jason Kelly said the players should even get away from wearing track suits, instead wearing golf shirts and khakis pants.
“Look good, feel good, play good is our motto, so if we can do that, everything sets up in line,” says Kelly.
OUA involvement or not, Wise says he doesn’t see the dress code rule changing in the foreseeable future.
“(The) maximum length of time you’re going to have it on is a half hour. Then you’re going to change, then you’re going to play the game, then you walk out the rink, you meet your parents, you meet your girlfriend, what have you, and you look very presentable,” he said.
“I mean, if you’re going to work on Bay Street one day, you may have to wear a shirt and tie to work.”