NEW YORK — In the modern-day world of the National Hockey League, it costs nearly $700 to outfit a player. When Jim Kyte of the Winnipeg Jets hits the ice, his equipment represents an investment of nearly twice that.
And the extra expense is not just for the hair dryer he uses several times each game. Sure, Jim Kyte takes pride in his personal appearance, but he uses the blow dryer for a very unusual reason--to whisk away the moisture that accumulates in his $500 hearing aid.
"That's the biggest problem," he says. "When you sweat so much, I don't know what happens, but it seems to short out and I have difficulty hearing sometimes. There's always a spare on hand in case one malfunctions, and every year or two they have to be replaced because of the corrosive nature of the sweat."
Jim Kyte is an anomaly in the NHL, where communication with teammates is a vital part of the game. He has lost 60% of his hearing.
Although the condition has stabilized in the last five years, the 20-year-old defenseman knows it will get progressively worse. Yet despite the grim outlook, it is as difficult to detect a note of despair in his demeanor as it is the handicap he plays with.
"One thing my parents never let us do is regard it as a handicap," Kyte said. "We're a very, very competitive family. My father was very athletic--he was athlete of the half-century at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. He went to the Olympics, and I think it just rubbed off on us."
There is more to the story.
"I come from a family of five boys and one girl, and all the boys, including my father, have a hearing impairment," he said. "But he never pushed us. If we wanted to do other things, it was fine. I guess we're just naturally inclined to do sports."
Kyte is in his third season with the Jets, who may have considered it a gamble when they made him the 12th choice in the first round of the 1982 draft.
"I was surprised I was rated in the first round," Kyte said. "But I was a first-round pick three years in a row (at different levels), so everyone must think I have an awful lot of potential."
The Jets have not regretted their decision. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Kyte is one of the league's biggest players, and perhaps its toughest. He has progressed, and Winnipeg responded by signing him to a new three-year contract prior to the 1985-86 season.
"I think Jim Kyte is developing into a good defenseman, and not only a rough-and-tough guy," Winnipeg Coach Barry Long said. "His skill level is improving. We work with him constantly. You have to have a guy like that on your hockey club. He's easy to coach and a very likable individual, and very intelligent."
The Jets finished fourth overall last season but have struggled this year. And although Kyte has played in all but two games, his strictly defensive style -- he's averaging about one shot every three games and has yet to register a point -- has curtailed his ice time and inhibited his development somewhat.
Long is not concerned.
"He will continue to get more ice time," the coach said. "Besides, I don't count on him to score. I think any goals we get from him are bonus goals. We need people to complement those people that rush up the ice, and Jimmy does that very well."
Kyte uses some neat tricks to make his job on the ice easier, especially in the arenas where the noise levels are exceptionally high.
"In most major-league rinks the glass is kept fairly clean and you can get a reflection and see where the player is behind you," he says. "When you're in the corner you can use the glass again and see where the person is on the far side.
"And when we go into a loud building such as Chicago or Philadelphia, I compensate by doing most of the talking (between the other defenseman and the goalie) -- they listen to me, instead of vice versa. You can't really hear anyone behind you when you're skating back for the puck.
"I play a very positional game, and everyone knows where I'm going to be. That helps out a lot, and when we're off we talk on the bench. So there's a lot of communication. It's a little difficult at times, but it's just something you have to overcome."
So is the ribbing.
"Every team I've played for I've gotten razzed," he said. " The other team picks up on it a little bit. But if I let it bother me I'd be going nuts. I know the guys aren't really serious about it.
"I hear what I want to hear sometimes. I always was accused of that by my old coaches -- they accused me of turning off my aid."
Despite his good-natured manner, when Kyte first joined the Jets his hearing impairment created a problem.
"Moe Mantha is deaf in one ear," Kyte recalled. "We roomed together when he was with Winnipeg, and they were always afraid that Moe would sleep on his good ear and not hear the wake-up call. We only roomed for a little while together, but we were broken up because of that."