No sport looks quite like hockey

Have you ever scribbled down a re-designed logo or jersey for your favourite team?
Or even just wonder how the history of the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints might have been altered if their original proposed colours—blue and gold—had been approved?
It’s probably insignificant but hey, can you imagine San Diego Charger look-alikes hoisting the Lombardi Trophy?
There is help. I’ll start.
I’m a sports fashionista. I remember back when I was about 10, I designed a dreadful Philadelphia Flyers’ jersey with a crest of six airplanes, each one containing one of the letters in “Flyers.”
It was garbage, but it didn’t stop me from sketching out more jerseys, including one for the non-existent “Seattle Speed Demons.”
This interest in athletic fashion is something I don’t really understand since I normally deplore spending any amount of time thinking about style at all.
Most mornings, I’ll slip on whatever’s fresh and not give it a second thought.
But, for whatever reason, I find the jerseys, logos, hockey socks, baseball stirrups and caps, and most other aspects of sports uniforms to be captivating.
As much as I love stats, I’m just as interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of putting on a major-league game, including getting just the right outfit for a team.
In some cases, it may just be pants, as is the case of Norwegian skip Thomas Ulsrud, whose team wore simultaneously awesome and awful diamond-drenched pants at both the Winter Olympics and world curling championship.
But hockey is the most intriguing, as it generally seems to be on the cutting edge of uniform design.
Unique goalie masks certainly help make a statement. And of the four major North American sports, hockey is the only one where the team’s logo is, in many cases, the prominent chest mark on the jersey.
But it doesn’t have to be. Dallas (unfortunately) just uses the city name on the front for two of their jerseys while Minnesota (fortunately) has a cool baseball script for its third jersey.
Of course, the Rangers have their traditional diagonal wordmark, too.
As well, NHL jerseys are less likely to keep to a template. For example, some teams have horizontal stripes at the waist, some don’t have any at all, and some have curved swoops.
Some have shoulder yokes and some don’t.
Comparatively, jerseys for the NBA, NFL, and major-league baseball are more or less cut-and-dried. Numbers here, team nickname here, small logos here, paint-by-numbers for colour, add a small token of uniqueness (say, pinstripes) to set it apart and, bam, you have yourself a pro sports jersey.
The NHL was much the same, as jerseys from about 1955 through the mid-1990s followed the same basic pattern.
The changes mainly are rooted in 1996 when the NHL’s third jersey program began, although the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (who hit the ice back in 1993) were the first with diagonal striping.
Things really began to open up as the Colorado Avalanche’s original 1995 jersey featured jagged stripes and yokes, and teams became more willing to try new things in many aspects of their jerseys.
The experiment of most benefit to me was the Buffalo Sabres’ addition of numbers to the front of the jersey in 2006, which was copied by a couple other NHL teams and (thankfully) the local Fort Frances Lakers.
Even though the third jersey produced more duds (the L.A. Kings’ “Burger King” jersey, the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim’s “Wild Wing” uniform, and the Nashville Predators’ mustard-yellow monstrosity that didn’t even earn a derogatory nickname) than hits (the Edmonton Oilers’ “gear” jersey, the Minnesota Wild’s retro green “baseball script” uniform, and the St. Louis Blues’ “Gateway Arch” beauty).
Part of the fun is seeing what new designs come out because it’s all a part of how a team represents itself. How many different ways are there to do that?
If it’s good, it’s a work of art. And if it’s terrible, it’s fun to mock.
Why the Buffalo Sabres chose the “buffa-slug” for their new logo in 2006 is beyond me, especially since they had a winner with the “crossed swords” design they used as their primary logo until 1996.
That mark reappeared on the team’s third jersey in 2006, and there are rumblings it might return as the primary one for 2010-11.
The Sabres would be following a trend of acknowledging they had it right the first time.
Retro is in, as the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, N.Y. Islanders and even the steadfastly home-and-away-and-that’s-all New Jersey Devils (for one night only) wore retro jerseys this season.
That’s in addition to teams that have participated in the Winter Classic and brought the threads into regular rotation (i.e., Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia).
Yeah, a lot of vintage/special/third jerseys is trying to squeeze even more merchandising revenue from loyal fans, but how many people can say those vintage Flames’ jerseys didn’t look 100 times better than their current uniform set?
And this coming from a guy who hates the Flames.
Thankfully for the jersey-intrigued, there are a number of like-minded folks online. The catch-all blog is UniWatch (www.uniwatchblog.com), where the writers post a new article every day—be it breaking news about new uniforms or a look back at threads past.
The blog’s slogan, fittingly, is “The obsessive study of athletics aesthetics.”
The blog also is partly responsible for some of the most garish NFL uniforms of all-time. On April Fool’s Day, 2009, the blog reported that the Seattle Seahawks were going to wear a lime-green alternate jersey in the upcoming season.
It started out as a joke, but in September, the Seahawks actually did take to the field wearing lime green.
There’s also a blog that’s exclusively hockey called Icethetics (www.icethetics.info), which is run by, of all creatures, a Tampa Bay Lightning fan (apparently they do exist).
Icethetics is a mash-up of everything hockey, including updates on minor-league promotional jersey nights (notably chronicling the exploits of the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers, who have worn one-time jerseys with Girl Scouts and prison themes, among others).
Icethetics also posts concept art, where fans design all-new uniform sets for their favourite teams.
Some of the concepts are professional and slick, some are just hack jobs created in Microsoft Paint, but either can fall into one of the site’s “Freak Out Friday” posts, where the most bizarre designs end up.
Some of these designs actually do hit the ice. The University of South Florida and the Wenatchee Wild (NAHL) have tapped Icethetics to hold a contest for a new logo or jersey design while the Grand Rapids Griffins and Hartford Wolf Pack (both of the AHL) have looked to another hockey-design blog called PuckDrawn (www.puckdrawn.com).
But Icethetics’ original mission, in its previous incarnation as the NHL Tournament of Logos, is to decide the NHL’s best logo (before moving onto other leagues).
The site crowned the Montreal Canadiens’ crest as the top entry after a single-elimination tournament a few years ago, but now, after a five-week round-robin, an updated tournament is now in its playoff round—with the Habs as strong favourites to repeat.
So if all that jersey trivia wasn’t enough to satisfy your craving for knowledge, these sites should help you out.
Let it be known that it’s okay to say, “Oh my gosh, did you see what he was wearing?” and not to be ashamed if someone who stumbles upon your radical hand-drawn Detroit Red Wings concept mocks you as “Calvin Klein.”
You’re not alone.

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