On Sunday, the National Hockey League officially announced that the same plans that were laid out for what should’ve been the 2013 Winter Classic have been rolled over and will take place as part of the New Year’s celebrations for 2014. The Detroit Red Wings will host the Toronto Maple Leafs at The Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with two alumni games taking place at Detroit’s Comerica Park. While the announcement of the reboot of the league’s most prominent event (this season, a lockout casualty) came as no surprise, the most exciting news of the day may have been the unveiling of the event’s jerseys.
Hockey fans are very passionate about their sport’s aesthetics, perhaps more so than the fans of any other sport. With the Winter Classic designed to attain a sense of nostalgia, it only makes sense that teams would use the opportunity to trot out some old school threads. While early Classic participants simply reached into the backs of their closets to don some of their beloved jerseys of yesteryear, the trend nowadays is for teams to work with Reebok to combine multiple design elements from days past to create a brand new jersey with a vintage feel.
Per NHL Executive Vice President of Marketing Brian Jennings, “uniform designs set out to honor and pay respect to the rich history of the game and the teams taking part… Each NHL Winter Classic uniform is an embodiment of that team’s core brand values and represents memorable milestones in that team’s history.” The resulting mash-up is a new jersey with a “throwback” feel, commonly referred to as a “fauxback,” and, for my money, has yet to disappoint. Sunday’s unveiling was no exception.
The Detroit Red Wings previously competed in the 2009 Winter Classic in Chicago, and presented us with some great uniforms based on the stylized “D” of the Detroit Cougars, one of the franchise’s previous monikers (they were also briefly known as the Detroit Falcons). This time around, Detroit continued to borrow from the late-1920s Cougars with a similar jersey striping and an arched Detroit wordmark. The font of the wordmark, along with the player names and numbers, actually borrows its typeface from the early-1980s Red Wings. The crest itself features an earlier iteration of the iconic “winged wheel” from the late-1930s.
Although the lower striping on the jersey is the same thing that you can find on the Minnesota Wild green alternate jerseys (and the sleeve striping is the reverse of Minnesota’s), there is one element that may be utterly unique to this jersey. While the captain’s C and alternate captains’ A’s will be worn as patches inside of a diamond to pay homage to previous jersey designations in Detroit’s history, never before have they been worn anywhere other than on some part of the player’s chest. This time around, such an indication will be worn of the left sleeve, inside of the larger white stripe.
Detroit certainly excelled in their historical design incorporations, but the Toronto Maple Leafs have a hell of a tale with a grand significance to this event. As the story goes, Toronto St. Pats owner Conn Smythe was riding a train home from Detroit in 1927 while pondering the moniker of his club. Described by the Leafs press release as “an unabashed patriot,” Smythe looked to adopt the national emblem of Canada for his own club. Having once scouted a team called the East Toronto Maple Leafs, Smythe became a fan of the designation due to its eccentric grammatical error.
The previous green and white garb of the St. Pats era of Toronto hockey was also changed. After a brief stint sporting a green maple leaf for a crest, Smythe elected to dress his team in their now iconic blue and white. These colors were selected mainly to reflect the look of his alma mater, the University of Toronto.
By the time his train had pulled into Old Union Station in Toronto, Smythe had declared that his club carry the same name that it goes by today. “The Maple Leaf, to us, was the badge of courage, the badge that meant home… We chose it hoping [it would be] worn with honor and pride and courage, the way it had been worn by the soldiers of the first Great War in the Canadian army.” The jersey that Toronto will wear for the Winter Classic is indeed a slight adaptation of their original 1927 design.
Not to leave the stone of a merchandising opportunity unturned, the two squads also unveiled their alumni jerseys. Toronto will choose to go with the same jerseys they wore from 1970-1992, a classic look with their current iteration of the Maple Leaf logo. Detroit, on the other hand, will go with a red version of their 2009 Winter Classic jersey, another solid design.
One of the biggest takeaways from both sets of unveilings is that none of the four jerseys are white. Though it is widely believed that the league discourages color-on-color matchups inside of enclosed arenas, these squads will take to the elements in colorful red vs. blue affairs.
Really, the only shame is that these jerseys will likely not see much (if any) game action beyond the 2014 Winter Classic. I’m a big fan of Toronto’s current alternate jersey, but, just like with Detroit’s last Classic appearance, I’d love to see the Red Wings maintain this beauty as an alternate kit. The team has thus far steered clear of an alternate jersey (and their classic home and away jerseys make a strong argument on their behalf), but I do believe the uniforms presented here are too good to be one-and-done. Add these visual masterpieces to the list of reasons that hockey fans will be looking forward to what will be an electric divisional matchup on New Year’s Day, 2014.