Monday, January 2, 2017

The History of the NHL Winter Classic

The 9th NHL Winter Classic takes place today, Monday, January 2nd, at Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals of Major League Baseball.

The original inspiration for the Winter Classic must be given to The Cold War, an outdoor game held at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan when Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, both then of the CCHA, battled to a 3-3 tie in front of 74,544 fans, an attendance figure which no doubt raised eyebrows with the powers that be across the NHL.

Cold War 2001
The Cold War

The first to to embrace the concept in the NHL was the Edmonton Oilers, who hosted the Montreal Canadiens on November 22, 2003 in what was dubbed The Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium, home of the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos.

Theodore toque Canadiens
Jose Theodore famously wearing a toque during the Heritage Classic

In addition to the game itself, which counted in the NHL's regular season standings, the event drew a great deal of publicity for the MegaStars Game, an exhibition game between Oilers legends from their 1980's dynasty versus a team of Canadiens legends from their dynasty of the 1970's. It was the first time Wayne Gretzky had taken part in an NHL old-timers game of any kind, and something he had publicly stated then would be the only time.

Such was the importance of the event in Canada, that Mark Messier received special permission from the New York Rangers to take part in the game despite being the only player still active in the NHL.

Heritige Classic MegaStars game
Mark Messier congratulates Guy Lafleur following the MegaStars game

The Winter Classic began in 2008 when the Pittsburgh Penguins faced off against the host Buffalo Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills of the NFL. The game was a tremendous success on many levels, as 71,217 fans set an NHL attendance record, the weather cooperated with a picturesque snowfall during the game and the most visible player in the league, Sidney Crosby, scored the game winning goal in the shootout for Pittsburgh.

One other element of the game was an outstanding success - the use of throwback jerseys by both the Penguins and Sabres. The Penguins revived their powder blue road jerseys from the 1970-71 season while the Sabres opted for their original home white jerseys from the same 1970-71 season.

2008 NHL Winter Classic
Crosby scores the game winning goal in his light blue throwback jersey

The Sabres jerseys were very well received as the club was presently wearing their controversial "Buffaslug" jerseys at the time as fans longed for a full-time return to the team's original look. An updated version of their classic blue jersey was the first result, being introduced the following season and became the team's primary jersey two seasons later and paired with a similarly modernized white version of their original white jersey which was first revived at the 2008 Winter Classic and both remain in use now seven seasons later.

The Penguins, fueled by the popularity of stars Evgeni Malkin, and especially that of Crosby, adopted the 2008 Winter Classic jersey as their alternate jersey the following season and sold them by the thousands for the three seasons they were subsequently worn.

The use of throwback and retro styled jerseys at the Winter Classic has remained. For the 2009 Winter Classic in Chicago at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Blackhawks wore a hybrid of a 1935-36 Blackhawks jersey mated with a 1948 logo while taking on the Detroit Red Wings, who employed the jerseys originally worn by the Detroit Cougars in the franchise's first season of 1926-27. As with the Penguins, the Blackhawks jerseys continued to live on, with the addition of a secondary logo on the shoulders, as the club's third jersey for the next two seasons, 2009-10 and 2010-11.

The 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field

In 2008-09, the Philadelphia Flyers, whose jerseys haven't changed all that much since their inception, stripped away many of the modern additions to their jerseys and brought back a simpler style orange throwback alternate based on their 1970's jerseys, including the revival of the contrasting color nameplate. Needing a jersey for the 2010 Winter Classic, the Flyers simply created a white version of their current orange throwback, with its most unique feature being the contrasting black nameplate. While not historically accurate like the white nameplates used on their orange third jerseys, it maintained the consistency between the two styles of using contrasting nameplates.

The contrasting nameplates had their origin in the 1970's when the Flyers only had one set of white nameplates made up in the days when teams had to add names to their jerseys for national TV games. The Flyers Winter Classic jersey was a white version of their current orange third jersey, and when it was promoted to the primary jersey for 2010, the white Winter Classic jersey was revived as the Flyers new road jersey and remains in use five seasons later.

For the 2010-11 season, the Flyers dropped their previous, modern home and road jerseys and promoted their orange alternate and their white Winter Classic jerseys to become their new primary home and road jerseys, which remain in use now seven seasons later.

The Boston Bruins also went the hybrid route in 2010 and created a striking jersey that used the 1958-59 jersey template done in their original brown and gold colors worn during their first decade mated with the crest from their first use of the famed spoked "B" logo introduced for their 25th Anniversary in 1948. Additionally, the crest and numbers were done in felt material, which only enhanced the retro effect that much more.

2010 Winter Classic jerseys Pictures, Images and Photos
The 2010 Winter Classic held at Fenway Park

For 2011 at the Pittsburgh Steelers Heinz Field, both the host Penguins and the Washington Capitals produced special jerseys. The Penguins went back to their inaugural season for inspiration by using their first jersey's original striping template and unique number font, but with the navy and light blue colors reversed. They then decorated it with a an original and unused version of their skating penguin logo, a thinner penguin wearing a winter scarf. Again, this jersey lived on beyond the Winter Classic, being used as an alternate for the next two season through the 2012-13 season.

The Capitals also returned to their roots, reviving their original star spangled red, white and blue jerseys used from 1974 until 1995. This jersey was later used that same season for a Turn Back the Clock Night  and then as an alternate by Washington for four years through the 2014-15 season until being replaced by the dark red version of the same jersey for the last two seasons.

Aside from the jerseys, this game is best remembered for being postponed until the evening for more favorable weather conditions only to have it plagued by rain which affected play more than during any other edition of the Winter Classic. It is also remembered for the collision which left star Crosby concussed, an injury which was compounded by another hit shortly thereafter that caused him to miss essentially 14 months of action through March of the following 2011-12 season.

 photo CapitalsPenguinsWinterClassic.jpg

The 2012 Winter Classic on January 2nd was the second appearance for the Flyers, who hosted the New York Rangers at Citizens Bank Ballpark, home of the Philadelphia Phillies of Major League Baseball. With so few styles to choose from in their past, and still wearing their first Winter Classic jerseys, the Flyers created a brand new jersey with a retro feel. This jersey had simple, classic hockey styling, the use of a contrasting nameplate and was topped off with a creative keystone shaped patches to house the captain's "C" and assistant captain's "A's". A season and a half after the Winter Classic, the Flyers resurrected this style as their alternate jersey for two seasons, beginning with the 2014-15 season.

The Rangers went the same "faux-back" route, creating a cream colored jersey with striping cues from their past topped off with an old version of their shield logo. The Rangers effort complimented the Flyers similar effort quite nicely. Unlike many of the other teams who continued to wear their Winter Classic jersey as an alternate for subsequent seasons, the Rangers 2012 Winter Classic jersey was a one-off and never worn again.

Flyers Rangers Winter Classic 2012 photo FlyersRangersWinterClassic2012.jpg

One interesting story to arise out of the 2012 classic was the early guess work done by fans as to what the teams' jerseys would look like. Once such concept was a very professional effort in which the Flyers jerseys were based on the first NHL team to call Philadelphia home, the Quakers.

 photo Flyersconcept.jpg

Created far enough in advance and with such a high degree of creativity and skill, counterfeit manufacturers overseas put the concept into production well in advance of the announcement of the Flyers actual jerseys, which ruined any chance the Quakers inspired design had of being put into production had Philadelphia actually been considering such an idea.

Originally scheduled for January 1, 2013, but not played due to the ongoing NHL lockout at the time, the 2014 Winter Classic set a world record for attendance for a hockey game with an official total of 105,491 at "The Big House" on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. The host Red Wings opted for the faux-back route, creating a new jersey with retro styling. Unique features of this style were the captain's "C" and "A's" being on the sleeves inside diamond shapes, as the franchise had used in the past, and the retro styled number font.

The main criticism of the Red Wings jerseys in the unnecessary use of "DETROIT" over the iconic winged wheel logo.

One new aspect of the 2014 edition was the Red Wings opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the first Canadian team to play in the Winter Classic, also wearing a dark jersey. This resulted in a color on color matchup, which looked great on TV against the white ice and through the falling snow.

 photo WinterClassic2014.jpg

While Toronto's jersey is an attractive one, it did disappoint somewhat, as the Maple Leafs had already worn a virtually identical style previously, that being the occasion of the 65th Anniversary of Maple Leaf Gardens in 1996-97 when a throwback dating from the arena's first season in 1931 was worn twice. The only difference between the two was the white shoulders.

Those jerseys were produced in a special edition, limited to just 1,931 jerseys and was one of the most desirable and collectable jerseys in the hobby, which had the luster taken off of its limited nature now that it has been remade in mass quantities, even if the new variation has differences such as white shoulders and collar with laces on the front.

Of note, there is often a legends game in conjunction with the Winter Classic, and in 2014 the Red Wings hosted two such games. For the first time, the teams used a different jersey styles for the legends game than the teams wore for the regular season or even the Winter Classic.

For the first game, The Alumni Showdown, players wore a revival of the white jerseys worn by Detroit for the 2009 Winter Classic, which were based on the 1927 Detroit Cougars sweaters, while Toronto's legends wore copies of their 1975-1992 jerseys when most of their alumni were active players.

 photo BerensonskatesagainstTorontosBradMarsh.jpeg

For the second game, Toronto wore the same style once more, but Detroit's legends wore a unique red jersey, the reverse colors of the 2009 Winter Classic jerseys as worn in the first legends game, a jersey which never existed in the 1920's since teams did not have separate "home" and "road" styles until the NHL expanded and teams jersey colors began to be duplicated.

For a player to be on the Red Wings roster for the second game, he needed to have won a Stanley Cup, and individual NHL award or have been enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame, making the red jersey truly a badge of honor for those fortunate enough to have worn one.

 photo FetisovandChelios2014AlumniGame2.jpg

For 2015, the Washington Capitals hosted the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationals Park, the home field for the Washington Nationals baseball club. It was the second Winter Classic for both clubs.

Having worn their white 1974-1995 jerseys during their previous Winter Classic in 2011, the Capitals chose not to simply go with the red version of their first Winter Classic and then current alternate throwback jerseys and were in need of a new design.

Rather than reviving their 1995-2007 blue and black "screaming eagle" jerseys, the Capitals created a unique faux-back look, using design elements from their own history, such as the use of stars and the word "Capitals" across the front. They also looked to the history of jerseys worn by previous teams based in Washington prior to the arrival of the NHL, such as the large "W" on the front and the stripes on the shoulders as seen in the 1930's, with the "W" having some modernization, such as making the peak in the center resemble the Washington Monument.

The Blackhawks took a disappointing route by using the jerseys based on the ones the franchise wore in 1957-58, which were all too similar to their current white jerseys, with the main differences being the use of one color numbers, a lace-up collar and their crossed tomahawks secondary logos positioned below the sleeve numbers over the arm stripes.

In all, not enough of a difference from their current jerseys (they didn't even bother to use the retro 1957 version of their Indian head logo) to feel like it was worth the trouble, especially when they had other options from their past such as their original 1926-27 art deco jerseys or their white 1948-1955 style.

2015 Winter Classic Chicago Washington photo 2015 Winter Classic Chicago Washington.jpg

Even worse, a Chicago sports bar used a concept of a Blackhawks Winter Classic jersey to promote a jersey giveaway before the official release, which was a much more exciting faux-back jersey than what Chicago actually went with. And like the Flyers concept, this too was put into production by the Chinese bootleggers!

 photo Blackhawks2015WinterClassicleak.jpg

On January 1, 2016, the Bruins became the first team to host the Winter Classic for the second time, only with this one being at Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL's New England Patriots.

The Bruins created a beautifully updated version of their inaugural season 1924-25 jerseys, only now in their current black and gold colors rather than the franchise's original brown and gold. The jerseys had the modern additions of sleeve numbers and names on the back with a retro stitching pattern on the back numbers. As has happened several times in the past, the Bruins 2016 Winter Classic jersey continues to live on as the team's alternate jersey beginning with this season, replacing their similar, but much more modern take on the same style which had a fine eight season run.

Montreal created a white jersey which combined a variety of elements from their storied past. The basis for their jersey was similar to their white jerseys worn from 1944 to 1947 with a blue band trimmed in red around the chest like their iconic red jerseys, only with a lighter shade of blue than usual, similar to that used on their original sweaters when they were founded in 1909.

Montreal then reached back to the 1923-24 season for an old version of their "CH" logo, this one with the colors reversed from today's logo. Additionally, they used the globe logo worn on the front of their jerseys during the 1924-25 season in celebration of their 1924 Stanley Cup victory, only now as a secondary logo contained inside their sleeve stripes. The only complaints regarding the Canadiens package was the choice of the lighter shade of blue and the very odd choice of the overly modern font for their names and numbers.

 photo Jimmy Hayes 11 celebrates in front of Montreal Canadiens goalie Mike Condon 39.jpg

For this year's edition, the St. Louis Blues are celebrating their 50th Anniversary and have opted to recreate their original 1967-68 jerseys as they participate in their first Winter Classic. The jerseys feature the original version of the Blue Note logo and historically accurate fonts as well as a ribbed collar reminiscent of the knit sweaters of the late 1960s.

St Louis Blues 2017 Winter Classic jersey T

Chicago, playing outdoors yet again, has apparently run out of ideas and will be wearing a jersey so similar to the one they wore in the 2015 Winter Classic that only a die hard fan would be able to spot the differences. They have finally opted to go with the 1955-56 version of their team logo and the lowest black waist stripe now extends all the way down to the hem, but the one color numbers and secondary logos contained in the sleeve stripes are back again.

When you factor in the similar white jerseys that Chicago wore for their 2016 Stadium Series game, the Blackhawks have essentially worn the same jersey for their third outdoor game in a row, which is unfortunate, considering they have some untapped styles to draw from, particularly from the 1920s and early 1950s.

Chicago Blackhawks 2017 Winter Classic jersey

Similar to the 2014 Winter Classic in Detroit where the alumni wore different jerseys than the current team, the Blues alumni wore white throwback jerseys in the style first worn by the Blues in the 1968-69 season, only with sleeve numbers (which did not arrive until 1974-75) and one color names on the back. The Chicago alums wore their current red home jerseys for the event.

Blues Blackhawks alumni game 2017 WC 3

Despite saying his 2003 MegaStars Game would be his only alumni appearance ever, Gretzky has subsequently played in two more alumni games, although it took 13 years for his second one to happen earlier this season when he played in the 2016 NHL Heritage Classic Alumni Game on October 22 2016, again in an Oilers uniform, and then for the 2017 NHL Winter Classic, this time suited up for the St. Louis Blues on December 31, 2016.

Winter Classic Hockey

Today's video section is a couple of promos for the 2017 Winter Classic in advance of today's game in St. Louis.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant as always. Well-written as you don't get too bogged down in minute details--just enough info mixed with the jersey history. If only the actual games were as watchable as the jerseys.


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