Thursday, January 10, 2013

Project Golden Gopher

Regular readers of Third String Goalie know that we attended the University of Minnesota game against Notre Dame on Tuesday night in a matchup of the #1 and #2 ranked teams in United States college hockey.

In addition to attending the game at Mariucci Arena, we also found ourselves in Jersey Heaven, as the Golden Gopher fans probably wear the greatest variety of jerseys as any fanbase in the world of hockey, and we took it upon ourselves to document as many different styles as we could, worn by young, old, boys, girls, men, women, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, students, band members, arena employees, mascots and even Santa Claus!

It was a fun project, as we got to meet dozens of people, all united in their love of hockey and support for their team.

A big thanks to all of you who took the time to post and Chat!

Not only do the fans at Mariucci Arena wear a wide variety of jerseys, but so do many who work at the arena, who do such a great job of providing a great game day experience.

Program vendor, Program vendor
Program vendor, Program vendor
Father and daughter program vendors

Band, Band
Golden Gopher Band

Goldy, Goldy
Mascot Goldy Gopher

Even the winner of the between periods puck shooting contest, who won everyone in attendance a free Wendy's cheeseburger (thanks man!), was rewarded with…

a jersey of course.

Jersey prize, Jersey prize

And what a cool jersey it was too! It was signed on the main crest by all three of the Broten brothers, Aaron, Neal and Paul, all of whom were former Gophers and NHLers, with Neal being the first Hobey Baker Award winner and the first American to score 100 points in the NHL in addition to being a member of the "Miracle on Ice" United States Olympic team! Not only that, it was personally presented to him by Paul himself. How special is that?

Jersey prize, Jersey prize
The winning contestant with his "Major Award", a jersey signed by all three Broten brothers

In addition to the jerseys included in our slide show, a few of the fan jerseys stood out from the rest, including this father/daughter duo and their heavily autographed jerseys, which cleverly commemorated the Golden Gophers back to back national championships in 2002 and 2003.

Champs, Champs
Champs, Champs

Another jersey which stood out was one that paid homage to John Mayasich, the only player out of the dozens of many memorable Gophers to have had his number retired.

Mayasich, Mayasich
Mayasich, Mayasich

Occasionally, the causal viewer will notice a few non-Gopher jerseys in attendance, but they inevitably have a tie to Minnesota or the Gopher program, such as NHL jerseys customized with former Gopher players on them, such as a Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets jersey or a Jordan Leopold Buffalo Sabres jersey. One such jersey at Tuesday's game was from Minnesota's opponent that evening, Notre Dame, only it was customized with Minnesota native and Minnesota Wild draft pick Mario Lucia's name and number, who just happens to be the Gopher's coach Don Lucia's son! This was worn by one of Mario's youth coaches, who is still clearly a fan of his former player.

Notre Dame Lucia, Notre Dame Lucia
Notre Dame Lucia, Notre Dame Lucia

Even Santa wears a jersey to Gopher games!

Santa, Santa

One particular area of the arena where you can find the most jerseys, and in the most different styles, is the student section, where wearing a jersey is seemingly a requirement for admission, as seen in our slideshow above.

The story of the variety of jerseys worn in the student section is an interesting one, and goes to show the passion for and knowledge of the team and it's 90 year history among it's fans.

The story begins when the Gopher hockey team moved from their previous home, the old Mariucci Arena across the street to the current Mariucci Arena, which opened in 1993. During that first season in the new Mariucci, the Gophers wore throwback jerseys similar in style to those worn back in 1950-1953. Years later, those jerseys were still desired by fans, but long unavailable. That was when a fan of the Gophers, Ryan Thompson, frustrated at not being able to find one of the 1993-94 throwback jerseys, did his research and found out he could have the complicated style, with it's many stripes, reproduced - but it would require a sizable minimum order for the manufacturer to create them.

His solution was to announce his intent to have these jerseys remade to his fellow fans on the old Pride On Ice message board if the were enough orders to justify the production run. 

Who's in? Everyone!

Armed with enough orders, the production of the jerseys commenced, after which Ryan shepherded the jerseys through the separate customization process (as the buyers were given their choice of name and number) and then eventual distribution of finished jerseys.

And those finished jersey had it all. They were well made, striking, impossible to find anywhere else and really turned heads when they started showing up at Mariucci years after they were first worn.

Humble reporter, Humble reporter
Your humble reporter in his 1993-94 Throwback

The project was such a success that, thanks to the Gopher team photos which date back to 1922 that populate the walls of the concourse at Mariucci, the 1960-69 home white jersey was chosen as the next group order the next year, followed by the road maroon version of the 1960-69 jersey and then the 1959-60 gold alternate, all of which were worn by many memorable names in Gopher hockey history, Lou Nanne, Doug Woog and Herb Brooks in particular.

Others were then anxious for different styles to be produced, and learned the ropes from "Thomps", who had retired from the headaches of organizing the group orders. These new projects led to the 1936, 1953, 1958 (first done in the original wool!), 1969 home and 1972 home and road styles being made.

One of the organizers of the "second wave" of group orders was Kyle Oen, who eventually combined his love of Golden Gopher hockey and his ability to get jerseys produced into his Vintage Minnesota Hockey website, which includes his online store that features not only  many of the vintage Gopher rarities from the early days of the "group orders", but has added other styles never before available, such as the striking 1969-72 road jersey and more recent jerseys, beginning with the 1986-1993 jerseys through the new 2011-12 white alternates.

While there may be a few other fan bases that have followed in the footsteps of the Gopher faithful in having their classic styles reproduced, such as those from Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota, it all can be traced back to Ryan and his desire for the 1993-94 Gopher "bumble bee" jerseys and his ability to make it happen.

For more on the history of Gopher hockey jerseys, please visit the jersey section of Gopher Hockey or the team photos section of Vintage Minnesota Hockey.

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