Players in the National Hockey League wear equipment which allows their team affiliation to be easily identified, unifying the image of the team. Currently, NHL equipment consists of a sweater (jersey), shorts, socks, gloves, and a helmet.
Historically, the only standardized piece of the equipment has been the sweater (jersey), which has to be of identical design by the same company for all members of a team. Other elements merely have a number scheme, allowing individual players to select their own brand and model colored to match the uniform but not necessarily identical in appearance. Sticks and other equipment worn under the clothes have no requirements in terms of matching a team's colors; teams will sometimes provide players with team-brand undershirts or other under-clothing, but players are not required or limited to wearing them.
Goalies often have their pads and gloves and masks colored to match the team's color scheme, but there is no requirement for this equipment to match, and goalies who transfer to a new team often play in their old equipment until new colors can be obtained. Alternatively, players who transfer teams have sometimes had their gloves painted temporarily to match the required colors, and are given new helmets.
Each is currently required to have two sweater designs: One with a white base (or sometimes historically, a light color), and one with a darker-colored base. Between the 1970-71 and 2002-03 seasons, NHL teams wore white uniforms at home and dark uniforms on the road (which is the current convention in the American Hockey League). Since the 2003–04 season, NHL teams typically wear the dark color at home and the white for road games; there are occasional single-game exceptions. The only element allowed by NHL rules to be interchangeable between the two sets of equipment is the pants.
Third Sweater Program
Starting in 1995 (excluding a few prior isolated instances), some teams began to design a third sweater, or alternate sweater, which allowed them to experiment with new designs, or throwback to a vintage design. Though they are termed third sweaters, they can actually entail an entirely separate look from the primary equipment, often including alternate socks, and sometimes alternate helmets and other equipment. Some third sweaters have eventually become the bases for new primary sweater designs.
Third sweaters are typically worn only a few times a season by special permission of the league, based on a list of requested games. They can also be worn during selected playoff games. The third sweater program, as the NHL came to call it, was temporarily suspended for the 2007–08 season due to logistics problems with the introduction of the Reebok Edge sweater, which was unveiled at the 2007 all-star game, but was reintroduced for the 2008–09 season.
A team's desire to wear their third sweater sometimes requires the opposing team to wear their home or road sweater when the opposite would be normally worn, due to the color of the third sweater. This can occur when a road team wishes to wear a colored third sweater, or a home team wishes to wear a white third sweater, as there must be one team each wearing white and colored uniforms in a game. This can require a team to carry two sets of uniforms and equipment on the road, whether they are using their third sweaters, or are playing against a team who is. As of the 2015-16 season, no team wears a white third sweater. The Washington Capitals (2011 Winter Classic sweater modeled after the sweater the team wore from 1974 to 1995) were the only NHL team to have a white third sweater from the 2011-12 season to the 2014-15 season, when they were replaced by red sweaters of the same design.
As hockey originates as an outdoor winter sport where players wore sweaters, this terminology has been retained to describe what is probably the most recognized element of a team's equipment (which is the only element which is mass marketed to the public).
Most NHL sweaters (jerseys) display the team's primary logo in the center of the chest, while some also display secondary logos on the shoulders. Each player in a team's lineup for a game must have a different number displayed on the back of their sweater, as well as the player's surname above their number on the back of their sweater. While not required, teams typically place their numbers on each upper arm as well. Team captains and alternate captains wear the letters "C" and "A" respectively on the front of their sweaters. Sweaters have a loop of fabric sewn into the inside back, called a "fight strap" or "tie-down", which must be secured to the player's pants during a game, to prevent the sweater from being pulled over the player's head in a fight.
In recent years, teams have sold both "pro" model sweaters, ostensibly identical to those worn by players, and "replica" quality sweaters which are cheaper versions that typically use cheaper production methods and lower-quality materials. Replica versions typically lack the fight strap, and in recent years have an additional brand logo on the left wrist.
Prior to 2000, different NHL teams had contracts with different manufacturers for their sweaters, although in some years all or most teams had a deal with one supplier. Manufacturers included CCM, Koho, Nike, Starter, and Pro Player.
From the 2000–01 season, up to the 2005–06 NHL season, all team sweaters were made by The Hockey Company in an NHL-wide deal, and were branded with subsidiary brands. The Koho brand was on dark sweaters and third sweaters, while the CCM brand was on the white sweaters. The Hockey Company began the practice of putting the manufacturer's logo on the back of the sweater, below the neck, rather than on the back of the waist hem, as had previously been the practice. Jofa, another subsidiary, made the sweaters for referees and linesmen until the 2005–06 season, when they were re-branded CCM which they remain as of 2008–09.
Following Reebok's purchase of The Hockey Company, all official NHL team sweaters were switched to the Reebok (Rbk Hockey) brand (which is more familiar to the general public), while cheaper replica sweaters sold to fans retained the CCM branding. Reebok logos are on the side boards in all NHL arenas (for marketing purposes) just above the blue and red lines.
Since 2007: Reebok Edge
The Rbk Edge, or simply Edge, is a newer line of sweaters designed by Reebok. They were announced by Reebok after nearly three years of development. The new sweaters are tighter-fitting, are less water-absorbent, and are more flexible than before. It was intended to make players more maneuverable on the ice. The Edge sweaters were unveiled at the 55th National Hockey League All-Star Game and began to be worn, league-wide, from the 2007–08 NHL season onwards. Almost every team in the league made at least minor changes to their equipment design in conjunction with implementing the new sweater style. The San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks, Dallas Stars, and Washington Capitals redesigned their equipment altogether with a new or updated logo. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild used their alternate sweater from the previous three seasons as the basis for their new look, complete with the team adopting the alternate logo from their alternates as their primary logo.
Five of the Original Six teams (excluding the Boston Bruins) as well as the New Jersey Devils kept their previous styles intact when possible, with the Devils going as far as to issue a press release saying that the team had no plans for an event unveiling the Rbk Edge design, because there was nothing new to see. The Anaheim Ducks and Buffalo Sabres, who both had just redesigned their sweaters the year before the implementation of the Edge sweaters, also left theirs mostly unchanged. But the Sabres made the logo on the front of their sweater smaller and took away the silver outline on their white away sweater, and the Ducks added orange piping to their sweater's neckline.
Along with the traditional differences between the replica and authentic versions of NHL sweaters, the replica (billed as "premier") versions of the Edge sweater sold to the public have a "jock tag" on the left side of the front near the waist with the Reebok vector, NHL logo, and sweater size.
Citing player complaints, Reebok later modified the Edge sweaters, removing the play-dry material in the front and making the sleeves bigger. The modified sweaters, dubbed the Edge II, made their debut at the 2008 NHL Winter Classic on January 1, 2008.
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A team's gear also includes color requirements for other equipment, while not requiring players to use a specific brand or model, so they may select equipment to their preferences. This includes a player's gloves, pants, and helmet. Socks are also part of the design, historically with some pattern of horizontal stripes. CCM/Reebok has been a frequent supplier of player equipment and skates.
There is a sock and pant design by Reebok with similar technological improvements and design intentions.
Notes and references
- When third sweaters are worn, there are occasions when a team requests to wear their third sweater, whose color requires that game to use opposite home/away colors.
- Phoenix Coyotes 2007-08 "Reverse Jersey Nights" Archived March 15, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- Los Angeles Kings Uniform History
- For example, the early 2000s New York Rangers Liberty-head third sweater was a different blue than the team's road sweater, requiring alternate socks, helmets and other color-matched equipment.
- Coffey, Phil (2007-01-22). "Players will have the EDGE in 2006–07". NHL.com. Retrieved 2007-01-22.
- "Reebok And NHL To Unveil New Technologically-advanced Uniform System" (Press release). Reebok Hockey. 2007-01-22. Retrieved 2007-01-22.[dead link]
-  Archived February 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- Pollina, Erin (2007-12-21). "Gearing Up For The NHL Winter Classic". Sabres.com. Retrieved 2009-12-31.
- "NHL Jerseys Are The Backbone For The Fan". Hockey Fan Apparel.