Kicking It Old School: Part 2
September 22, 2008 | Kevin Zdancewicz

Sabres Jersey

Throwback jerseys have become a huge hit in sports in recent years, both on the ice and in the streets where old school gear has become a major fashion trend. There are plentiful examples of retro uniforms from all of the major sports leagues and in the second installment of JOTW’s Throwback Series we take a look at hockey.

No discussion of throwbacks in the National Hockey League can begin without acknowledging the fact that the logos, colors, and uniforms of the famed Original Six franchises (Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York, and Toronto) have changed only slightly (or not at all) in sixty years. Every time those teams take the ice it is like traveling back to an age without cell phones, the Internet, Deal or No Deal, Pokémon, Fanatic Magazine, and running water (I may have gotten a little carried away with that list).

Throwbacks in the truer sense of the term were first used in the NHL in 1991-92 to commemorate the league’s 75th season. Retro jerseys were rare until the 2003-04 season when the NHL created a Vintage program wherein teams could rock throwbacks, which again were used only sporadically in subsequent years. There was an interesting related trend that developed with several teams creating faux-throwback jerseys, essentially sweaters that looked like they could have been worn decades ago but actually were not. Maybe the biggest breakthrough in retro uniforms came in the form of the 2008 NHL Winter Classic, the now annual game that takes place outside, where the two participating teams wore throwbacks. Since the Classic has become one of the NHL’s biggest spectacles (I mean, the game is played outside), the fact that the Penguins and Sabres (featured photo) wore gorgeous vintage jerseys may prove to be the impetus for a rise in the use of throwbacks that is already on the way in the league.

Now that the NHL is allowing alternate jerseys again (more on that in a later column), we will be seeing those Penguin throwbacks a lot more often as Pittsburgh will be adopting them as its third jersey for this season. Similarly, the Sabres will adopt retro uniforms as their alternates, which is an upgrade over their current jerseys and that hideous “Buffa-slug” (as haters refer to it) logo. However, Buffalo will not use the whites from the Winter Classic, but rather have introduced navy sweaters that are not truly throwbacks since they have added unnecessary torso piping and the originals were royal blue. The Boston Bruins have already shown off their new third jerseys, which are virtual throwbacks since the jersey’s logo is modeled after one of the first in the franchise’s long history. Add to this the fact that the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs are planning to unveil throwbacks as alternates prior to the season as well, and it may only be the beginning of a much-welcomed vintage trend in the NHL.

(Update: Here are the throwbacks for the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as the New York Islanders who announced and unveiled theirs after the column ran. Also, the Montreal Canadians will be wearing a number of classic, throwback jerseys throughout the season in celebration of their 100th season, while the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings are following the lead of last season's Winter Classic participants by wearing old-time throwbacks for the 2009 game.)

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