The Stars and Stripes on Ice
February 11, 2010 | Kevin Zdancewicz

USA Hockey 

I watched the Super Bowl at a friend’s apartment on Sunday and during one of the commercial breaks (which were actually worth watching for the first time in recent years) his roommate mentioned the Olympics. When I told him I was excited for them, he said, “For what sport?” Without hesitation, I replied, “Hockey.”

I love international sports competitions like the Olympics and the World Cup because of the intense patriotism it brings out of the players and fans. The Olympics persuade me to watch sports I otherwise wouldn’t check out, so when they include sports that I actually do watch during the two years or so between Games, I catch that Olympic fever even more. Hockey is one such sport. My Olympic hockey fixation dates back to 2002 when I ended up watching a couple full days of games, one after the other regardless of the countries involved. I’m a sitting duck for this type of setup, like a television channel that doesn’t put commercials between the end of one show and the beginning of another so that you get sucked into watching something you weren’t originally planning to. Throw in the fact that 2002 saw the United States take home silver, marking the first US hockey medal since the Miracle on Ice and I was hooked. The 2006 Games didn’t go as well for the Americans, but I was as invested as I was four years before and now in 2010 I’m ready to go.

This might be obvious from my column archive, but I am also excited to see the jerseys that the countries will be wearing in the Olympic tournament. You can check out all of them here. As you can see, the United States will have three jerseys: white, navy, and retro-style white. Speaking as objectively as I can, I think Team USA is going to be one of the best-dressed teams in the field. Canada and Sweden are definitely on the medal stand with them, but the rest of the jerseys are too busy and “modernized” without adding anything to the uniform in my opinion. The United States went the opposite direction, scaling back the striping and extra embellishments. Whereas I could go on all day nitpicking some of the other teams’ sweaters, there’s really only a couple drawbacks for the Americans. For one, the sleeve stripes don’t wrap all the way around on either jersey which is an unfortunate trend in the NHL right now. The navy jerseys feature an ugly star on the shoulder as well as watermarked tribal graphics on the sleeves and back (more on that later). The retro is a nice touch, but it’s inexcusable to wear it with navy pants. Otherwise, the set is very solid.

In my column about the US’s World Baseball Classic jerseys last year, I mentioned how the battle for best USA wordmark was a toss-up between the baseball and hockey. That was originally one of my other gripes with these uniforms: the lack of the usual USA Hockey logo on the front of the jersey. I also included a link in that column to this jersey from the 2008 World Championship which, along with the accompanying white (on the right), is probably my favorite Team USA jersey. It turns out that I can’t blame USA Hockey for the crest’s absence in the Olympics as the team couldn’t use that logo anymore because of an IOC rule about not putting official team logos on the jersey (this was a huge deal for hockey-crazed Canada whose maple leaf logo had to be altered for the Games). The decision to go with a conservative, yet classic “USA” is a solid compromise given the circumstances.

Now about those watermark graphics. You probably didn’t notice them because they only appear on the lower back and sleeves of the jersey, but they are there. Nike seems to be adding this to everything it touches these days and I’m not a fan. One of its first appearances was on Team USA Basketball’s jerseys in the 2008 Olympics and then with Duke last season. Just last week, Texas, UCONN, and Syracuse all unveiled new jerseys with the watermark tribal graphics as well. It appears you have to be pretty close to make out the graphics, otherwise it just looks like a huge sweat spot on the back of the jersey. While the lingering question remains if spectators can’t see them then what’s the point of having them in the first place, I’m just glad that watermark graphics are not going to be very visible on the ice during games. All in all, the classic, clean look of the States definitely medals in aesthetics for my money. Hopefully the squad can equal that feat in the actual tournament too so we can hear the Star-Spangled Banner to close out the Games.

Photo Courtesy of Icethetics