The Canadian Olympic Committee was the big newsmaker of the week when they officially unveiled the recycled water bottle jerseys Team Canada would wear at the upcoming 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
There was much criticism when these jerseys were unveiled, “they’re too boring”, “what was wrong with the old ones?”, “Petro Canada!”. I’m going to try and look at them from a different angle, one in which they’re not that terrible, especially when placed in context with what the national team has worn in Olympic games past.
This jersey combines two historical uniforms very special to Hockey Canada on the international stage. The first is the 1920 Summer Olympic Hockey jersey (yes, summer) worn by the very first Olympic gold medal winning Canadian hockey team. Canada played three games and won them all outscoring their opponents 29-1 in the process. Absolute domination. The world was warned, Canada owns hockey, and they continued to do so winning gold at every Olympic games (except one) through 1952. The jersey that team wore was yellow but also featured a single horizontal stripe across the chest with nothing but a maple leaf on it. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The other jersey getting it’s respects in the 2014 version is those worn by the 1972 Summit Series Canadian team, the first ever Canadian hockey team made up of NHL players, in their 8-game challenge series against the Soviet Union. Canada had been barred from using their best players in Olympic competition so Canada, in turn, boycotted Olympic hockey for a while, thus the Soviets dominated international play. The solution? This series. However, after falling behind 3 games to 1 after 5 (one was a tie) the Canadians rallied and won the final three games, all of which were in Moscow, to win the series 4-3-1. This served as proof to the world that when allowed to use their best players Canada was still the top nation in the world when it came hockey. Another very important moment in Canadian international hockey history. Those boys wore a plain red or white jersey with a giant maple leaf in the opposite red or white colour coming up from the bottom of the jersey, “CANADA” in block letters across the back of the jersey.
Fast forward to 2014, we get the best of the 1920 sweater – the horizontal stripe, the best of the 1972 sweater – the silhouette of the maple leaf, and elements of modern jerseys sprinkled in: the gold trimming and the “CANADA” wordmark below the leaf.
Why was this so hated again? Oh right.
“They’re too boring!” – when has Canada ever worn a non-boring hockey jersey? Let’s be honest. They’ve all featured the same basic elements this one has, red and white with a maple leaf prominently featured. It’s boring but there’s only so much you can do limited to two colours and a plant and a fanbase which loves tradition.
“What was wrong with the old ones?” – welcome to the 21st century folks, you ain’t going to see the same jersey design two Olympics in a row anymore. The folks at Nike and the COC like their money and they’ll make more money with a new design every 4 years. It happens all around the world and it’s been like this since 1998.
“Petro Canada!”, if these are Petro Canada then so are the classic ’72 uniforms. Also, keep in mind that the Petro Canada logo is only a half-leaf against a contrasting background, this is a full leaf minus the stem – closer to the appearance of the national flag. You say “Petro Canada!”, I say “flag”.
But again I admit, they’re far from the greatest Olympic jersey Canada has ever worn. Very far.
So where do my issues with it lie? Well, for one Nike tried to go traditional while also going ultra-modern. You just can’t do that, kids. The horizontal stripe I can dig, the shiny fake laces down the collar? No thanks. No thanks at all.
The simple two-colour design with a hint of gold? Hey, sounds great! But then you added sublimated maple leaves on the shoulders? With a lack of symmetry with the striping from one sleeve to the next? No stripe at the base of the jersey? This is all grade school hockey jersey design stuff and they failed at it. As I had mentioned in The Toronto Star last week, the core concept of the design is fantastic, but they went too far and ruined it. That and the socks. Those horrible, horrible socks.
The most offensive aspect of this new uniform might be the suggested retail price – $140 for a replica (which is a slightly different design from what the players will be wearing), or reportedly $450 for an authentic. Absurd.
Anyways, let’s finish this off with a look back at the uniforms the Canadian national team has worn at their eight most recent Olympic hockey appearances, perhaps this will help you feel better about the 2014 set.
In 1968 Canada went with a simple single white maple leaf with “CANADA” arched above, white collars with actual laces (what? no sublimated shiny fake lace designs?!) and a single, thick white stripe on the arms and at the waist. Pants were red, socks were red. Simple. This look preceded the hockey boycott by Canada for the 1972 and 1976 games, when they returned for 1980 in Lake Placid the design was similar to 1968s only with 5 maple leaves instead of the one, an additional maple leaf was placed on either shoulder.
The last time Team Canada wore the exact same design for two straight Olympic games were from 1984 to 1988. A new logo featuring a streaking maple leaf inside a larger maple leaf (very similar to the sublimated maple leaves design on the 2014 shoulders). Blue was added to the pants and the numbers in an attempt to break up the boringness that is a red-and-white colour scheme, instead it just looked grossly out of place on a Canadian hockey uniform.
The next time you feel like complaining about the placement of the Nike logo on the national team uniforms, remember what it was like in 1992 and 1994. For the Albertville games in 1992 the streaking leaf logo and blue pants were carried over from 1988 but the shoulders had the logo of the Tackla hockey company three times per shoulder. Another three down each pant stripe, another on the front of each leg, and one on the upper right of the jersey. That’s 15 Tackla logos on that one uniform and just two maple leaves.
Switching to Reebok in ’94 did eliminate the ridiculous blue pants, and 15 Tackla logos, but now on each shoulder we had a giant Reebok vector logo from the neck almost all the way to the elbow. Let’s thank Nike for not taking the Tackla/Reebok approach to uniform design.
Begin the era of the radical re-design for each games. In between the ’94 and ’98 games, Hockey Canada had changed logos and added black and silver to the colour scheme. This gave Canada a whole new look when they hit the ice in Nagano with professional players for the first time ever in 1998. Jerseys were either red or white with the white jersey featuring a red sleeve going from collar to cuff. In 2002 Nike had taken over and introduced a very traditional, yet modern design, the best look Team Canada has ever worn in my opinion. A simple black and red stripe on both sleeves and around the waist with the 1920s inspired maple leaf logo on the shoulder. When I picture Team Canada in my head, this is the uniform that I see. This should be the inspiration for all future designs.
Nike’s traditional designs didn’t last long, for 2006 it was a full shot of “What’s never been done before? Vertical lines everywhere? I don’t care if there’s a reason it’s never been done, we’re doing it!”. They sure did. Waist stripes gone, regular sleeve striping gone, traditional shoulder logo… remains. Puzzling. The other change for 2006 was swapping out silver for gold, that win in 2002 was worth bragging about.
For the 2010 games the Team was forced to replace the logo they had used since 1998 as the IOC placed a ban on anything other than a generic national symbol. What we got was a return to a simple maple leaf on the chest (first time since 1968), outlined in gold, with a Native Canadian inspired pattern inside the leaf. Traditional sleeve and waist striping made a very welcome return as Canada took hold the gold in front of the local fans.
Having seen the past, is your opinion on the future any different? Can we, perhaps, upgrade it from “Worst. Design. Ever.” to, “Eh, she ain’t so bad ‘der, Gord”? I think so.