Sweater Weather

“To see the three Chiefs make a scoring rush, the bright colours of their jerseys… flashing against the milky ice, was to see a work of art in motion.” – Dickie Dunn

 

Ah, October. You’re almost here. I’m sleeping with the windows open, waiting on Orion to take his rightful place in the sky, keeping an eye out for the first hint of russet colors, oranges, scarlets, and golds amongst the leaves. I can smell wood smoke in the air, and gods help me: it’s hockey season.

The NHL may still be a few weeks away, but, ah…we’re in the midst of the best preseason in recent memory. The World Cup of Hockey is back, and tonight the best-of-three final gets underway, leaving about a week and a half of pre-season before an opening night rife with overlong ceremonies and banner raisings and such.

This year’s incarnation of the World Cup has been exemplary. From the inclusion of two “all-star” teams…North America, featuring skaters from the US and Canada no older than 23 years of age (a Young Stars team) and Team Europe, made up of all the NHL players from countries that would never be able to field a full team of NHL-caliber players (there’s like one guy from France playing in the show this season, and he’s on Team Europe.) The games have been exciting, the commentary stellar, and the uniforms…oh, baby…the unis are phenomenal. The company that owns Reebok and CCM happens to be none other than globally-known sports clothing manufacturer Adidas, and this year they decided to let the big boys design the sweaters for all the teams in the tournament. They all look amazing. Not just the design, but the drape, the cut, even the materials have looked modern, while being a vast improvement over the Rbk EDGE uniforms which have gradually evolved since 2007.

But now as the underdog Europe take on the unfairly stacked Canada, it’s time to see what’s what. Here’s my ranking of this year’s World Cup of Hockey national uniforms.

 

8. Czech Republic

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They’re not terrible. They’re just…I dunno…do they look like a Southern Professional League outfit or what? Too many stripes and I don’t like the two-color sleeves. The yoke thing is weird, and there’s this big white rectangle on the bottom that looks like there’s supposed to be an advertisement there. But there isn’t. Maybe, since it’s Adidas, they thought they were making American football jerseys and that’s that thing a quarterback wears around his waist to keep his hands warm in.

 

7. Russia

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Poor Russia has had uniform trouble since the dissolution of the USSR in the early-90’s. Remember the “Unified Team?” How about the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States)? I recall a tournament when, I swear, they wore their regular Olympic CCCP sweaters, but they took the letters off, so they were just blank, like uncrested  practice jerseys. Anyway. This almost looks like the Czech uniform, but it’s better for a couple of reasons. One, the Russian red is a tad darker. I also prefer the stripes on the sleeves and those clean, square shoulder yokes, especially on the white jerseys. Plus, Russia’s crest is just better and more recognizable than the Czech one. That cool, old-school, czarist font is a nice touch, too. Overall, a pretty solid jersey, even if it sort of looks like something they’d wear in the original Rollerball movie or the NES Blades of Steel game. I guess there are worse comparisons.

 

6. U.S.A.

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“Aw, come on!” You yell. “You’re an American! You gotta love our uniforms!” No. No, I do not. I ain’t gotta do shit, pal.The problem with these uniforms is, and really any Team USA outfit, is that it’s always going to be compared to the classic teams from 1980 and 1996. I honestly love the darker blue color scheme, and dig that white jersey’s stripes and yoke. What I don’t like is the “crest” on both versions. The shield on the blues is trying too hard to be “vintage.” They’ve tried this sort of thing before, and I’ve never been a fan. Then again, maybe it’s better than the weird font they used on the white jersey’s U.S.A. monogram. That lettering looks more like NES Ice Hockey than Blades of Steel, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Overall, these sweaters aren’t terrible…but much like the team that wore them, just not good enough for this tournament.

 

5. Finland

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Oh, Finland. Good ol’ Finland. The Fightin’ Finns. Great hockey players. Proud history. And of late, they’ve been kicking all sorts of ass in international tournaments. So I’m not sure why they decided to wear soccer jerseys this time. Maybe they got confused by the “World Cup” in the title. I do love the clean looks, great colors, and simplicity. The Finns have used the “Suomi (Finnish)” word mark in years past, but I’m not crazy about it in the Montreal-style band across the chest. Maybe I just don’t like that lion crest, both the smaller one on the blue sweater and the larger one on the whites. Not sure why, though. Maybe it’s that they’ve got that sweet, clear, blue and white…and the lion’s red and gold is too much? Anyway, middle of the pack outfits this year.

 

4. Sweden

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Damn fine uniforms, boys. Clean. Simple. No frills. I love the cuffs on each jersey, and really appreciate how they just flipped the color schemes. That gold has always been, well…gold, baby. The blue sets it off perfectly. The ONLY reason these babies aren’t ranked higher is, again, that weird stripe thing at the hem. I think on a normal sweater, it would wrap all the way around…but because of the trademark Adidas stripes up the sides, it doesn’t work. This feature is really the only thing I don’t appreciate overall regarding these Adidas uniforms. Sometimes the drei Streifen get in the way.

 

3. Team Europe

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Boy, do I love the color schemes on the Europe uniforms. It’s so very mid-1990’s. It’s like you expect them to be playing beach roller hockey on ESPN2. The logo is brilliant.The only thing I’m not totally crazy about is, again, that weird soccer jersey aspect to the dark shirts. It looks like something a court jester would wear, divided down the middle like that. But the colors work, and it’s not totally crazy, but I still prefer the whites. And it’s totally contradictory to say this, but I love the way the colors are split up between the cuffs on the white sweaters.Navy blue on the left, that gorgeous aqua on the right. It’s a nice touch, and shows off the crazy-quilt, hodgepodge nature of the team itself.

 

2. North America

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At the height of this tournament’s knockout round, you literally could not purchase a North America sweater from NHL.com, as they were completely sold out. I haven’t seen the figures, but I’ll bet these shirts have outsold all the others by like 3-to-1. That’s because everything about this team is so seriously badass. Essentially the farm club for the next edition’s Canadian and American teams, these kids showed grit, determination, and incredible, blinding, unbelievable speed. They represented the future of the sport, quite literally. And the uniforms were just as slick, just as deadly. I love almost everything about them. The color scheme, including that weird brushed-metal grey color. The crest is brilliant for so many reasons. The NA almost looks like N/A, like “Not applicable” or “Not available” or whatever, and the Roman numeral “23” represented as XXIII is such a cool touch, as it’s a nod to the maximum age of the players. I appreciate that little bit of built-in history. It’s a mark of pride. It says “We’re the kids, and we’re here to mess things up.” Even the triangle shape of the crest looks like some sort of Bizzaro Superman logo. There are only two things that I dislike about these beauties. One, the aforementioned weird stripe thing at the hem of the dark jerseys. What makes that bit even more frustrating is that they have a thinner version on the whites that goes all the way around the bottom! How hard was that, guys? And then there are the numbers. I don’t know, maybe they’re supposed to look like they were stenciled on or something. But they’re confusing, especially on the dark versions. Hard to read. So, two minor complaints. Just enough to keep the kids out of the top spot. But you knew who Number One was gonna be when you first started reading, didn’t you?

 

1. Canada

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No hyperbole: these are the best Team Canada uniforms I’ve seen in ages. Maybe ever. Now, notice I didn’t say the best sweaters: I said uniforms. Top to bottom, the best. (Although, c’mon…the jerseys are the best in many years all by themselves.) The reason is simple. They’re the best reboot in history. Quick backstory here, and full disclosure. I own a replica Phil Esposito Summit Series sweater, and it’s one of my favorite jerseys. As an American, I was nevertheless fortunate enough to have plenty of access to Canadian TV. I watched the Ken Dryden’s Home Game mini-series wherein he covered the 1972 Summit Series. Then I watched the CBC special mini-series Summit on Ice. Years later, it was the NBC Sports “Cold War on Ice” that was a more concise, less-Canada-centric version of events. Anyway, seek all of these programs out if you truly want to understand the way hockey looked and felt back in the Cold War days, the Soviet days, the days when we all worried about nukes (instead of ISIS) and nobody wore helmets (except Paul Henderson.) Okay, I’m getting off subject. The point is those iconic Canada uniforms…the black pants and gloves, the big, stylized maple leaf making up the zig-zag front of the shirts and the cuffs…it was all perfect. And when you see Sid the Kid flying down the ice today, you can almost squint and imagine it’s Yvan Cournoyer. But nostalgia aside, the maple leaf crest on the 2016 jerseys is perfectly modern, yet reverent. Same for the maple leafs on the cuffs. Dig the simple black piping around the collar and outlining the crest. The black helmets and pants set it all off and bring it all together. I wish Canada would keep this look for the foreseeable future, just as I wish USA Hockey would simply update the old 1980 Miracle on Ice jerseys the way Canada has modernized a classic look from their history. Once again, the on-ice product from Canada trumps the USA. And so do their uniforms.

 

 

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