Thursday, January 2, 2014

Malkin in a Winter Wonderland - Ranking the NHL Stadium Series Sweaters

The NHL Stadium Series Sweaters
Give the NHL credit.  They came up with the idea to hold a showcase outdoor game on New Years' Day and it begat the Winter Classic.  Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and now Detroit have all been host to the one game a year on the regular season slate that is destination viewing for hockey fans far and wide.  TV ratings on NBC have been boffo. Ticket sales have been insane. Net profit for merchandising has set records.

So what does Gary Bettman do in his infinite wisdom?

Adds a slate of additional outdoor games all over this fine nation that are somewhat unnecessary and serves to water down the main event. But hey, think about the merchandising opportunities! And thus the Stadium Series was born.

So, with games being held at such iconic baseball venues as Dodger Stadium, Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium, the NHL (and it's Reebok overlords) decided to outfit the teams with special uniforms for the occasion.  And rather than go the fauxback/throwback route that the league has taken thus far with the Winter Classic, the official uniform supplier and the league (and you'd better believe it was in that order) introduced a new uniform template and numbering style for the Stadium Series that includes design features including:

  • Diagonally placed sleeve numbers
  • Elongated numbers on the back
  • Contrasting shoulder yokes 
  • Chromed versions of team crests
  • Truncated sleeve striping
And yes, that is indeed the hot mess that is sound like it should be. When you also factor in that two of the teams playing are members of the Original Six and normally wear some of the most traditional looking uniforms in the league, the introduction of a one-time new look is even more absurd.

So, with out further ado, may I present to you my ranking of the seven NHL Stadium Series sweaters:

7. Anaheim (Orange County) Ducks

When the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim rebranded themselves as the Anaheim Ducks before the 2006-07 season, they switched from a very 90s influenced color palate to something decidedly more sedate.  But the application of the new colors to the then-new Reebok edge uniform template was underwhelming. Black and white were the main colors with accents of gold and just a minimal touch of orange. And they chose to use the team's main wordmark as the crest, instead of the secondary mark which made for a very weak design with barely decipherable text.

The lack of the use of orange was frustrating to many. This was addressed only slightly with the introduction of a new alternate sweater in the 2010 season which included orange accented side panels and the secondary logo as the crest. Yet, this set was still primarily black and borrowed the same template as the much lambasted Islanders alternate sweater.

When the Stadium Series was announced, there was hope that the Ducks would introduce a new uniform with an orange based sweater.  It was a chance to be bold and perhaps include a new color such as dark green, in keeping with an actual "duck" theme.

Sadly, this is what they produced. And it is garish. Whereas the Flyers have owned the color orange over the years and have made it work as a base color, the Ducks overdid it here, most notable with the lack of accent colors and minimal hem striping.  And the completely orange socks don't help the look at all.  And one of the shortcomings of the new sweater template really stands out here. Where the stripes on the socks break up the all-orange look a bit, the truncated sleeve stripes fail to do the same.

And finally, in one more bit of failure, the new sweaters feature an "OC" patch on the left shoulder, as in "Orange County" as it is apparent the league is trying to fuel a budding rivalry between Los Angeles and its neighboring county to the south.  Orange County has never been used as part of any Ducks branding in the past and it really comes off as a weak attempt to forcefully add tension here.

6. New York Islanders

Let's face it, the Islanders' current uniform set is perfect for them.  It hearkens back to their dynasty days of the early 80s. Sure, they've had their fair share of terrible uniforms over the years (see this, this and this), but one thing has pretty much remained the same over the years; they own the blue/orange combination (the Oilers gave it up for a few years before coming to their senses and bringing back their own dynasty era blue and orange combo).

Even when the Islanders went to the ill-fated Gorton's Fisherman look in 1995, they still managed to keep orange around, albeit while incorporating a much darker hue of blue. When the returned to a more traditional look in 1998, they retained the navy and orange scheme. In 2002, however, the Isles broke the mold once again and introduced an all-new alternate sweater that used orange as the main color. While the execution was somewhat debatable, it was a bold departure from their usual look, but used their normal color scheme.

Along with the rest of the league, the Isles received the Reebok Edge treatment in 2007, retaining the navy and orange color scheme, while sharing a new template with the Carolina Hurricanes that featured a white outline around the shoulder yoke. They also introduced TV numbers on the upper right chest which made for a bit of a aesthetic mess. Yet, one year later, they began to make amends and introduced a throwback alternate sweater that resembled the one's from their 80's heyday, including the traditional royal blue and orange scheme.  The fan feedback for the alternate was so great that the Islanders adopted the throwback look as their home sweater in 2010, incorporating a road version of the throwback as well.

But, the Islanders being the Islanders, they couldn't leave well enough alone. Without a doubt motivated by additional merchandising profits, they introduced an all-new alternate sweater in 2011 that used the same template as the Ducks' new alternate, while adopting a color palate that was very similar to their baseball brethren, the New York Mets.  This new sweater ditched the regular logo and used and radially arched "Islanders" wordmark above the uniform number where the crest would normally be placed on the chest.  A new serif font was used for the nameplate on the back as well. This new alternate look was universally lampooned by hockey fans and the uniform design community.

Which brings us to the Islanders' Stadium Series look.

At first glance, it's not bad.  Royal blue is the main color and the orange and white stripes reminiscent of the normal home sweater are there as well.  White is used for the the shoulders, which is fine.  My main grip is the crest.  I love the "NY" taken from the normal crest, but rendering it in a chrome look ruins what should be a great alternate logo.  Furthermore, the lack of orange trim against the blue background is a huge missed opportunity to make that logo really pop.  Additional demerits are given for the use of a Flyers-like contrasting nameplate (blue lettering on a white background) that looks completely out of place here.

On the whole, it's not a bad alternate look for the Isles, but the small details that could have made this uniform so much better justifies my somewhat low ranking for this uniform.

5. New York Rangers

We all know the Rangers uniforms. They're ingrained in our hockey minds. They have a great look, especially given they're an Original Six team that really hasn't altered their look in 80 something years (the disco-era Winnipeg knockoffs excepted). Home or away, "RANGERS" spelled out diagonally across the front, shadow lettering and numbering, vertically arched nameplates, you know the Blueshirts when you see them.

Yes, they got swept up in the alternate uniform craze of the late 90's like a good number of teams.  And yes, they went outside the box a bit, introducing both home and away versions of what was dubbed the "Lady Liberty" set, featuring a stylized version of the Statue of Liberty's head as the main crest and a modernized version of the Rangers logo as a shoulder patch. It also introduced gray to their color scheme.

Though the look was somewhat of a departure from their normal look, using navy instead of the more royal blue, it worked. And if anything, it strengthened their hold on being New York City's team. It was a solid take on an alternate uniform in an era when a good number of teams lost their minds.

The Rangers have introduced a couple of alternate uniforms since then.  In conjunction with their 85th anniversary, they introduced a fauxback navy "Heritage" sweater with "New York" rendered in a simple sans-serif font on the chest and along with a new striping pattern on the hem and sleeves.  Vintage white was used in place of white and the nameplates were radially arched done.  In my book, it's easily one of the top 5 looks in the league right now.

They also introduced a brand new look for the 2012 Winter Classic when they played the Flyers in Philly.  While it was an unmistakably a Rangers-like look, it was almost too simple looking and utilized a fauxback type chest logo that was rather uninspired. Juxtaposed to the heritage sweater, it paled in comparison.

To be honest, when the Rangers unveiled the Stadium Series look, I was prepared to be let down.  By the time the team showed the look on their website, the new Reebok template had been made public for quite some time and it was really just a matter of figuring out how they would color in the different panels and what logo would be used.

Much like the Islanders, it's not bad.  At first glance, there's no question it's the Rangers you're looking at.  The diagonal sleeve stripes are reminiscent of the striping pattern used on the white version of the Lady Liberty alternates. The single hem stripe looks rather skimpy as well. The blue shoulder yokes work for me, but like every other team using this template with contrasting colored yokes, the fact that color does not continue all along the back of the neckline (surely to help focus on the Reebok wordmark) is a major design flaw. I'm not a fan of the side striping.  It's unnecessary.

My main complaint is with the wordmark on the chest.  The chromed look just muddles what should be a very sharp "New York" in blue letters with red trim that pops against a white background.

Interestingly, the Rangers have never used "New York" in their traditional italicized font on their chest at home, save for one game - the first game played at Madison Square Garden after the tragedy of 9/11.  In that game, the Rangers faced the Buffalo Sabres and both teams had "New York" on their chest in place of their normal insignias. The Rangers did have "New York" on their road (blue) sweaters from 1978-97.

In short, that Rangers' Stadium Series look is decent, but nothing that should have a Ranger fan looking to part with their money to purchase.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

Simply put, the current Penguins uniform set is ugly.  There are a bunch of teams' uniforms that took a turn for the worse when Reebok took over the NHL's uniform contract in 2007, but up to that point, the Penguins look was probably the best they had ever worn. They used Vegas Gold, which differentiated them from the Bruins, who use the more traditional Athletic Gold.  They used the "Skating Penguin" that was part of their original look. And they had a diagonal striping pattern that was somewhat simple, yet different from any other team in the league.
So Reebok did what they always do when they take over a leaguewide contract and ruined a good thing. 

They now used a wavy striped template that was shared with the Ottawa Senators that the die-hard Pens fans hated.  The problem was, with NHL poster boy Sidney Crosby on the roster, they were so many bandwagon fans buying the new merchandise that no amount of public outcry was going to get them to change their look.

With the Stadium Series uniforms, the Penguins have actually upgraded their look a bit.  While they are not an Original Six franchise, they have been around long enough to have a firmly established history. And as such, they should have a more traditional look than newer expansion franchises.  The Stadium Series sweaters, with the simple two-color black and gold stripes is much cleaner than their normal sweaters.  The black shoulders look good, though I'm not completely sold on the gold stripe along the bottom of the shoulder yoke.  

Because this sweater looks better than what they normally wear, I feel justified in ranking the Penguins #4 on my list.

3. Chicago Blackhawks

Hockey fans who know me, know how much I love the Blackhawks' sweaters.  The home and away are easily two of my absolute favorites. And Chicago's look hasn't really changed all that much since the mid 50s.

The Blackhawks are an Original Six franchise and as such, they should never, ever wear anything that incorporates modern design fads or trends.  The have a timeless look and should keep it that way (now get off my lawn!).

All kidding aside, the Blackhawks have introduced a couple of throwbacks in recent years, both of which have been black.  Now, using black as the main color for an alternate could be considered a modern design fad, except that black is not only one of the Blackhawks normal colors, but they also have the precedent of wearing black as their main sweater color dating back to 1927.

The first alternate they introduced, in 1996, was a recolor of their white home sweater.  I loved it.I thought it was the perfect was to introduce a new sweater while remaining true to their look. They kept this sweater until 2007 when Reebok took over. No teams were allowed to have alternate sweaters in the 2007-8 season (thanks Reebok overlords), but the Hawks reintroduced the black alternate for the 2008 season.

In 2009, the Blackhawks played the Red Wings in the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field and accordingly, they introduced a new uniform for the game.  That design was based heavily on the uniforms they wore back in the mid-30s. In fact, the Hawks would use the Winter Classic sweaters as their alternates for the following two seasons as well.

When I found out the Blackhawks were going to play a Stadium Series game I freaked a bit.  And when I saw the new Reebok template, I freaked more.  Needless to say, I was worried that Reebok and the NHL (because lets face it - they're the ones who ram this stuff down the teams' throats) would really screw up the Hawks' look.

Fortunately, they didn't.

It's not great, but it really resembles those late 90's alternates, as much as possible, which is a relief.  Given how bad these could have been, they didn't do a bad job of adapting the Blackhawks look to the new template.

2. Los Angeles Kings

The Kings are one of those teams that can get away with trying out a different design - to a point.  Yes, they are a west coast team in a non-traditional market, but they've been around enough to have established a solid history.  That Stanley Cup in 2012 doesn't hurt either.
The thing about the Kings is that they've had two major looks throughout their history: the purple (aka "Forum Blue") and gold era and the black and silver era.

The Kings started out as an expansion team with the purple and gold look because they were owned by Jack Kent Cooke who just so happened to also own the Los Angeles Lakers and liked the colors. But the team was sold and with the start of the Gretzky era in LA, so began the black and silver look.

Over time, however, the Kings would bring purple back into the mix, starting as an accent color with the infamous "Burger King" alternates in 1996 then as an accent on the home and aways in 1998. It was used as the basis for a new alternate sweater in 2002 and again as an accent color for a new home and away set in 2007.

Last year, however, marked the Kings' return to a simple black/silver/white color palate. And to be honest, they kinda own that look. So it is with good reason that they should try to work within those colors but at the same time try something new as well.

And voila, we get the Kings' Stadium Series uniforms.

This is the one time the chrome look works for the crest.  A shiny crown? Yep - makes sense. And gray as the main color? Works perfectly with black and white as accent colors. The wide stripes of the hem and sleeves are reminiscent of the ones from the Gretzky era. The black shoulders compliment the stripes as well.  The only negative I see is the inclusion of a new "LA" patch on the left shoulder.

Put simply, if the Kings held onto this sweater as an alternate for the rest of the season (and perhaps longer) it'd be a perfect fit.

1. New Jersey Devils

Courtesy of SBNation
First, a disclaimer of sorts: As of this writing, the Devils have not officially released their uniform for the Stadium Series game against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium.  That said, a number of leaks and reports, including the picture of the advertisement for the NHL league shop at the top of this post have indicated that the Devils will be wearing the sweater shown above.

That said, God bless Lou Lamoriello.

The Devils' longtime General Manager and President has steadfastly held to the belief that the Devils, despite their relatively short history, will never bow to marketing fads and introduce a new alternate design for their uniforms.

To this point, the Devils have had only two looks since they relocated to New Jersey from Colorado in 1982. First was the green/red/white look they wore from their inception until 1992. In 1992, they swapped out the green for black and made slight modifications to the striping. And they've had the same look ever since, including getting Reebok to adapt their look to a new template in 2007.

The league and Reebok can try all they want, but until Lou leaves, the look stays.

Notice how I said they'd never wear a new look.  On March 17, 2010, the Devils broke out modern interpretations (meaning fitted to a Reebok template) of their classic red and green jerseys for St. Patrick's Day. They've worn them once a year on or near St. Paddy's Day in the years since.

For team that's been around 32 years, the Devil have a firmly established look. The colors are solid. The logo is timeless. The uniforms are clean.

They have zero reason to change and good for them resisting it in this case. And for that reason, they are my number 1.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shaken, Not Stirred, but Boston Strong

It's now just over a week since the Marathon bombings rocked Copley Square and shook our world.  It's a very different place we live in just seven some odd days later.

In the aftermath of the explosions, the City of Boston, its residents and the local community banded together like never before. We came together in support of our city, our way of life, our family, our friends, our first responders, our emergency services, our doctors and those directly and indirectly affected by this tragedy.

And out of it emerged the concept of Boston Strong.

It wasn't a exactly a new ethos, it was always there.

Sure, we have a well deserved reputation of keeping to ourselves. We don't look at people in the eye when we pass by them on the street. We don't come off as the friendliest of people to strangers. We drive like jerks. We get vengeful for perceived slights against us. You want nice? Go somewhere else.

But we are fiercely loyal to our friends. We can give them crap and they can give it right back. But if you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. We've got your back. We rally around a cause like no other.

And last Monday, someone messed with us. Big time.

They hit us in one of our softest spots - on the one day that we hold nearest and dearest to our hearts around here, a day that we consider so special because no one else has anything that comes close to it.  It's ours and only ours, yet we are more than willing to let so many others, people from all walks of life in fact, take part in and enjoy as we open our city to the world.

The Boston Marathon is the oldest and preeminent Marathon in the world. The best runners on the planet take part of it.  It is the mecca for long distance running.  But for the enormity of the event, it is still particularly a local undertaking.

It is a day full of tradition - the reenactment on Lexington Green in the early hours of the morning, the only morning game in Major League Baseball, the hordes of people crowding the 26.2 mile course cheering on friends, family and complete strangers, the runners raising inordinate amounts of money for charity, Rick and Dick Hoyt showing the perseverance of the human spirit, exhausted runners being cheered on to continue by the support of spectators, Heartbreak Hill, the screaming masses at Wellesley College. And sometimes, if we're lucky, we even get a Bruins game as a nightcap.

It's a scene that has been repeated for 116 times previously, in various permutations.  But the traditions have remained the same pretty much throughout the years.

Until Monday, April 15, 2013.

We all know what happened around 2:50 on that fateful day. I, along with a group of dear friends witnessed it nearly firsthand, being just over a block away from where it all took place.

My first reaction was to get away from the area as fast as possible, thinking about my four year old son.

My friend Brian (on the left), a Boston EMT, in action
(Getty Images)
But so many others, including EMTs, police, firemen, doctors, spectators and even runners sprinted into the fray and helped save countless numbers of injured people. I am amazed at the bravery of all of these people. I wonder what I would have done had I been on Boylston Street at the time of the attacks. I wonder if I saw the aftermath firsthand and whether or not I would have run into the action or away from it.  And I'm not sure.  But what I know is that I am eternally grateful for the people who helped out in any way.

I salute you all.

In the following days, we were glued to our TVs as we learned what truly happened. But we knew that this was a task best handled by our officials - the Mayor, the State Police, Boston Police, the FBI and assorted other authorities.

We give our authorities crap all the time - the nepotism, the bureaucratic red tape, the cops and donuts jokes. But we all know full well that in a time of need they will have our support and we know they are capable of protecting us while ensuring justice is served.

So we waited as they did their job. They asked people to send in any information that we might have - photos of the crime scene, tips, you name it. And we did. They identified the possible suspects and asked us to help name them. And we tried.

The Bruins played a game on Wednesday and it was our chance to publicly display our solidarity.  That we were Boston Strong. That we had each others' backs.We rocked the house with the Star Spangled Banner. It was a big middle finger to those who wished to scare us, to shatter our way of life, to bully us.

We would have none of it. We got knocked down.  But we dusted ourselves off and got back up.  We were ready to punch back.

Now, to be completely honest, I was scared.  I didn't want to show it outwardly because I didn't want the terrorists to know it. I felt completely safe going to the game at the Garden that night even though the suspects hadn't been caught because the Tip O'Neill Federal Building was right next door and was under complete lockdown.  And with the Garden just feet away with a major transportation hub on the ground floor, I knew that the building was going to be secure.

But parking in the Government Center Garage and walking down Canal Street I felt exposed.  Unlike that parking garage under the Garden, there were no security sweeps when I parked. There were covered recycling bins and bags of trash laid out on the sidewalks that didn't look safe.  There weren't cops and national guardsmen patrolling the street. I literally walked down the center of Canal Street and not on the sidewalks. I'm fairly neurotic to begin with, but this just made me straight out paranoid. But all the while, I didn't think I was without cause.

I was glued to the the TV. I felt a direct connection to what was going on, between being near the scene on Monday and the fact that this was the city I love so much.  From the time when I was in elementary school and made field trips to the museums and Columbus Park, to the times I was in summer camp and saved my money just to spend it at the candy store in Quincy Market, to my first Red Sox game at Fenway in 1985, my first Celtics game at the Garden in 1986, birthday dinners at Joe Tecce's and cannoli at Mike's in the North End, weddings at the Hampshire House above Cheers, god knows how many Bruins games, ransacking the old Garden in its final days after driving home overnight from college, taking the T here, there and everywhere, and proposing to my wife on the bridge overlooking the swan boats in the public garden.

I may live in the suburbs, but Boston is my city.

And I love it like no other.

When the manhunt was scaled down on Friday night, I initially felt sad.  I had stayed up through the night on Thursday into the wee hours of Friday morning following the action on TV while exchanging tweets with my friends and listening to the police scanner.  I knew the areas where the events were taking place - at MIT next to the Stata Center, a building around the corner from my wife's old workplace where I used to park on my way into Fenway. The gas stations on Memorial Drive where I've been stuck in traffic so many times on my way to Lechmere. Places all over Watertown including the Arsenal Mall where I've gone solely to see the old Boston Garden scoreboard, Arsenal Court where I've had many CAD training classes and Arsenal Square where I've had some great Greek meals. And I had a friend who lived about a half mile away from the action, concerned for her safety.

What I watched shocked and frightened me. So many people, officers and civilians were in harms way. Word of bombs being tossed and firefights ensuing. This could not be happening. We got word that an MIT policeman had been shot and killed (RIP, officer Collier) and that an MBTA policeman had been struck but was alive (get well soon, office Donahue). It was surreal. And we heard that one of the two suspects had been taken into custody, which buoyed our spirits somewhat, even though he died at the hospital.  One less threat was out there now.  But there was still one more guy on the loose.

The "Shelter in Place" order, 495 North, Friday afternoon
I had passed out around 4:00 Friday morning, my iPad in my lap.  When I woke up around 6:30, I had slept through my alarm. I threw on the TV immediately to find out what had transpired in the time I was away and my jaw dropped.  The city was shut down. We learned what a "Shelter in Place"  order meant. So many of my friends in the affected areas were stuck in their houses and couldn't move. The T wasn't running. No cabs. It was unlike anything we've ever seen.

The cops had cordoned off an area in Watertown where they believed the suspect was hiding. But there was no new news coming out. Everything was static. And then we had the news conference in the evening.  The cops were pulling back a bit. Things were secure, but the manhunt was being scaled back.

Initially, it was not a good feeling. It felt like we were losing.

But I thought to myself - wait, are they trying to make it look like they are letting their guard down and see if he makes a move?

A toast in memory of the fallen
and in honor of all those who helped out
And an hour later, we found out. He was cornered in a boat in a yard on a street just outside the secured perimeter. At this point, my spirits rose.  I sensed a conclusion to this ordeal and that the cops were on top of this.  We were safe. I was tweeting with a bunch of friends and we all felt the same way.  We started letting off some steam. It was the toughest week of our lives and we started to let go of all our pent up frustration, stress and anger. We made jokes. We used bad puns about the boat. We might have even laughed.

And then it was over.  The suspect was in police custody. And he was alive.  Sure, the legal fallout was to follow, but the worst of it was over.

And it was time to celebrate.  I popped open a bottle of champagne, offering up a toast in memory of the four we lost and the many who were injured and honored all those who fought courageously and selflessly helped out in our greatest time of need.  The TV broadcasts showed the cops smiling, exhausted but satisfied with their work.  The press conference with all the officials who helped bring a conclusion to this madness. The swarms of students and young people on the common waving flags and celebrating.

We made it through our collective strength and resolve.

We were Boston Strong. We are Boston Strong.

Saturday morning on the Southeast Expressway

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Get Right Back to Where We Belong

"Ooo and it's alright and it's comin' 'long
We got to get right back to where we started from
Love is good, love can be strong
We got to get right back to where we started from"

--Maxine Nightingale

I woke up yesterday morning and literally the first thing I did was grab my phone and post the following tweet: 

The first sporting event to be held in Boston after the Patriot's Day bombing tragedy was being played at the TD Bank Garden later that night and I was hellbent on being there.  The terrorist(s) thought they might break our collective soul, but I for one was not going to let that happen.  No local team epitomizes our region's "knock us down, get back up" spirit moreso than the Boston Bruins. I wanted to play my part in it. It wasn't defiance, it was solidarity.  It was a compulsion to positively deny the bombers any sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.

You want to change us? Not going to happen.

I was close enough to the bombings on Monday that I was physically and mentally shaken by them.  This was my way of dusting myself up and getting back in the ring.

All throughout the day it kept occurring to me that this was not a national tragedy as much as it was a local one. Whereas the attacks on 9/11 were meant as an assault on the United States, its citizens and what it and we stood for, the events on Monday seemed to be a direct attack on what we, as Bostonians, treasure.  It was a day borne out the literal founding of our nation on our home turf and developed into a celebration of our city, its traditions, its institutions and it just so happened that we also invited the world to town to enjoy it with us.

This is the one day of the year that is unique to us.  When you live here, whether you are native or not, you just get it.

And the cowards who set off the bombs on Boylston Street tried to take it from us.

Not going to happen.

At the same time, I felt a strange juxtaposition. In 2001, I was in attendance at the first major international sporting event held in the US post 9/11, a World Cup qualifier between the US Men's National Soccer Team and their counterparts from Jamaica at the old Foxboro Stadium.  I remember vividly the sense of nervousness that hovered over all of us that day.  Yet we showed up en masse with a purpose, a bold sense of defiance in the face of terrorism as we rooted for the team representing our country and with it our ideals and way of life.  There were many highlights to be had that day, but one of the most notable was the way that the entire stadium, a crowd of 40,000 plus, stood together and belted out the loudest rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that I had ever heard.  It wasn't just loud though, it was the collective will of the crowd, our solidarity to the cause that made it so special.

And so I made my way into town after work as I've done hundreds and hundreds of times before. The long crawl on the Pike eastbound. The sun in my eyes as I exited the Tip O'Neill tunnel at Government Center. The T busses creating a bottleneck outside of Haymarket Station. The winding ascension to the upper levels of the Government Center Parking Garage.  The pregame meal and beverages with friends at the Fours.

It was all routine. But in a way, it wasn't at all.

There was the lane closure at the Pru tunnel due in part to the crime scene in Copley Square.  A heightened security presence on Causeway Street. The Garden opening its doors 30 minutes early to expedite the process of getting patrons into the building with security screenings. Guards with automatic weapons in front of the O'Neill federal building. Bag searches in the North Station concourses.

Like it or not, it was a new world we were living in.

Despite my fears, getting into the Garden and past security was very easy, seemingly faster than the last time the Garden had similar security measures in place post 9/11.  There was a definite buzz in the arena, but it was not a crazed excitement like the one I see before playoff games. It was a bit more subdued.

And so the seats filled up and we were treated to a fantastic video montage and tribute to those we lost, those who were injured and all those who helped respond in some fashion to the tragic events on Monday.  It was simple and poignant, in keeping with the high standards we've been accustomed to from the Bruins.

And then it was time for the national anthem.

It was known that longtime local legend Rene Rancourt would perform the Star Spangled Banner with the Boston Fire Department serving as the color guard next to him.  But no one could possibly ever imagine the awesomeness of what happened next :

It was completely and utterly organic. 17,565 people singing in unison.  United in the cause.

As amazing as it was to be part of it, I actually think the video does it more justice.

But at the same time, I did not feel the wave of nationalistic pride like I did back on October 7, 2001.  Rather, I think the anthem was a more of a conduit, a way of channeling our collective togetherness for our localized cause.  We were here for Boston, but the Star Spangled Banner was our way of showing it.

Sure, there were American flags all over the arena, but no more so that you would expect to see at a game against the Montreal Canadiens.

And then then it was time to drop the puck. Garden organist Ron Poster played his rendition of "For Boston", the Boston College fight song, for obvious reasons.  But his next selection was "The Spirit of Radio" by Rush, something he plays on a regular basis. And then it occurred to me:

We were back to normal.

Sure, there was the crowd doing a "We are Boston!" chant a number of times, a number of "Boston Strong signs dotting the seats, One Fund Boston ads on the corner boards, an incredible 8-Spoked Salute featuring 80 first responders from a number of different police, fire, EMS and military units, a celebration of all the marathon runners and spectators in the crowd and a stick salute by both teams at the end of the game, but as I said to my friend Garrett, if you walked in to the game 10 minutes late, you'd have a hard time knowing that Monday ever happened.

And I mean that in nothing but the most positive way.

After all, this game, this team and this crowd were all tasked with the job of getting the city and its people back on their feet and moving forward in the aftermath of the marathon tragedy. And to their credit, they wasted little time in doing so.  

Hell, the Bruins' power play was 0 for 2 and they blew a third period lead.  If that wasn't a sign that things weren't back to where they were before Monday, nothing was.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Sprint from A Marathon

Obviously, my blog is my attempt at a comedic look at my hockey adventures and uniform geekery.

But today I must veer away from that.

Based on the events of yesterday, I wanted to record what I, my wife and some of  my dear friends experienced firsthand as we made our way across town after the Red Sox game ended. I have no idea why I want a permanent record of it, I just feel compelled to do it for some reason. Maybe it's cathartic. Maybe it's therapeutic. I just don't know.

So after the Sox game our group made our way out of the bleachers (section 39) and out gate C onto Lansdowne Street. Obviously, it was a sea of humanity, with the street full of people and lines queued up with throngs of people trying to get into the adjacent bars for postgame festivities. There was a huge pack of people on motorcycles trying to make their way through the crowds, revving their engines as if it might get people to move out of the way (it didn't).

We made it down Ipswich Street, past the Muddy River and took a right up the embankment to the Charlesgate overpass. We crossed over the Pike and Newbury Street and down the ramp to Comm. Ave where we were able to watch a bit of the marathon as the runners approached the final mile to the finish line.

At this point, life was good. The sun was out. It was warm. The Sox won on a walkoff double by Mike Napoli to win 3-2 and sweep a 3 game series with the Rays. We were taking in the Marathon. And we were making our way back to Canal Street to get to the Fours to pregame before the Bruins-Senators game. In short, it was what Patriot's Day is all about and what it Patriot's Day should be.

We continued down Comm. Ave., along the marathon route, to Mass. Ave. This is the one location where we would be able to cross over the marathon (the route follows an underpass here) and get to the other side of Comm. Ave., allowing us to get to the other side of the city. We were walking up Comm. Ave., getting spread out a bit when we crossed Dartmouth Street. A Boston Fire Department ladder truck was coming down the street when it drove by us.


At first, I thought the fire truck hit a pothole. But it seemed too loud for that.


A second loud blast.

It wasn't the fire truck.  I turned back and saw a small plume of white smoke emanating from somewhere near Copley Square.  Then I saw my wife and Pete running towards Heather and me. Jen said a bomb just went off. I shook my head in disbelief. No fucking way.

Maybe it was a manhole explosion (those tend to happen in Boston, sadly). Maybe it was an electrical transformer explosion (those happen too, sadly).

Whatever the reason, people were running out of Copley Square. My friend Mike had just come from there to meet up with us for the rest of the afternoon. He was safe, thankfully, and now with us.

We all went to our phones.  Cell signals were gone. Too many people jamming the antennas. But my Twitter feed worked. Because so much of the Boston TV and print media were stationed in Copley for the marathon, they were able to provide a continuous stream of information (and a lot of speculation as well).  Reports of two explosions with mass chaos. The marathon was being stopped short of the finish line. A triage center was being set up at the medical tent.

All the while, the sound of sirens permeated the air. Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks. Flashing lights everywhere. It was surreal. And it was real.

I read a tweet saying to watch out for mailboxes as the bombs may have been stashed in some. Knowing our route back to the Garden area involved passing by the State House, City Hall and a couple of Federal buildings, I insisted that we cut through the back of Beacon Hill instead and avoid possible targets.  Internally, I was freaking out. It's hard not to think of 9/11 at a time like that. And there were so many unsecured areas.

Sarah was trying to get in touch with her friend who was running and couldn't get through. Jen was trying to get in touch with her brother who was working across from Fenway. Amy was trying to get in touch with her daughter who left the game early to pick up her in-laws from Logan. Nothing. No signals.

And it was weird.  We had people walking with us who were doing the same thing as us - getting updates via social media. But there were plenty of tourists milling about the Common who had no clue of what just transpired. Marathon runners in their insulated wraps walking back to Copley presumably to pick up their belongings and meet up with friends and family who had no phones on them so they were out of the loop.

It was so very weird.

We got down to Cambridge Street and crossed over by Mass. General Hospital.  Given the number of ambulances out and about helping with the trauma, the area was eerily quiet. The ambulances hadn't arrived yet and people were still milling about.

We crossed through the West End apartment complex and out by the Tip O'Neill Federal Building on Causeway Street where the building was on complete lockdown with guards stationed around the perimeter of the building and security vehicles parked out front.

We made it over to the Fours, still in total shock.  I saw one of the doormen at the Fours and told him something to the effect of  "normally I'd get in here and start pregaming, but right now I'm getting the fuck out of Dodge".  People in Bruins gear were starting to make their way into the bars, but I had a hard time believing the Bruins would have a game that night.  How could they secure the building? And more importantly, how could they ever justify diverting public emergency services and resources away from Copley Square at a time like this. No way was that game getting played.  Just then, Tyler Seguin drove by in his Maserati, presumably on his way to the Garden parking lot.

Mike and Sarah were headed back west of the city, but with the Green line shut down, they had nowhere to go. So they bunkered down at the Fours for a while.  Stacie needed to get back to Woburn (she had come into town on the commuter rail), so Jen and I offered her a ride.  Amy needed to get back to Quincy, so Heather and Pete gave her a ride.  And so we all made our separate ways.

In the car, I put on 98.5, my local sports station of choice, knowing full well they'd be offering up news coverage instead.  I was surprised to hear not a simulcast of their AM news station counterpart, but a stream of their TV coverage with Jack Williams.

In one last bit of safety/security/overthinking I decided to avoid the Zakim Bridge and took the Washington Street bridge to Charlestown instead. I just didn't want to put myslef in harms way, as preposterous as that sounds.  Along 93 north we kept seeing state police cars, both marked and unmarked racing south towards the city.

We dropped Stacie off and made our way home.  I climbed into bed with my iPad and iPhone and flipped on the TV to WBZ for continuing coverage.  Jen eventually went out to pick up Dana at daycare.  Thankfully, all of my friends in the city were safe and accounted for. I put up posts of Facebook and Twitter letting everyone know we we safe and sound as well. Well, physically, at least.  Mentally I was all over the place.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Poo, Part Deux

In my last post I explained my reconciliation with the Bruins' oft-criticized gold alternate sweaters worn between 1996 and 2006, commonly referred to as the Pooh Bear design.  It was actually quite the heartfelt introspection, but not too serious.  My jersey collecting is a fun effort, after all.

Subsequent to that, I was able to procure a blank Pooh Bear jersey, a CCM replica, size medium, for the relatively low sum of $40 via eBay.  I had been searching that site for quite some time, but finding a medium was proving to be a decided challenge. Ideally, I would have preferred to find a blank pro model in my size (44), but hey, beggars can't be choosers when looking for such an elusive prize. When I found said sweater was available with a "buy it now" option, I briefly consulted with fellow Team Pooh (#TeamPooh on Twitter) and the unanimous answer was to jump on it.


I had a standing offer from one of my friends who works for the Bruins to help me get my sweater sent out to Custom Crafted in North Attleboro, the longtime supplier to the Bruins for the actual team uniform stitching, so I knew it would be done up right.  And I just so happened to have a spare Bruins 75th anniversary patch I could have stitched on as well, should I go that route.

Now, the only question that remained was which player's name and number I wanted to get stitched on it.

A lot of my friends know my thought process regarding sweater customization as far as which players I will honor in tackle twill on my jerseys before, but for the uninitiated, let me give you a brief explanation:

I'm loyal to the Bruins. They're my team, I really don't root for any others. And with a roster of all time great players and such a rich tradition and history, it's easy to go with guys like Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Cam Neely.  Hall of Famers are a given.  It certainly helps that I got to see Bourque and Neely in the prime of their careers. But even for me, you can only have so many 4s, 8s and 77s in your collection (I have at total of 7 sweaters for the aforementioned trio). So I started to diversify, a little.  I bought a Patrice Bergeron replica in 2006, confident in that #37 would make for a worthy investment as he made a profound impact on the franchise.  Then I went out on an even bigger limb and bought a Milan Lucic alternate in 2008 because I thought he had a chance to be a special player with qualities reminiscent of Terry O'Reilly and Cam Neely. Plus, I had an opportunity to meet him in his rookie season and was able to spend a few minutes talking to him and it was apparently that he got "it" - what it meant to be playing for the Bruins and what it meant to the fans in this market. He may have been 19 at the time, but he won me over. So much, in fact, that I had little hesitation in choosing #17 when it was time to pick up a Winter Classic sweater.

Long story short, you've got to be good, but you've also got to be a textbook Bruin.

Which brings me to the current challenge.

Now, I'm one of those people who refuses to customize a sweater with the name and number of a player who did not wear that specific style of sweater.  So that automatically forced me to look at players who were playing for the B's in the Pooh Bear era.  I wasn't going to go the Bourque or Neely route and as much as I liked Adam Oates, I don't think a #12 Pooh Bear would have done him justice. Besides, his best years in the Black and Gold occurred in the early 90s.

Rather, I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to salute the more underrated players of that era - guys who were respected by the fans, wore their hearts on their sleeves, got dirty, always played to win and made you proud to be a fan of the team, even in the lean years. So I compiled a list of guys I'd be happy to have on my back:

Don Sweeney, #32

Never a star and somewhat undersized for a defenseman, he was drafted by the Bruins out of Harvard and ended up playing 15 seasons for the team, appearing in nearly 1000 games for the Black and Gold while providing solid defense, often alongside Ray Bourque. They very definition of dependable.

Ted Donato, #21 or #40

Another Harvard guy, he played 9 seasons for the B's, joining the team mid-season following the 1992 Winter Olympics where he played for the US. After leaving the Bruins, he made a variety of stops all over the league before spending the 2003-4 season back in Boston, which was cut short by a bronken leg suffered late in the season. Always a solid player, never flashy but got the job done. Plus, he was a local guy.

P.J. Axelsson, #11

Though Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov were the heralded rookies in the 1997-8 season (with Sammy taking home the Calder Trophy), Axy ended up having the longest career in Boston, spanning 11 seasons.  He was the ultimate utility man - coaches had no problem rolling him out on any line, at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill. Surprisingly willing to get dirty in the corners, he was one of those guys the kept his head down and did whatever he was called on to do.

Ken Belanger, #16

This one might have people scratching their heads, especially considering he only played 3 seasons in Boston, but he was a physical player who was willing to drop the gloves when necessary.

And then, of course, was this:

I was there for this game and it was one of the few times I've applauded a guy for getting a boarding major. Ulf Samuelsson is probably the NHL player I hated the most.

Very few players have captured my heart like PJ Stock. No one brought more toughness, pound for pound, than this undersized pugilist. Gave everything he had in his 3 seasons with the B's before injuries curtailed his career. Watching him ply his craft brought a level of excitement to the Garden that very few others have been able to do.

Now, there a few other players that I bandied about, Glen Murray, Mike Knuble and even Dave Reid. But at the end of the day, there was one guy I never gave a second thought about going with.

Rob DiMaio.

Back when I first became a season ticket holder in 1998, the Bruins were coming off a rebound year where Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov made their debuts. Ray Bourque was the face of the team. Pat Burns had just won Coach of the Year. Things were looking up.

The team also featured a huge, 6-7 defenseman who played previously at Providence College. He was a local kid to boot, from Concord.  On paper, Hall Gill had all the physical attributes to be a Norris quality defenseman in the mold of what we now have in Zdeno Chara.

But what Gill did not have was the mindset for such a style of play.  Now this wouldn't stand out all that much, given that he often skated alongside Bourque, which obviously helped offset his deficiencies. But it was the presence of a much shorter, scrapper player on that roster, when juxtaposed to the much bigger defenseman, that made Gill look that much more worse a player.

That guy was Robbie DiMaio.

A 5-10 winger who had nine seasons in the books when the B's acquired him from San Jose (having been waived by the Flyers), DiMaio wasn't much of a scorer, but he was a great defensive shutdown guy who played with lots of jam. He never took a shift off and gave his all every time on he was on the ice.  When you saw Hall Gill loaf around like a traffic cone, you wished he had DiMaio's brain and heart because you knew someone who had that kind of size would be a killer if he played with the intensity of #19.

Some of my favorite memories were of him skating with PJ Axelsson and Tim Taylor on the third line, the defensive shutdown line at the time. It was so much fun seeing those three skate out there, often against the oppositions' top scorers and frustrate the other team.

Rob DiMaio was a perfect Bruin.

And that is why I am proud to now own this:

PS: I'd like to give a special shout out to my good friend Tina for all of her assistance in helping me procure this thing of beauty. I could never have got this done without you!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Winning: The Pooh

bruinsoldalt.jpgI lied.

I said I would never, ever accept them, let alone buy one.

I thought they were an absolute abomination, completely unfit for an Original Six team with such a rich uniform history.

I saw them as a sign that even the Bruins could not escape the evil reach of Gary Bettman's modernization efforts.

Yet, here I am today. In possession of what I never thought I would own.

The Pooh Bear sweater.

Why? How could I pull such a 180 on something whose mere existence I  had been so diametrically opposed to? What the hell happened to me?

To understand where I am now on the subject, I must first look back on how it all started.

Back in 1995, as the NHL emerged from the first lockout of Gary Bettman's tenure as Commissioner, the Bruins were a fairly strong team featuring Bourque, Oates and Neely still at the top of their games. The team had bowed out in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils in what was the final postseason to be played at the historic Boston Garden.

But change was afoot, big time.

The Bruins were leaving the famed barn for the brand spanking new Fleet Center, located a mere nine inches behind the old building that they had played in since 1928.  And with the move the Bruins would be making another major change: new uniforms.

Now, keep in mind, the set they had worn up to that point was the only one I had ever known. That design made its debut in the 1974-5 season and save for some minor tweaks (mainly the addition of nameplates and some font changes) and the throwback set they wore in 1991-2 for the league's 75th anniversary, they stayed relatively the same up to 1995.

But wholesale changes were coming. Not only were the sweaters getting a total redesign including contrasting sleeves, three color numbers and a revised chest logo, but rumors  had it that there would be an alternate design set for introduction in the new year.

Keep in mind that websites such as Uni Watch, Chris Creamer's Sports Logos and SSUR didn't exist back then and uniform news was not readily available. All we really had were the newspapers, ESPN (yes, you read that correctly) and a few online bulletin boards.

Eventually, the designs were made public and they circulated quickly.  The league was looking to expand their foothold in the American sports scene (we were already smack in the middle of the Fox glowing puck era), with the Nordiques having relocated westward to Colorado and Winnipeg set to move to Phoenix.  Accordingly, teams were already introducing new uniform sets, including the now-infamous Islanders' "Gorton's Fisherman" set and the Capitals' teal eagle design.  Furthermore, as part of the League's marketing efforts six teams were going to introduce new alternate sweaters to be worn for select games in the second half of the season: Anaheim, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Vancouver and the Bruins.

Uniform designs were clearly breaking away from their traditional design ethos and going in a completely different direction. Clip art logos, color gradients, cartoonish font faces and garish recolorizations were all aspects that helped foster in this new era of uniform design.

The new alternates ran the gamut of taste, from the classic simplicity of the Blackhawks' normal home template rendered in black to the Kings' "Burger King" set with sublimated sashes and the Mighty Ducks' "Wild Wing" set which was just plain terrible, even by Disney standards. Pittsburgh's thirds introduced gray into their color scheme, but that design worked well enough that they ended up adopting it as their full time road uniform until 2002.

Which brings us to the Bruins.

When the first photos surfaced of the new sweater, I was shocked.  I had long hoped for a gold alternate, but this was not what I had imagined. This was just plain fugly.

The Logo

Gentile Ben
While the 1977-1995 set featured an poorly rendered, yet somewhat ferocious bear head shoulder patch/alternate logo, the new alternates featured a large bear head that was little more than a chain stitched rendering of Gentle Ben.

In fact, the logo was based on a framed picture Harry Sinden had hanging in his office.

Whereas a number of teams decided to go with aggressive looking cartoonish characters for their logos, the Bruins went with the most timid looking bear they could find.  For a team that was known for its iconic spoked B logo, this was a huge change and certainly not for the the better.

The Template


This was not the first time the Bruins included a gold sweater in their uniform set, not was it the first time they introduced an alternate to be worn along with their normal home and away ones.

In 1940, the Bruins included a gold sweater to be worn a few times as an alternative to their standard white jersey.  They would wear this off and on for four seasons and would not wear another gold jersey until the 1955 season when they used the color on their primary uniforms.

The 1955 set was the first set to feature a home, away and alternate design.  They would wear gold sweaters through the 1967 season, but none thereafter until 1996.

The template that was used for the 1996 design featured sublimated stripes on the hem and shoulders that were supposed to mimic bear fur.  Some people thought it evoked a Charlie Brown design aesthetic instead. It was so radically different from anything the Bruins had done previously and was unlike anything else in the league to that point.  For a hockey market full of traditionalists and die-hards, it was bit tough to reconcile.  It was something that the newer teams might be able to get away with, but not the spoked-B Black and Gold.

That said, the one design element that really worked for this sweater was the use of the black/white/black tackle twill for the names and numbers, as it really popped against the bright gold material.

The Shoulder Patch


One of the most overlooked failings of the 1996 alternate was the use of the Bruins' wordmark as a shoulder patch. In a textbook case of where less is more, slapping an oversized word on the shoulders was a huge mistake. Even the use of the spoked-B logo probably wouldn't have been much better.  I honestly think that leaving the patches off would have made this look significantly better.

The Nickname

More often than not, when uniform designs garner nicknames, it is not a term of endearment.  Look at some of the other uniforms of this era which have been nicknamed over the years: the Gorton's Fisherman,  Lady Liberty, Wild Wing, Burger King, The Mooterus, even the Flying Vee.  All of these refer to uniforms that are regarded with a large degree of ridicule. Its not a good sign when you can refer to a shirt with a nickname.

The Bruins' gold alternates quickly became known as the Pooh Bears.  It was embarrassing, yet incredibly fitting.

The Era

The introduction of the Bruins alternate sweaters coincided with a the start of a tumultuous time in Bruins history.  The 1996 team opened the Fleet Center with a decent regular season, but lost out to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs.  The next season was much, much worse with the B's finishing last in the east, Cam Neely battling injuries and Adam Oates being traded midseason. They'd miss the playoffs, but did manage to land the 1st and 8th picks in the 1997 Entry Draft which were used to draft Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov. But the Pat Burns era turned into the Mike Keenan era which begat the Robbie Ftorek era and segued into the Mike Sullivan era. All along, there were missed postseasons and poor performances when they did manage to make the playoffs.  Things bottomed out when Ray Bourque, the team's legendary defenseman and one of their all-time greats sought a trade to a contending team and managed to win the Stanley Cup 2 seasons later.

There was the Marty McSorley incident. Jason Allison's captaincy. The Joe Thornton trade. The post-lockout breakup of a promising 2003-4 squad and subsequent mess of a team in 2005. The loss to Montreal in seven games.

Despite the presence of fan favorite PJ Stock, these were not good times to be a Bruins fan. Season tickets numbered around 5,000. The team was hurting for fans. Draft picks were not panning out. Things were looking bleak.  And it just so happened that the Pooh Bears were around for this period.

So why my change of heart?

I've actually thought a lot about this. Did I have an epiphany or something? I'm not exactly sure.

The easy answer is that the statute of limitations on crappy sweater designs has expired, but I think that might be a cop out.

No, the more I think about it, the Pooh Bears remind me of a time when we had to work to be a fan of the Bruins. Though tickets were significantly cheaper than they are today, the building was significantly empty for a good number of game nights, particularly weeknight games before Christmas and games once the B's were eliminated from the playoff race. Unlike today, there were players you just could never like, but there were a few fan favorites: PJ Stock, PJ Axelsson, Bill Guerin, Don Sweeney.  You were a fan of the Bruins because you loved the team, the history, the game of hockey. Going to a Bruins game wasn't a merely a social activity.

I juxtapose that time to today. The Bruins have recaptured the Boston sports market. The team is wildly successful and the players are adored by the fans. Games are sold out and tickets are expensive and hard to get. Going to a Bruins game is THE thing to do in town.  Even after a ludicrous lockout, the local thirst for hockey remains at an all time high. It's easy to be a fan of this team because the team makes it so.

In addition, finding a Pooh Bear sweater today takes a good amount of effort. Much like when I was after my 75th anniversary sweater (almost 13 years ago), I did daily searches on eBay and online postings. What was once a prolific supply has been reduced to a slight trickle. It took me almost 2 years to find a blank throwback in my size back then.  This time it took me about six months to find a Pooh Bear in my size on eBay.

The only question that remains is which player name and number I want to get stitched on it. I've got a handful of names, ranging from the obvious (Stock) to the surprising (Donato) and everything in between.

In the end, I look at having a Pooh Bear jersey in my collection (14 and counting, by the way) as a reminder not to take what we have today for granted.  Sure, it's ugly as sin. But, much like people, its more about the inner beauty than the looks.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Bear Maximum: Postgame Recap 3/3: Bonjour Quebecois

The Bear Maximum: Postgame Recap 3/3: Bonjour Quebecois: On May 16, 1995, the Quebec Nordiques lost to the New York Rangers 4-2 at Madison Square Garden in game 6 of their eastern conference quarte...

Postgame Recap 3/3: Bonjour Quebecois

On May 16, 1995, the Quebec Nordiques lost to the New York Rangers 4-2 at Madison Square Garden in game 6 of their eastern conference quarterfinal matchup.

It was to be their last ever appearance sporting the fleur de lis on the sweaters.

Operating in one of the smallest home markets in all of professional sports and a predominantly Francophone one to boot, the Nordiques were hit hard by the lockout. Ownership had major issues with marketing and keeping the franchise afloat.  Eventually, the owners sought a buyer. The team, featuring such stars as Joe Sakic, Owen Nolan, Wendell Clark and a Swedish rookie sensation named Peter Forsberg, packed up their things and made the move to the Rockies as they became the Colorado Avalanche.

The following season, backed by the acquisition of Hall of Fame goalie to be Patrick Roy, the rebranded franchise went on to hoist Lord Stanley's chalice, sweeping the upstart Florida Panthers 4 games to none.

All the while, a rabid fanbase in Quebec City was left emptyhanded and longing.

Years later, a group of fans took it upon themselves to bring together Quebecers who shared their love of their former NHL team.  Through social and traditional media, thousands of fans were drawn together in their love of the past and hope for the future.  The result was Nordiques Nation.

In the last couple of seasons, Nordiques Nation has organized trips to NHL stadiums in various cities, bringing busloads upon busloads of blue-clad fans aiming to let the league know that there is a large, supportive fanbase in Quebec City just dying to get a franchise back.  In the regular season ending game at Newark, Nordiques Nation was out in full force as the Devils beat the Bruins last April.

For the current season, NN has organized a five game slate of forays to NHL arenas.  The Bruins -Islanders game was the fourth trip on their schedule. When I found out that Le Quebecois were coming to town, I was excited.  After all, these folks hate the Habs just as much as we do.

So it was with great anticipation that I awaited our bon amis from la belle provence.  Let's see what I found:

This is our buddy Lemay.  I don't usually feature non-player customized sweaters, but this one was done up right; proper numbering and that baby blue is so very underrated.  Plus, he ended up sitting behind us in 307 and we had fun talking to him and his heavily accented English.

Sadly, he had no idea who Moe Lemay was.

Circa 1989-90 Guy Lafleur Nordiques home

Oh, the irony.  It was bad enough that Lafleur made his hall of fame bones playing for the Canadiens during their dynasty run in the 70s, then retiring in 1985.  He was then elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988. Not content to sit on the sidelines, he came back to the NHL at age 37, spending one year with the Rangers before jumping ship to the Nordiques for two final seasons. Yep - the team from Quebec City, who just so happened to be one of the Habs' biggest rivals.

And just to remind you - Lafleur was the bastard who scored the OT winner in the "Too many men on the ice" game in 1979.  Eff him.

So I have to chuckle, just a bit, when I see this guy wearing a Lafleur sweater with a "Habs Hater" t-shirt wrapped around his waist.

Mid 80s Dale Hunter Nordiques Away

Well, I'm fairly certain that this used to be a Dale Hunter sweater.  The rubberized lettering has peeled off and the backing is all that remains.

But Dale Hunter sucks. And that's even without discussing his coaching record this season with the Capitals.

'Nuf said.

1994-5 Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg Nordiques Away

Two of the best players to ever wear the fleur de lis (even though Foppa played only one year in Quebec before the team moved out west), commemorated in these stunning replicas.

Now, keep in mind that none of these fine articles of apparel can hold a candle to what is the best Nordiques sweater I've ever seen:

You might remember this beauty from my last blog entry.  If you haven't read it (and why the hell haven't you?), this is an extremely rare Claude Julien Nordiques away replica. No other Nordiques could ever compare.  Okay, perhaps a Paul Stewart one might get somewhat close.

Considering that these folks (at least the older ones) used to root for a team that was in the same division as the Bruins, it was a bit strange to see so many members of Nordiques Nation wearing Bruins gear and openly rooting for the home team.  But then again, we share a common hatred of the Canadiens.  But it was nice to see so many people who had come down to have a good time, see some hockey and hopefully spread the Gospel of Quebec hockey.  They were a great group to talk to and I wish them the best in the future. Hopefully someday we'll be able to reciprocate the goodwill at a game at Le Colisee (or it's modern replacement).

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hoser Homestand

It's a good thing I don't write for a living, at least as far as a media member is concerned.  Between the writer's block and my proclivity for procrastination, I could never, ever meet a deadline, even a self-imposed one.

And because I've been somewhat lazy lately, in conjunction with a full slate of Bruins home games, I am now facing a huge backlog of recaps.  Rather than create separate entries for each game, it's probably best that I do one mega post, as I actually have a decent amount of photos I've collected along the way. Even better, I actually have a common thread amongst the games which only helps to give some flow to my writing.

You see, it is a rarity in today's NHL to have back to back home games featuring opponents from the Great White North.  But with the relocation of the Thrashers to Winnipeg and their subsequent retention in the southeast division, the schedule was to include an additional two games against a Canadian franchise, thus increasing the chances of consecutive games against teams from America's Hat.

And thus, through the miraculous dealings of the NHL schedule makers, the Bruins were set to play not one, not two, not three, but four! games against Canadian franchises: 

First up, the Calgary Flames on January 5th

The Bruins kicked off the new year with a 6-1 dismantling of the Devils and Hall of Fame goalie to be Martin Brodeur in New Jersey.  They then returned to the Garden the following night for their first home game of 2012. Against an depleted lineup missing many regulars, the Bruins showed no signs of fatigue and gave the visitors from Alberta a beat down with Tuukka Rask pitching a shutout as the B's exploded for nine goals (two each from Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton), chasing Flames starting Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff midway through the second period.

Being one of the few Canadian representatives from the Western conference, Calgary appearances in Boston are somewhat rare, occurring every other year at best. And this was the first time I've seen them since I started this blog, thus providing me for a chance to scrutinize their uniforms.

Frankly, I'm not a big fan of their current look.  They use one of the worst templates to come out of Reebok's evil design minds in the 2007 league-wide edge system redesign.  The piping along the sides is extraneous and the striping up the sides is incongruous with the rest of the horizontal striping featured on the sleeves, hemline and socks. And don't get me started on the inclusion of the shoulder flag patches for Canada and the province of Alberta - completely nonsensical. The only thing these really have going for them is the color combination. I like the use of red as the base color for the home uniforms as opposed to the black they used to use for their black alternate/home sweater.

Personally, I liked their 1995-2000 set best.  I like the italicized font as well as the addition of black accents which made the red and yellow pop. The hemline that was bisected by a diagonal stripe of the same design was a unique element that no other team used and it worked. Of course, I loved their original look with the white, red and yellow design they carried over from their time in Atlanta.  Speaking of which, the Flames also have one of the best features in all of hockey - the assistant captains 'A's are actually miniature versions of the Atlanta Flames logos, perhaps the best homage to a teams' roots in all of the major sports leagues.

To be honest, I had very low expectations for seeing Flames sweaters at this game.  It was a Thursday night and Calgary really has no ties to Boston, not a major college student component and no minor league affiliate located in New England.  Yet I was quite surprised to see decent representation in the Garden.  Here's a quick rundown of my highlights:

Current Miikka Kiprusoff home replica

Jay Bouwmeester current away replica

2011 Jarome Iginla Heritage Classic replica

Sure, go ahead and make the usual McDonald's remarks.  Fact is, I like these because they were so different.  Plus they were paired with white pants when the Flames took on the Habs in the 2011 Heritage Classic.

Current Jarome Iginla alternate (throwback) replica

When I see this design, it's hard not to think of Lanny McDonald and the 89 Cup winning team.  I  love this design and I'm so glad Calgary brought it back, if only as an alternate to their current monstrosities.

2007 Wayne Primeau away replica

My photographic skills aside (love the sepia tone, it was an accident), this was as obscure a Flames sweater as I found all night.  I actually liked this design, save for the flaming horse logos on the shoulders.

2010 Jarome Iginla Team Canada away replica

After the Bruins dispatched the Flames, it was onto the most anticipated game of the season - the rematch of the Stanley Cup Finals against the hated Vancouver Canucks on January 7th.

For whatever reason, the NHL powers that be scheduled this for a 1:00 afternoon start on a Saturday.  In a way, this was a good thing as I can't even imagine what time Heather and I would have to get into the Fours to make sure we got seats if it started later.  Well, that and the fact that a night start would have meant that people were going to be overly lubed in the Tom Brady sense.

As it was, Heather, Pete and I met up at the Dunks next door around 9:30 am for some iced coffees as we awaited the Fours' opening at 10. 

We made our way upstairs and being the first ones on the scene, we had our choice of seating.  So we went with the same seats we had for game 7 of the finals.  Why the hell not? This was our chance as fans to gloat over winning the Cup.  Cornelius joined us shortly thereafter and brought his mini Stanley Cup.  And frankly, what better way to savor some fine Jameson's than to sample it from a small replica of Lord Stanley's silver chalice? Well, other than the real thing, I mean.  The rest of our crew made their way into the bar, including Tim, Maureen and the seat 11 guest of the day, Robyn, for some pregame shenanigans.

Having done some significant damage to our collective livers, we headed in for the game.  To be honest, going in to this game, it felt like we were dealing with house money.  Sure, two points were on the line, but if the Bruins lost, it wasn't going to be the end of the world.  We were playing a Western conference opponent after all.  However, the Vancouver media fanned the flames (yeah, I mentioned Vancouver and flames, something they have experience with) all week long leading into the game, bitching and moaning about the Bruins.  And there was the small fact that Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault chose to start backup netminder Cory Schneider in goal over our favorite whipping boy Roberto Luongo. This move was made under the lame guise that it was a chance for the Marblehead native to play before his friends and family, despite the fact that he was afforded that opportunity in the finals not once, but twice when Bobby Lu was yanked for being a complete sieve.

In reality, we really, really wanted the Bruins to win.

Alas, the game sucked.  Vancouver resorted to their typical punch and hide tactics, failing to stand up for themselves and slinking behind the refs after instigating the Bruins.  The B's were suckered into the Canucks' tactics, getting caught up emotionally and getting thrown off their game.  They took retaliatory penalties, exacerbated by a refereeing crew that blew it big time by tossing Milan Lucic from the game four minutes in for supposedly jumping off the bench on an illegal line shift to help out Shawn Thornton who was being attacked by no fewer than six Canucks.  In actuality, Looch was on the ice legally and the penalty should never have been called, a fact that was confirmed after the game when the league announced that Looch's match penalty had been rescinded. However, the ineptitude of the refs lead to Vancouver having a 5 on 3 power play in which they scored the first goal of the game.

Brad Marchand's clipping penalty on Sami Salo led to another early exit for a Bruins left winger and the combination of Vancouver man advantages and the Bruins' undermanned roster lead to a total of four Canuck power play goals which were enough to hold off the B's three tallies.

I was pissed after this game.  Not because we lost, but more because of how we lost.  The Bruins were suckered in by Vancouvers' weaselly ways, taking dumb penalties when they should have been focusing on playing hard. I could never root for a team like the Canucks.  Their players aren't tough and  don't stand up for their actions. I'd say they have more bark than bite, but we all know Alexandre Burrows by now.  If the Bruins played like Vancouver, I'd have no problem calling them out on their style of play.

Because this was the most demanded ticket in town, I figured that there wouldn't be many Vancouver fans in the house.  I mean, why ever would they want to come here when we were the ones that beat them for hockey's ultimate prize? They'd be ripped on and ridiculed.

Surprisingly, there were a decent number of away fans there. And there were a couple of sweaters that stood out:

Current Roberto Luongo home replica

Current Alexandre Burrows home replica

Of all the players to wear, these two schmucks went with the two most hated players on the Vancouver roster. This was the equivalent of wearing "kick me" signs. Seriously, there couldn't be two less respected players by the Bruins' fanbase than these two asshats.

Next on the docket was a matchup on January 10th with the second team to abandon Atlanta for colder Canadian climates, the new incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets.

This was second of two home games against the Men form Manitoba, with the Bruins having won the first matchup 4-2 on November 26.  I touched briefly on the Jets sweaters in my recap from that game. However, with this being another midweek matchup against a relatively obscure opponent, my expectations for sweater sightings were relatively low.  Sure enough, I barely saw any Jets sweaters, never mind ones with players names and numbers on them.

There was one glaring exception to this.  And I didn't even happen upon it until we were on our way out of the Garden after the game:

Early 90s Teemu Selanne Winnipeg Jets (1st iteration) home replica

When I think of the old Winnipeg Jets, the first three players that come to mind are Dale Hawerchuk, Keith Tkachuk and Teemu Selanne. You could add in Bobby Hull as well, but I didn't have a recollection of seeing him play live.  But Selanne, a certain hall of famer, burst onto the scene in the 1992-3 season, putting up insane numbers as a rookie.  The Finnish Flash finished with 76-56-132 totals on the season.  It was so memorable to me because here in Boston Joey Juneau had a hell of a rookie season, posting 32-70-102 totals.  But those stats, as great as they were, couldn't hold a candle to the numbers put up by the new kid in Winnipeg.

As far as the old Jets sweaters are concerned, this is my favorite of their three looks, with simple matching hem and sleeve striping and a unique take on the red, white and blue color combination. 

You can also see the current Jets away sweater in this picture. At first, I wasn't sure that I liked them.  The combination of the long vertical sleeve stripes with the horizontal stripes looked weird.  I also wished they had used red as an accent, not just on the crest.  But after seeing them in person, I think I like them.  The font used for the name and numbers is clean and simple, yet modern.  And the use of the two shades of blue is enough to clearly differentiate them from the Leafs, unlike the virtual knockoffs Tampa Bay broke out this season.  They aren't my favorite, not by a longshot, but they aren't the worst, either.

Two days later, it was time for a matchup with our real rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. As much as we collectively hate the Canucks, let us not forget that we have years and years of epic battles with our fellow original six team from La Belle Province. Too many men on the ice, anyone?

This was a big rebound game for the Bruins.  The loss to Vancouver was an emotional letdown.  And the Bruins played a very sloppy game against the Habs.  Sure, they had a two goal lead before giving up a late score at the hands of Yannick Weber.  They held on for the win and the crucial two points.

But the real story of the game was about a player who began the night as a Canadien, but would finish it in a Boston cab en route to Calgary.

Mike Cammalleri (one of the few Members of the Tribe in the NHL, btw) skated 9:02 of ice time before he was told to go to the locker room and change into his street clothes by Montreal management.  Seems that his recent comments about the Habs playing like a bunch of losers hastened his departure from Montreal and in an effort to protect his trade value, he was pulled from the game midway in. This isn't the first time a player has been taken out of a game in order to facilitate  trade, but this usually happens at or around the trade deadline.  Something like this at this time of year is virtually unheard of.

So it was kind of funny when we ran into this guy at the Fours after the game:

2011 Mike Cammalleri home replica

Can we call this a throwback?

In actuality, this guy was fun to chat with and he took our jesting in stride.  We need more fans, both home and away, with a sense of humor and self-deprication.

Now for some housecleaning:

There really haven't been any standout Bruins sweaters in the crowds this year.  Entirely understandable as most fans seem to have taken a shine to the recent cast of characters donning the spoked B.  But in these last few home games, there have been a few that came out of the woodwork that deserve special recognition:

1970 Johnny "Pie" McKenzie away replica

Special points to this guy because I just haven't seen many 1970s throwbacks other than the usual smattering of Orrs, Espositos, Cheevers and Bucyks. Plus, I've had the pleasure of meeting Pie a couple of times.  He's a really nice guy.

Late 80's/Early 90's Reggie Lemelin home replica

I've seen a bunch of Andy Moog replicas at the Garden over the years, but there aren't a lot of the player who made up the other half of the best goaltending tandem I've seen play for the Bruins until this year's combo of Timmay and Tuukka.

Late 980's/Early 90's Bobby Carpenter away replica

This is one of my favorite sweaters ever.

To understand why, you need to know that both Bobby and I grew up in Peabody and went to high school at St. John's Prep in Danvers. Sure, he finished up in 1981 and I graduated 13 years later. At the time, he was the highest American ever picked in the NHL entry draft (#3 overall to Washington).  I remember looking at old yearbooks in the Prep's campus ministry office once and happened across the 1981 edition.  In the back of the book was a full page feature of the day the media came to campus to interview Bobby ahead of the draft. He was big news back then, even making the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing his Prep uniform and labeled "The Can't Miss Kid". As an impressionable youth, this was fascinating and awesome.  When the Bruins traded Steve Kasper to the Kings to acquire Carpenter in 1989, I was elated. Harry Sinden had a propensity to stockpile local players, but for the most part they were never start players.  Bobby had a couple of 25 goal seasons while wearing the black and gold, but he also missed most of the 90-91 season when he shattered his kneecap when he fell into the endboards in a game against the Habs. His Boston tenure ended when he signed back with the Caps prior to the 1993-4 season.

2010 Zdeno Chara Slovakia men's national team home replica

Sure, I see plenty of USA Tim Thomas sweaters at the Garden as well as the occasional Patrice Bergeron Canada one and there's a guy that has a Marco Sturm Germany sweater, but this was the first Chara or Slovakia one I've seen. Cool.

And finally, the piece de resistance:

1985-6 Claude Julien Quebec Nordiques away replica

This, dear friends, is the early leader for sweater of the year.

I ran into this guy on my way to the Fours before the Montreal game. It blew me away.

Our Claude (is an awesome Claude, btw), played but two seasons for the Nordiques, wearing number 34 for his one game appearance in 1984 before switching to number 12 when he played 13 games the following year.

But it is the combination of a relatively obscure NHL career with a beautiful defunct (ok, relocated) franchise sweater and the fact that the B's were playing Montreal (a team that the Francophile Julien used to coach) that made this so very epic.

That's it for now.  Hopefully, I can get back on course with the upcoming tilt against the hated New York Rangers in a battle for Conference supremacy.