Anatomy of a Uniform I: The Helmet
After my summer of non-posting, I’m back in the proverbial saddle and going to start a new series of posts breaking down each major element in a hockey uniform, from head to skate. Why? Well, of the four major sports, hockey’s unique in many ways, including how design elements influence uniforms.
For this first post, the humble hockey helmet. The only piece of equipment a player can lose without causing the whistle to blow or the player to leave the ice. It’s been the subject of many contentious issues, like the use of visors on helmets in recent years. But also its very existence has been an issue in the past, where the helmet needed to be regulated into the game and, even at that, the use of a helmet was grandfathered in. Last player to not wear a helmet? Craig MacTavish, with the 1996-97 St. Louis Blues. The helmet is less a part of a uniform and more a piece of safety equipment. But, there’s potential, and some teams use the helmets better than others.
This isn’t going to be a dissection of the manufacturing styles of helmets. I could go into a tirade about the ridiculous looking Jofa helmets. Or make fun of TSN/ESPN/HNIC’s Pierre LeBrun. (You can bug him about it directly on Twitter at @Real_ESPNLeBrun.) This is more about focusing on what teams put on their helmets in terms of colours and designs.
For the majority of NHL teams, the helmet is nothing more than a spot to place a small team logo. Admittedly, the contours of the helmet do not create a nice flat surface on which to play with, design-wise. But, there’s little to talk about with these teams, which include Anaheim (although a simplified version of their main logo), Boston, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Montreal, Nashville, NY Islanders, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Jose and Washington. Nothing wrong with keeping things simple, but there’s not really anything to get enthusiastic about here. They all have a home and away helmet (usually white and whatever their main colour is) with a logo decal slapped on each side. Yeehaw.
It’s especially disheartening to see these teams mentioned above that have a third jersey/uniform, where everything changes except their helmet. In some cases, even the whole colour scheme of the jerseys change, but the helmet is neglected. The offending teams are Colorado, Columbus, NY Islanders, Phoenix, San Jose and Washington. Poor, poor forgotten hockey helmet. Exceptionally awful is the Flyers, who even though participating in the 2012 Winter Classic, did nothing with their helmet for the festivities.
There’s a different batch of teams that, on their regular jerseys, just slap their logo on the sides of the helmet like the teams above. But, on their third jerseys, they create something unique for those specific uniforms, like using a distinct typeface design (like Buffalo (the same as the crest on their third jersey), Edmonton*, Florida, Minnesota and Tampa Bay), or using an alternate logo on the side instead, like Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. St. Louis mixes things up a bit, slapping their regular logo on their away jersey helmets, then an alternate word mark on both their home jerseys and their third jerseys.
*Edmonton’s apparently dropping their third jerseys for this season (WHEN IT HAPPENS! GAH!), so will fall back into the previous category, currently labeled as “boring”.
But still, when it comes down to it, it’s not much more than slapping an alternate version of their logo on the sides of the helmet rather than the main logo on their alternate jerseys. Yippee. I dub this grouping the “semi-boring”.
There are a few teams left who actually *gasp* don’t have their logo shrunken on any of their uniforms’ helmets. Calgary uses the same word mark on all their helmets, but at least have different coloured helmets for each of their home, away and third jerseys. Other teams that followed suit were Carolina, Detroit, New Jersey and Winnipeg. I call this group “kind-of-boring”.
So, that leaves two teams who actually do things slightly differently, the LA Kings and the New York Rangers.
The Kings, on their regular home and away uniforms, use the typeface design from their ’80s purple-yellow logo and the black-and-white Gretzky era ’90s logo on their helmets, giving a nod to their (spotted) logo history. Their vintage purple-yellow uniforms has the same logo from the jersey on their helmet, and their third jerseys do the same. It’s sad that this is considered being different from the huge majority of the league.
The Rangers have a stylized type design on their home and away helmets, and they used a special decal for their third “heritage” jerseys and for the Winter Classic. It’s almost impossible to find a decent picture of one, but it’s basically the NY Rangers crest, in a golden ring, saying “New York Rangers Hockey Club” around the ring.
The fact that the Kings and the Rangers are the most innovative helmet designs in the entire league says something…that the helmet designs are more forgettable than Ann. Another indication that nobody cares about helmet design is that it takes forever to find images where you can see all of the helmets for all the teams, so this post was more of a beast to research than I thought it was. Probably the most boring and it took the longest. Sigh.
But, there’s other teams that are a little more creative, with the University of Michigan Wolverines, who incorporate their iconic football helmet design onto their hockey helmets. It’s unique amongst hockey teams (that I could find) and there’s other ways that you could play around with the idea. What about using giant logos on the head instead of tiny ones? What are something more subtle, like two-tone helmets? Racing stripe helmets? It doesn’t have to be anything too crazy, but for years, goalies have had all the fun with their helmets, so do something interesting with the rest of the team. I’m sure Mario and Jaromir would enjoy that.
The Anatomy Series
Anatomy of a Uniform I: The Helmet
Anatomy of a Uniform II: Goalie Masks
Anatomy of a Uniform III: Jersey
Anatomy of a Uniform IV: Pants
Anatomy of a Uniform V: Socks
Anatomy of a Uniform VI: Goalie Equipment