Search This Blog


favourite Posts


The NHL's Wild Third Jerseys of the 1990s

When I was younger, I loved a number of things.  Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dick Tracy, but most especially, ice hockey.  My father had always been a hockey fan, and when I was really young in the late 80s and early 90s, he enjoyed watching the New York Rangers on the Madison Square Garden Network through our brand-new cable TV system.  Almost through osmosis, my Brother and I became hockey fans.  Dad still catches most games, while I'm lucky if I see more than five full games each season.

Even though we only watched the New York Rangers in our household, I had several other favorite teams over the years.  When we were old enough to show genuine interest, my parents took us to a few New Jersey Devils games.  "The Meadowlands" and the Brendan Byrne Arena (later Continental Airlines Arena and now Izod Center) were much closer to our house than Madison Square Garden.  Since the Devils were terrible back then, the tickets were probably much cheaper, too.  I still remember my Dad explaining to us kids before the game started that we wouldn't hear any play-by-play in the arena, and I was totally confused as to why.  In any event, I loved the games, and actually seeing the team in person made me a fan.  I didn't do it to be contrarian to my Dad, but we cheered for the home team when we were there, and that's just who I decided I now liked.  Besides, my first game was "kids jersey giveaway night" (probably not by accident on my parent's part), and I got myself a lovely red, green, and white Devils jersey that I wore quite a bit at home.  

A little while later, during their two championship runs in 1991 and 92, I decided that "Super Mario," Mario Lemieux, was the best to ever lace up skates, and so I became a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  I had always wanted to be a goalie, so I thought the Penguin's Tom Barasso was great, too.  Plus, they had an orange-like yellow as one of their team colors, and I have always liked anything orange.  

Uniforms and colors will be a theme here if you haven't guessed by this article's title.

Eventually, by middle school, I returned "home" and decided I was indeed a Ranger fan.  Of course, up until recently, I had been living on Long Island for 20 years and may or may not consider The Islanders my new "home" team.  But, I'll always love the Rangers. 

What can I say?  I'm fickle.     

Perhaps it was skewed by my young age or a child's point of view, but hockey in the 90s was so much more exciting than today.  The players were larger than life.  You still had the goons, fights, bench-clearing brawls, and coaches throwing things on the ice in a tantrum.  The league wasn't as "corporate," and it still felt like this sport was the rebellious underdog, far behind football, baseball, and basketball.  

Hockey in 2024 doesn't hold my interest like it used to, but perhaps I'm just at a different place in life.   

Back in the 90s, we lived and breathed hockey.  At home, we had Blades of Steel on Nintendo and the NHL series on SEGA (NHL94 was the best!)  We'd play street hockey after school, and occasionally, my Dad and Uncle would put on their rollerblades and play with us as we shot tennis balls into our homemade net made of PVC piping. 

We got into trading cards for a while, too, which was starting to get big in the '90s.  My Dad bought us several boxes of Topps and ProSet cards from Dave's Upper Deck comic shop, and I can remember hours spent at the dining room table ripping open each pack.  We'd catalog and organize our cards into long, thin cardboard storage boxes.  I can still smell the ink on that thick card stock as I shuffled through those bright, colorful trading cards in my hands.

Each year, I looked forward to the All-Star game, but more importantly, the Skills Competition.  Today, it's an overblown waste of time, and I feel like when they switched from the East vs West setup to North America vs the World in 1999, the whole thing fell apart.  Yes, they went back to East vs West shortly after that until the lockout of 2005, but the damage was done as the league had begun tinkering with the rules every year.

Recently, they've tried different things to get people's attention, and I have to give them credit for trying.  But, a fantasy draft and four teams of three that only play a period or whatever?  This season had celebrity Captains?  I use "celebrity" loosely.  What darts will they throw at the wall for next season?  Actually, I recently read that for the 2024/25 season, they will be returning to the country-against-country international game.  That'll draw ratings, I'm sure... 

Today, it's not even worth the space on my DVR, let alone an event I mark on the calendar as I once did.  Each year, my family always looked forward to seeing how hard Al Iafrate could shoot the puck or how fast Mike Gartner could skate.  Now?  Does anyone care?  Does anyone even know?  The only mention I read this season about it was that even several of the players had bad attitudes and didn't want to participate in the skills competition.

In kindergarten (about 1989 or so), my Dad signed my brother and I up for our first hockey team.  It wasn't so much of a team as it was a skills and drills camp on freezing cold nights at Bear Mountain's outdoor ice rink.  The following winter, we returned to the weekly drills camp, except that year, the group was divided into teams.  I was on the team with the black jerseys, the Night Hawks, and I think my brother was on a yellow team, but I forget the team name.  The Bears?  Doesn't matter.  After 45 minutes of drills, we would play an actual game against the other team.  One day, the goaltender didn't show up, and I leapt at the chance to play in net.  I had been practicing in the driveway for this moment my whole life! 

Eventually, a year or so later, my parents relented and bought me equipment to play the position I always wanted.  I began playing for my school district's semi-organized youth teams in 2nd grade, and in middle school, I started playing on the official school teams.  As a goalie, I had multiple opportunities to play on several teams, and in high school, there was a time when I played on five different teams at once.  I have countless stories about my time playing hockey in middle and high school, and I loved every minute of it.  Cue Springsteen's "Glory Days..."

The college I went to didn't have a hockey team until my junior year, and I became the starting goalie of our team during its first season.  We were a motley crew that went up against several larger NCAA Division 2 or 3 teams in the New York area.  

We went on a handful of road trips, leading to memorable events such as being late to one game in upstate New York while the chartered coach bus driver made an unannounced detour in Poughkeepsie to purchase "fruit salad" from a "friend" on a street corner.  Or, the time 10 guys slept in one hotel room at the Slumberland Inn, located in Middle-of-Nowhere, Maryland, because our coach had only bought two rooms for the 20-man team.  He and the other coach had their own rooms, of course.  And who could forget spending 5 hours at a rest area in New Jersey because the bus broke down on the way home?

As the season went on, we raised a ton of money for special uniforms, additional bus trips, and other things, including a supposed tournament at Disney World.  By the end of the season, most of those things never materialized, and the coach *allegedly* took the money and ran.  Since it was the school's first season with a hockey team, they had turned to someone with hockey experience who didn't actually work at the school.  So, with no ties to the program or school, he left with our money at the end of the year.  Allegedly.  

I'll also never completely forgive him because, at one point, I had a shutout (zero allowed goals) against an excellent D-3 team.  Shutouts are pretty rare and are really special for goalies.  With 5 minutes left to play, he pulled me out of the game in exchange for the third-string goaltender.  I blew my top, and he couldn't understand why I was so mad, suggesting what better opportunity for the third string to play than when we were far ahead.  My replacement let in 4 goals in 5 minutes, and we wound up losing the game.  Coach called me the next day and half ass apologized, but in my mind, the damage was done. 

I never really planned on returning for my senior year because I was planning on graduating early and would only be in class until December.  Still, the school had found new coaches from a well-known local high school program and promised better oversight.  Despite my hesitation, the new coaches called me over the summer, introduced themselves, and convinced me to attend the pre-season practices.  They said that as one of the team's original "alternate captains," they needed and wanted continuity on the team and in the net.  

I agreed, but things immediately got off on the wrong foot when I found out the new coaches had moved our home rink from The Rinx in Hauppauge, which was a relatively short drive for me, to someplace in Nassau County closer to themselves that was at least a 45-minute drive in traffic.  I never said anything, but it annoyed me.  Not that they owed me a shorter drive, but I already didn't want to be there.  

When I arrived at the first practice, there were only three or four other guys from last season, and everyone else had been "recruited" by the new coaches, including three new goalies.  Some of these kids had only signed up for ONE course at the college just so they could continue playing with their old coach (and my new one).  During the practice, the coaches would rotate the goalies in or out of the net, and my turn was frequently "missed" in favor of the other three. 

Having intended to never play again, I had taken the spring and summer off, and with only a few days' notice before practices started, I was admittedly a little out of shape and rink rusty.  The other goalies were outstanding and had played with those coaches for many, many years.  I'd been around the block enough to quickly see the writing on the wall.  

As I tossed my equipment into the trunk of my car after practice, I decided I wouldn't go back to the next session.  I can remember looking up at the rink from my car and being completely ok with the decision to hang up my skates.  After 12 years, that was the last time I ever wore my goalie equipment on the ice.  I never did hear anything else from anyone from the school's hockey program after that first practice... and that was that.  

Now, 20 years later, that rag-tag team I played for is one of the leading collegiate hockey programs on Long Island and the entire Northeast.  

It may have been a one-and-done collegiate hockey career, but it was a lot of fun, and I have hours worth of stories.  My helmet still hangs in my garage, covered in a painted Ram, the college mascot.  

Maybe it was me?  Perhaps I had a bad attitude, but I don't think I did.  I was one of the team captains that first year and was frequently called the team "Dad" because I made sure everyone stayed out of trouble, had rides to games and practices, and had drinks and snacks for after the game.  Some of the money we raised was actually used for things like Gatorade and Power Bars, and I always made sure we were stocked.  Nobody else would have, so I stepped up.  I organized events and had a group of my friends from the dorms that would follow us around as the Booster Club, like in the movie "Slap Shot."  

I will say, though, that my mind was in other places when I returned for my senior year.  I had already begun teaching people how to fly, and I was laser-focused on graduating in December, getting a job at an airline, and moving on with my life.  I was ok with hanging up the skates when I did, and while I occasionally miss playing on a team of friends, I'm quite happy with my life's hockey "career."

But back to the NHL...

Years earlier, at home, I spent several nights a week watching the Rangers next to my Dad with a bowl of popcorn.  I looked forward to watching announcers Sam Rosen and John Davidson call the action for the New York Rangers with the likes of hockey legends Mark Messier, Mike Richter, Alexi Kovalev, Jeff Beukeboom, and later, my favorite player of all time, Glenn Healy.  

Then, in 1995, the NHL tried something new.  I don't mean the glowing "FOX-TRAX" puck, although that was also developed in 1995.  In 1995, the NHL debuted a slew of new "third jerseys," with the initial cadre being some of the most outlandish and ugly yet most memorable sweaters ever.  It was, of course, a way to excite fans and (more importantly) make them part with their money to buy merch with the new third logos on them.  However, I don't think at the time, in 1995, they considered just how historic and long-lasting these jerseys would be.  

The neighbor kid who got everything immediately had his Mom buy several of these new jerseys, and I thought some of them were really nice when viewed in person.  I thought it was so cool that these teams were given the opportunity to use bright, bold colors and change things up a little.  However, now, with the help of the internet's hive mind, we've all been conditioned to hate any change immediately.  But, as a young child untainted by the internet's existence, I loved it!  

The jerseys were more than just alternate uniforms, though.  These new designs became a way to connect with fans in a creative new direction.  The NHL was so steeped in tradition back then that when they launched these new uniforms and logos, it was a major event that upset many oldtimers.  For many, it was hard to believe that a sport that clung so tightly to its roots would stray from the simple light and dark home and away colors.  

In the mid-90s, the league launched a new initiative to expand its audience to non-traditional hockey fans.  A new television agreement with FOX, the aforementioned FOX-TRAX puck, a new major sponsorship with the new Bud Ice beer (and the "Dooby Dooby Doo" Penguin), and these new alternate uniforms were signs that the NHL was looking to take a leap into the mainstream.

Decades later, some of these designs have stuck around as fans quickly embraced the new image and considered it part of the standard attire.  Some have become synonymous with the team, creating a new identity for fans to adopt, like the Rangers.  The "Lady Liberty" design is still one of the team's highest-selling replica jersey designs, and it still uses that logo as part of today's ensemble.  

The original group of third jerseys in 1995 and 1996 may have been quite the departure from tradition, but the concept of alternate jerseys has become a staple in the modern NHL.  Each team has evolved with different themes, retro designs, and even unique uniforms for the outdoor "Winter Classic."  The influence of these original jerseys can still be seen today, in 2024.

In 1995, the five teams that were chosen for the initial program were the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, the Boston Bruins, the Los Angeles Kings, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Vancouver Canucks.

In 1996, several more teams joined in the fun with new third designs in addition to Boston, Vancouver, and Pittsburgh, who continued to wear their 1995 alternates.  The new teams would be the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Chicago Blackhawks.  The St. Louis Blues were also chosen in 1996 but never actually wore the design they created.

Let's take a look at these ten groundbreaking designs. 

Mighty Ducks of Anaheim:  "The Wild Wing"
Dubbed "The Wild Wing" after the team mascot, the cartoon version of Wild Wing is seen in cartoonish grandeur front and center.  The design also slightly changes the team colors, using a jade green and eggplant purple.  I've often thought this one would fit right at home at Pro Beach Hockey or some other roller hockey league.  It's still highly collectible, and a clean vintage one goes for a pretty penny today on eBay.  Its unique design and 90s aesthetics have made it hold a special spot in the hearts of Ducks fans (and myself) everywhere.  The design was brought back by the team briefly in 2018 as part of the team's 25th anniversary.  That would make 2023 the Duck's 30th Anniversary.  Boy, if that doesn't make you feel old, I don't know what will.

Boston Bruins:  "The Pooh Bear"

This honey-yellow design was so popular that it stuck around Bean Town for over 10 years.  It was finally retired in 2007 after the Bruins introduced a new alternate design.  The larger bear head was a modern take on one of the original designs from decades prior.  The striping pattern resembling claw marks created a unique look I liked.  It earned its name, "Pooh Bear," for its honey-colored design and, obviously, the giant bear head on the chest.  As of this writing, this design hasn't been brought back by Boston, which has introduced two alternate jerseys since its retirement.  Neither really caught on with fans as much as Pooh did, though.  

Los Angeles Kings:  "The Burger King"
When "The Great One" arrived in Los Angeles in 1988, the Kings handed Wayne Gretzky a new jersey design featuring white, black, and silver.  It was a significant change from the purple and yellow the team had previously used, but with Gretzky joining the team, the Kings needed something fresh.  Nearly a decade later, when 1995 rolled around, the Kings introduced their first "third jersey," the team was still wearing black and silver.  The new design featured "rings" made of a unique gradient and a very different placement of the team's new "third" logo on the upper left chest.  This new logo, the head of a King, featured a golden yellow crown and purple facial hair to honor the team's original colors.  The King design immediately drew comparisons to the Burger King commercials that featured a creepy window-peeping King.  This design wasn't popular among fans and only lasted one season.  It was brought back in 2016 but only as the team's pre-game warm-up uniforms.  Their minor league affiliates, The Ontario Reign and the defunct Manchester Monarchs, wore this style on multiple occasions.  

Pittsburgh Penguins:  "The RoboPen"
This Penguin's design became so popular that the Penguins made it their official away sweater, replacing the diagonal "Pittsburgh" uniform in 1997.  The Robo would eventually disappear when the original black and orange "skating penguin" returned in 2002.  The 45-degree angled stripes on the right arm contrast with the straight stripes on the chest and left arm.  I was still a Penguins fan in 1995, and I didn't care for these jerseys.  I'll always associate this jersey with Ray, a guy from my high school hockey team.  A few years after this design debuted (probably 2000), we were coming home from the rink late one night, and my Dad, likely half asleep, stopped at a red light and then proceeded to drive through it.  There just happened to be a cop behind us, and Dad was pulled over.  The following day in school, Ray said he had passed us and wanted to know if we were "arrested."  He was a big Penguins fan and wore his RoboPen jersey at least once a week to school.  He was also wearing it when he asked (in 100% seriousness) if my family had spent the night in jail... for running a red light.  In any event, looking back now with hindsight, it wasn't such a bad design.  

Vancouver Canucks:  "The Salmon Sun"
This Canucks third jersey is probably the least liked of the original five.  It lasted in Vancouver for only two seasons until the team changed colors altogether in 1997 when Mark Messier left New York and joined the team.  The salmon-red top and black bottom are separated by black and yellow striping in what is "unofficially-officially" called "The Salmon Sun."  It's often referred to by fans and Canuck rivals as the "puke jersey" and other colorful names, though.  After the first season, the team replaced their all-black socks with a red/yellow/black stripe design to try to tone down the very distinct color differences between the bright tops and dark bottoms.  It must have had a decent following because CCM, Reebok, and the NHL sold replicas of this jersey until Adidas took over production of the league's uniforms in 2016. 

Now, let's look at the uniforms from the 1996-1997 season!

St. Louis Blues:  "The Trumpets"

At the start of the 1996 season, the Blues were supposed to create a third jersey that took their trumpet shoulder patch and incorporated it on their chest as the primary logo.  The design you see above never saw the light of day, and if you ever see one out in the wild, it's a fugazi... but there are some pretty well-made fakes out there, so if you like it, there's no judgment here.  It's a shame these jerseys never saw the light of day or a second of ice time.  Urban legend says that the Blues' controversial GM and head coach at the time, Mike Keenan, took one look at the uniforms before warm-ups began and demanded his players take them off.  Did he really?  We'll never know for sure, but they never wore them as planned, so your guess is as good as mine.

New York Islanders - "The Classic Fishstick"

Over 10 years removed from their dynasty glory days, and following fresh Cup wins in 1994 (Rangers) and 1995 (Devils) by their hometown rivals, the Islanders needed a change.  They fired coach Lorne Henning and hired Mike Milbury as his replacement.  Then, they introduced a new uniform design.  Dubbed "The Gorton Fisherman" or the "Fishsticks," fans absolutely HATED the new design.  In 1996, when the team was selected to debut a third jersey, they were still contractually obligated by league rules to continue wearing the new style with "wave-like" stripes and aqua-blue colors.  However, the league acquiesced to allow them to sport their classic circle crest logo on their new colors as their alternate jersey, dubbed the "Classic Fishstick."  The Islanders have had several alternate uniforms over the years, most of them pretty darn ugly.  They've ranged from bright orange to black, to the slightly unoffensive to the eyes regular colors with giant NY on the chest.  The team recently brought back an updated Fisherman, and fans went crazy for it, proving that nostalgia does wear rose-colored glasses.  Now that the team isn't even on Long Island, the fisherman and lighthouse just don't make sense to me anymore.  Yes, Belmont is *technically* on Long Island, but everyone knows it's basically Queens.  May as well have stayed in Brooklyn.  Should have moved to Deer Park or Ronkonkoma.  Sorry, not sorry.  It ain't the island.

New York Rangers - "Lady Liberty"

The Rangers are one of the original six teams in the NHL and stuck with a specific type of design with only minor changes throughout their existence.  In 1996, though, the team was selected to create one of the league's first third jerseys and had to come out with a completely new design.  Admittedly, I hated this jersey at first, but it was rabidly popular, and with hindsight being 20/20, they hit it out of the park.  It's a timeless, classy design that pays homage to their home in New York City and plays with the team's colors a bit.  The navy blue and red make it easy on the eye as your focus is continually drawn to the Statue of Liberty on the chest.  Most fans were already familiar with the design of the new logo since it came right off Mike Richter's helmet.  The fans loved this design so much that the jersey (and Lady Liberty) lasted until 2007.  The design is still sold today and can still be seen being worn by many of "The Garden Faithful" today. 

Chicago Blackhawks "The Black Hawk"

The Blackhawks didn't change their look much after 1955, and adding an alternate sweater was not much different.  In this, the team created a black version of their regular jerseys and a slightly larger logo on the chest.  They used a variation of this black design until 2007.  That's about it.  Meh.

Tampa Bay Lightning - "The Storm Surge"

In 1991, my parents went on a vacation to Sanibel Island in Florida without us kids.  They returned home with T-shirts for both of us.  I wish I still had it, but it was a plain white shirt with a cartoon lightning bug that said Tampa Bay Lightning underneath.  My Dad mentioned he saw it at a gas station near the airport when they returned the rental car and thought of us.  In any event, the shirt was advertising the debut of the new NHL team in Florida, and even though it was most likely a knock-off, I loved the shirt and the cartoon bug on it.  By 1996, the team was still building its legacy and hadn't found the championship team it would soon find after the turn of the century.  They established their legacy with us nostalgia geeks with a fantastic third uniform design called "The Storm Surge."   The team would introduce a mostly blue sweater featuring rain, lightning bolts, and crashing waves.  It was cartoony but AWESOME!  My neighbor had his Mom run right out and buy one at Modell's, and I thought it looked sharp up close.  As much as I liked it, most hockey fans hated it.  However, much like the Isle's Fishsticks, nostalgia makes many Bolts fans fondly remember this jersey.  

The original third jerseys were undoubtedly a pivotal moment in NHL history.  It was part of a broader cultural trend in the 1990s, as all corporate branding departments were experimenting with bold, bright colors to create visually striking designs.  It wasn't just about changing colors or selling more replica uniforms, but a shift in how teams connect with their fan base while still attempting to respect tradition.  These original designs from 1995 and 96 still have a lasting impact on the fans who cheer for the teams that created them.  Opinions may have varied from fan to fan, but these new designs undeniably added a certain uniqueness and helped create an unforgettable era in the NHL.

Which designs did you like?  Which one was your favorite?  Let me know down below! 

By the way, I really wanted to mention the Dallas Stars "Moo-terus" uniforms, but they were about 2003 or 2004, so... maybe next time!