Ah, outdoor hockey. Many of us wax nostalgic as we conjure memories of clearing off a frozen pond and plopping down in the snow to strap on our old skates before rising once again to step gingerly out onto the frozen surface. Those first few strides were Heaven. The crisp winter air nipped briskly at our exposed faces as we relished in the thrill of being one with nature while playing the game we loved.
The ice itself was a little rough, and we didn’t have a regulation-sized rink or dasher boards to work with, but we didn’t care. This was how the game was meant to be played. This was hockey in its purest form.
Of course, you had that one jersey you wore every time you skated outdoors. It was probably an old throwback from an Original Six or a sweater you had as a kid that somehow always fit.
The NHL has wisely played upon our nostalgia. It held its first outdoor regular-season game with the inaugural Heritage Classic in 2003 between the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Since that game, the NHL has introduced the annual Winter Classic, an outdoor regular season game played in various locations on New Year’s Day, as well as the NHL Stadium Series, which features games played outdoors in football and baseball stadiums across the U.S.
One major piece of these outdoor spectacles is the specialized uniforms teams typically wear for the occasion – kind of like the ones we wore as kids. Typically, they’re based on teams’ old-school uniform designs from the NHL’s early days as a tribute to the throwback atmosphere, and they’re usually pretty badass.
Except for when they’re not.
So, let’s take a look at the eight best and seven worst jerseys worn during outdoor NHL games that have reminded us all exactly why we love this game so much.
15 Best: Detroit Red Wings 2014 Winter Classic
You won’t find this jersey design in any previous Red Wings uniform schemes, but Detroit’s second Winter Classic sweater, the one they wore when they hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs in the New Year’s Day game in 2014, brings together all the right elements to pull off a vintage-looking outdoor NHL jersey you never knew was new.
The double stripes below the shoulder, off-white detailing, stylized “Detroit” and classic winged wheel in the center all draw on elements of past designs, so there is definitely a historical influence that satisfies that thirst for the throwback theme.
It’s got a retro look but incorporates a modern feel that wears well over top the modern-day equipment designed for speed and freedom of movement. Don’t hold your breath on these jerseys becoming the Wings’ third or alternate jersey, though. They’re perfectly suited for the purpose they served, and that’s how it should stay.
14 Worst: Philadelphia Flyers 2012 Winter Classic
Most closely resembling their original sweaters from the late 1960s, the Flyers’ jerseys for their second appearance in the Winter Classic in 2012 were a big, orange dud.
With one of the least-changing logo and uniform designs in the entire league, there wasn’t much for the Flyers to throw back to, so they went with a run-of-the-mill orange design with black shoulder yokes and the good old winged “P” logo.
The only problem was the candy-corn-like color, the unnecessarily thick black-and-white piping and the overall unremarkable appearance. Then team president Peter Luuko said the jerseys were a representation of the Flyers’ past, present and future, which is basically just another way of saying that it’s the same look as it’s always been, and nothing’s changing anytime soon. Yawn.
13 Best: Washington Capitals 2011 Winter Classic
The Washington Capitals captured the essence of the event in their first outdoor game when they visited the Pittsburgh Penguins at Heinz Field for the 2011 Winter Classic.
Resurrecting their beloved inaugural uniform design – starred breezers and all – the Capitals conjured all sorts of nostalgia from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, complete with the line of stars above the logo and thick red, white and blue stripes at the bottom.
They’ve used a loose version of the original scheme since the 2007-08 season, but the 2011 Classic edition was true to Washington’s heritage and the perfect setting to break out the patriotic U.S. getup. Currently, they’re using the classic design for their occasional third-jersey look, but I doubt fans would protest if they incorporated it full time.
12 Worst: New Jersey Devils 2014 Stadium Series
Like the Flyers, the New Jersey Devils uniform hasn’t changed a whole lot in their 30+ year history, so it makes it sort of difficult to come up with something retro for an outdoor occasion. That was the case for the New Jersey Devils in their 2014 Stadium Series game against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium.
Unfortunately Devils, they passed up a chance to create a cool new-but-vintage jersey and copped out by dusting off their pre-1992 road jerseys that are basically the exact same ones they use today, except for the green on the shoulders instead of black.
Apparently then GM Lou Lamoriello wasn’t listening to any ideas about something new and modern, even for a Stadium Series game.
The jerseys they used just look gaudy and dated, and I’m not even sure the green on the shoulders matches the green of their breezers. Speaking of the breezers, I wonder if the Devils borrowed them from the Minnesota Wild.
11 Best: Chicago Blackhawks 2009 Winter Classic
The Blackhawks threw it all the way back to the 1930s for their appearance in the Winter Classic against the Red Wings at Wrigley Field in 2009. This retro look, modified only slightly from the original, strikes all the right tones and still wears well 70 years on.
The red horizontal stripes flanking the vintage beige torso presents the classic “Black Hawks” logo perfectly, while the deep black anchors the whole uniform just like it did when they were still one of the “Original Six.”
Some detractors knock it for the smallish logo, but they really hit the mark with this streamlined, throwback look that ended up serving as their third jersey for the next two seasons.
10 Worst: San Jose Sharks 2015 Stadium Series
The NHL has been mandating a Stadium Series jersey template lately, and the San Jose Sharks have suffered for it. In their 2015 game against the Los Angeles Kings (who make their own appearance on the wrong side of this list) in Levi’s Stadium, the Sharks apparently couldn’t do better than an almost Neapolitan-looking teal stacked on white stacked on black look.
It’s a little clunky, and the colors seem to clash as they collide with each other without any piping or detail to offset the transition. I’m also not sure what’s going on with the collar construction or why it’s orange, but it almost looks like a necklace or choker of some kind.
Side bar: Am I the only one getting a late ‘90s to early 2000s Dallas Stars vibe?
Either way, this sweater egregiously missed the mark on all accounts.
9 Best: Montreal Canadiens 2016 Winter Classic
It’s not often the Montreal Canadiens incorporate a new jersey design, but when they do it’s special. In their first outdoor game outside of Canada, the Habs brought thoughtful style and a whole lot of class with them to Foxborough when they took on their rival Boston Bruins in the 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium.
This white number recalls several elements from Montreal’s storied hockey history. The blue in the chest is the same color as their very first jersey in 1909, and they maintain the classic “H” inside the elongated “C” but with the colors inverted from the normal design.
Perhaps the best element of the whole thing is the globe on the sleeve, a tribute to their historical 1924-25 jersey, which they used to celebrate their “World Championship” following their second Stanley Cup title the season prior.
The whole thing is a great balance of new and old, vintage and modern, and it nails the essence of the game perfectly.
8 Worst: New York Islanders 2014 Stadium Series
The New York Islanders deviated from the “classic” theme most teams go with for their outdoor games and unveiled this number for their 2014 Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium against the Rangers.
They took the “NY” element out of their classic circular logo, blew it up and put it on the front of their sweaters. If they’d have left it at that, it might have avoided its designation on the wrong side of this list, but then they had to go and outline the thing in chrome and put the same insignia on the left leg of the breezers for one tacky excuse of a uniform.
The white shoulder yokes above the royal blue body don’t actually look too bad, and the orange and white piping on the sleeves are fine, but they should have taken the original logo that seems like a last-minute addition on the left shoulder and used it on the front instead of the too-modern-looking one here.
7 Best: Winnipeg Jets 2016 Heritage Classic
The Winnipeg Jets nailed it in last season’s fourth Heritage Classic against the Edmonton Oilers. Both teams sported jerseys inspired by their original uniforms when they were founded as World Hockey Association teams the early 1970s, but the Jets poured on the nostalgia with the circular throwback logo and vintage mesh striping.
The white jerseys pay homage to their 1976-77 Avco Cup-winning season, and the numbers and nameplates are era-accurate, while the hockey-stick “J” and airplane silhouette brought back all the warm feels.
As long as you ignore the fact that the original Jets franchise now resides in Phoenix as the Arizona Coyotes and the current one has its roots in Atlanta, there’s no real issue. Plus, I seriously doubt a Thrashers jersey would fly, considering the game is meant to celebrate Canadian heritage and all.
6 Worst: Boston Bruins 2016 Winter Classic
If you’re going to try to replicate a retro jersey, you should at least get close. The Bruins’ 2016 Winter Classic jersey missed that mark.
What loosely resembles Boston’s jersey from the 1924-25 season looks more like a fireman’s-jacket-NHL-jersey crossover. Although that would be awesome if they were celebrating a First Responders Night at the Garden.
Instead, the Bruins used thick, yellow stripes on the sleeves and lower portion as opposed to the thinner piping on the original, made the thing black instead of brown, like it’s supposed to be, and generally made an awkward-looking sweater.
I’ll give them this, though, for what it’s worth: they replicated the old-school logo perfectly, all the way down to the fuzzy-looking felt and chenille bear.
5 Best: Washington Capitals 2015 Winter Classic
After successfully pulling off a throwback to their original jersey design in the 2011 Winter Classic, the Washington Capitals went with a classy, all-new scheme that encapsulated both a vintage feel and an innovative design that fit nicely into the 2015 Classic in downtown D.C.
The contrast of the deep red on the blue breezers is visually pleasing while symbolizing the Capitals’ 40+ years making their home in Washington. The trio of stars over the chest is a nice nod to the original sweaters, and the shoulder stripes are a unique feature that works well, stopping just short of gaudy.
The big “W” might be slightly too dark against the deep red background, but the subtle tribute to the Washington Monument is a perfect way to celebrate their home in the U.S. capital without overdoing the obvious D.C. theme.
4 Worst: Los Angeles Kings 2015 Stadium Series
You know it was an aesthetically brutal game when both jerseys from the same outdoor contest made this naughty list. Again with the awful jersey template, the L.A. Kings’ sweaters for the 2015 Stadium Series game against the Sharks left everyone scratching their head. Bad, ugly, off-the-mark – whichever way you want to describe these rags, it wasn’t pretty.
They might have pulled if off if they had stuck with the all-grey look they used in the Stadium Series game a year earlier, but these ones are a little hard on the eyes.
The white ribcage leading down to the white breezers and then the white socks made the players look like a pair of grey shoulders skating around camouflaged against the white ice surface. The thick black stripe separating the top half from the bottom half with the “LA” crest in the center was just awkward. Then there’s the oversized numbers that reached halfway down the sleeves.
Overall jersey fail.
3 Best: Pittsburgh Penguins 2008 Winter Classic
The Penguins’ 2008 New Year’s Day Winter Classic game against the Buffalo Sabres was played in Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, a football venue, but their baby blue 1970s throwback jerseys were a home run for the franchise’s first official outdoor game.
The classic design was an instant hit. It captured the heart of the game, the first-ever Winter Classic, with its tribute to hockey’s 1970s heyday, and contrasted beautifully against the white of the ice and the heavy snow that fell during throughout the course of the contest.
The incorporation of the navy blue circle around the classic skating penguin over top the inverted yellow triangle works just as well today as it first did in 1968 – so much so that the Penguins made it their alternate jersey for each of the next three seasons.
2 Worst: Anaheim Ducks 2014 Stadium Series
Did the Anaheim Ducks’ real jerseys for their 2014 Stadium Series game against the Kings in Dodger Stadium get lost in the mail or something? I mean, these all-orange monstrosities look more like bad practice jerseys than the stylish outdoor numbers we’ve come to expect with these unique open-air games.
Of course, leave it to the non-traditional hockey market of Southern California to muck this up. These are so bad I don’t know where to begin. Other than the orange washout that looks more like one of the NFL’s awful Color Rush uniforms, the Ducks’ 2014 outdoor jersey lacks any piping, stripes, color or contrast to balance out the Halloween-ish hue of the burnt orange. Plus, the beige logo on an orange background just doesn’t work.
They also missed the boat on the whole “throwback” theme most people look for in these things. How awesome would a Mighty Ducks of Anaheim design with the crossed sticks and mask have been for the Ducks’ first-ever outdoor game? Of course, you know what they say about hindsight.
1 Best: Toronto Maple Leafs 2014 Winter Classic
The Maple Leafs got everything right with these tribute jerseys from 1927 for their Winter Classic game against the Red Wings in Ann Arbor in 2014. They mastered the vintage look and the overall theme of the game, striking a perfect balance between throwback and modern style.
The year 1927 was the first year Toronto wore blue since becoming the Maple Leafs and nearly everything, down to the striped sleeves and original maple leaf design, was flawless. The laces on the collar added a suitable, modern touch without compromising the overall significance of the sweater, and the historical significance was preserved beautifully.
The Leaf’s 2014 outdoor jersey fit the Maple Leaf brand to a T for the special occasion. For a uniform design that has changed so little in 100 years, Toronto’s earned its place atop this list for perfect presentation without going over the top. NHL fans everywhere appreciate that.