With hockey season now in full swing, Uni Watch’s fancy turns to the ice, where it’s extremely tempting to ridicule the unsightly “NHL 2000” jersey patches that all the teams are wearing this season. Fortunately, there’s a more subtle and interesting hockey uniform development to consider: the Rangers’ revival of the lace-up jersey collar. The team restored this long-forgotten detail to their blue road jerseys last season, and added it to their white home unis at the beginning of the current campaign.
The lace-up collar dates back to the days of the six original NHL franchises. It debuted with the Canadiens and Blackhawks in the 1957–58 season and was soon embraced by the Rangers (1958–59) and Maple Leafs (1959–60), while the Bruins took a bit longer to get on board (1969–70) and the Red Wings abstained altogether. All teams had abandoned the style by the late ’70s, after which it lay dormant until last year, when it was revived by the Rangers and also, briefly, by the Maple Leafs, who showcased a lace-collared commemorative jersey in a handful of games.
The odd thing, however, is that nobody seems certain why the lace-up collar came about in the first place. Uni Watch’s inquiries to the NHL and to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto were met with vague speculations a bout changes in uniform fabrics and the gradual increase in shoulder-pad size, but nobody was sure. “The laces seem to have been more of an aesthetic detail than a practical detail,” said Hall of Fame researcher Jane Rodney.
As for the Rangers (whose alternate “Liberty” jerseys retain their standard V-neck collar), the decision to restore the laces came from GM Neil Smith, who “wanted a more tradition al look,” according to a team spokes person. Feedback from players has reportedly been positive, although this uni element’s functional utility is still elusive at best. “It’s more of a fashion thing,” the spokesperson explained. “Some of our players tie the laces up tight; some just leave them untied.”