Under normal circumstances, hockey fans would be gearing up for the NHL preseason right about now. From a Uni Watch perspective, that means we'd be asking a very specific set of questions: What will this season's new uniform designs look like on the ice? Which goalies will have the coolest new mask designs? Will the Red Wings still do that thing where they use block lettering during the preseason?
But these are not normal circumstances. Thanks to the lockout, there will be no NHL hockey for the foreseeable future. What's a uni-obsessed fan to do?
Fortunately, the Internet now features a wide variety of hockey-centric websites and blogs with a uni-centric focus. They're not a substitute for a full-fledged hockey season, of course, but they're a good stopgap for uni-minded fans who need a quick fix or an outlet during the lockout. Here's a quick rundown of them, which Uni Watch presents as a public service to hockey fans who are going through withdrawal. Think of it as your NHL lockout survival guide.
1. Icethetics. Founded in 2007, Icethetics provides the best one-stop shopping for current uni-related hockey news. Want to know which teams are planning new uniforms for next season? Icethetics will tell you. Want to learn about minor league teams with new uniforms? Icethetics is all over that, too. Basically, if it's about hockey visuals, Icethetics has it covered. The site has a clean layout, sharp writing and a good Twitter feed. A godsend during the season, and a lifeline during the lockout. First-rate.
2. The NHL Uniform Database. This essential site, informally known as NHLuniforms.com, is the best source -- the definitive source -- for learning who wore what, and when. It's basically a year-by-year and team-by-team visual database of every NHL uniform design, dating back to the founding of the league in 1917. Clicking your way through the old designs is addictive, and it's also instructive. Did you know, for example, that the Bruins once wore big uni numbers on the front of their jersey? Or that the Capitals briefly experimented with white pants? And yeah, you probably know that the Flyers pioneered the use of Cooperalls, but did you remember that the Whalers wore them, too? An indispensable resource. (And don't forget its companion site, WHAuniforms.com.)
3. NHL Patches. Patches are notoriously hard to document, but NHL Patches does a good job of preserving hockey patches for posterity, whether they were worn for a full season (like the Lightning's 10th-anniversary patch) or just a single game (like the Bruins' patch for the last game at the Boston Garden). The site's design and navigation are a little clunky, but the primo content makes up for it. Now if someone would just come up with similar sites for the NFL, NBA and MLB.
4. Frozen Faceoff. This superb site, which launched in June of 2011, focuses on an underappreciated facet of hockey visuals: center-ice design. Webmaster David Crabtree, who lives in Missouri and roots for the Blues, originally wanted to create some computer wallpaper based on the Blues' center-ice logo. After showing off his work on Facebook, he got requests from other fans to create wallpapers based on their favorite teams' center-ice designs, and he soon decided to document all 30 teams. He's now started to work backward, season by season, creating the beginnings of a historical database of center-ice artwork. As a bonus, his center-ice renderings also show the surprisingly wide variety of red line designs. A great example of how a niche obsession can lead to an excellent site.
5. Uniform number databases. Want to know the name of every NHL player who wore a particular uni number? Your best bet is probably the Society for International Hockey Research's jersey number page, which lets you search by number on either a league-wide basis or by individual team. A similar resource is available on the A to Z Encyclopaedia of Ice Hockey's site, although it hasn't been updated in a few years. On the plus side, however, the A to Z search results show you the years in which a given player wore a given number, plus there are pages for retired numbers and unusual uni numbers.
6. Game-worn jersey sites. Want to geek out over photos of game-worn hockey jerseys? There are several sites available to you. Game Worn Jerseys features one fan's massive collection of NHL and non-NHL jerseys. GameWorns.com is similar, although it's not quite as wide-ranging, while AHL and UHL Hockey Jerseys has more of a focus on minor league designs. The Spirit of the Game features particularly good photography -- pick a team and then click on a thumbnail photo to see a super-sized, high-res image. If you want to dig a little deeper, Vintage Minnesota Hockey has photos of Minnesota high school jerseys (many of which are really nice) and World Hockey Jerseys has photos of jerseys from assorted countries' national teams.
7. Goalie mask sites. If you want to keep up with the latest goalie mask designs, the best source is InGoal magazine, which tracks what every netminder is wearing. For historical masks, you could do a lot worse than the Goalies Archive, plus there's a good assortment of old mask photos at the bottom of the Game Worn Jerseys site.
That should be enough to keep you busy, at least for a while. Now let's hope they settle the lockout so we can stop poking around the Internet and start watching some games.
(Special thanks to Trevor "Teebz" Alexander for research assistance. Although his site, Hockey Blog in Canada, isn't specifically uni-related, it's nonetheless an excellent resource for NHL news and commentary.)
Paul Lukas will no doubt keep using these sites even after the lockout is settled. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch website, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.