Was there something in the water in 1995?
Possibly. A few weeks ago we did a Friday Flashback on the NBA's Class of '95 -- the crazy uniforms that were ushered in for the 1995-96 NBA season.
But as reader Jack O'Connor quickly pointed out, 1995-96 wasn't just a banner season for unusual designs on the court. It was also a benchmark season on the ice, where several NHL teams unveiled uniforms that were, shall we say, a bit outside the norm. Some of those designs are now considered among the most infamous in NHL history -- and it could have been worse, because an even more peculiar uniform slated for that season was scrapped at the last minute. Let's take a team-by-team look at what happened (and, in one case, didn't happen) to the NHL's class of '95:
Always fun to see the Ducks' old Wild Wing uni, which was worn 20 years ago this season. pic.twitter.com/fJfGw4sTE1— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) October 29, 2015
The NHL initiated its third jersey program in the 1995-96 season, and the Ducks went all in, unveiling a sweater that featuring the team's cartoon mascot, Wild Wing, bursting through a hole in the ice. An instant classic of regrettable design, it looked like a bad joke from the front and not much better from the back. Unsurprisingly, it lasted only one season -- during which it was worn for only a few games -- before being quietly mothballed.
The Ducks weren't the only Southern California team that got "creative" with the NHL's third jersey program. Over in L.A., the Kings came up with a bizarre design that was quickly dubbed the "Burger King" uniform. Just as with the Ducks' design, it looked even worse from behind, was the object of instant ridicule, was retired after one season, and has since achieved near-legendary status as one of the worst uniforms in NHL history. (There's an excellent retrospective on the design here.)
And here's the beauty part: On Jan. 27, 1996, the Ducks and Kings played each other, with both teams wearing their wretched new alternate uniforms. It's not clear how, but the world somehow managed not to spontaneously combust at that moment. Even better, footage has been preserved on video, including this sequence showing Wayne Gretzky himself scoring a goal while wearing the Burger King outfit.
The 1995-96 season was also when the Islanders unveiled their now-infamous "Gorton's Fisherman" uniforms. Once again, you can't fully appreciate the visual impact of this design until you see the rear view, where the jersey's aquatic theme reached its full seasickness-inducing potential. The fisherman lasted two seasons before the Isles switched back to their classic logo crest, but they kept the wavy theme up through 1997-98.
Compared to the Ducks, Kings and Isles, the Bruins' "Pooh Bear" design, as it became known, wasn't that outlandish, but it was still a bit of an eyebrow-raiser. Aside from the bear on the chest, there were the unusual shoulder logos and the bizarre striping on the sleeves and waistline. Of all the unusual designs from the class of '95, this one had the most staying power, lasting a full decade before finally being retired, but it was never a fan favorite and has now been relegated to the "What were they thinking?" file.
Fun factoid: The Canucks' mid-'90s alternate uni, which lasted only 2 seasons, had 2 different sock colors. pic.twitter.com/RWS3jrIh5p— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) October 27, 2015
The Canucks also introduced a third jersey in 1995. It wasn't as radical a move as the others on the list because it felt like a natural extension of the team's standard jerseys. But when the black portion of the jersey blended in with the team's black pants and black socks, the visual effect was reminiscent of the Flyers' notorious Cooperalls (note to self: Cooperalls would be a good subject for a subsequent Friday Flashback). They changed the socks to red the following year, but that wasn't enough to save this sweater, which is now largely forgotten, in part because the Canucks wore much more outlandish uniforms earlier in their history. Compared to that "Flying V" design, the 1995 alternate was barely a blip on the radar.
Always fun to see the St. Louis Blues' proposed 1995-96 alternate, which coach Mike Keenan nixed at the last minute. pic.twitter.com/taGO6NPKyW— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) October 28, 2015
As crazy as the NHL's class of '95 was, it could have been even crazier. The Blues had a truly bizarre alternate design in the pipeline that would have blown away all of the season's other uniforms. But for better or worse (as with so many things, it's probably a bit of both), coach Mike Keenan put the kibosh on this jersey once he became aware of it, vowing that the team would never wear it under his watch and thereby saving the Blues from eternal indignity. That puts things in useful perspective: You know something must be pretty out there when it makes Mike Keenan sound like the level-headed grown-up in the room.
(Thanks to Phil Hecken for research assistance.)
Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.
Paul Lukas figures his head might have exploded if he'd been writing about uniforms in 1995. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, 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.