Designing the ’90s NHL, Part 1: Unfamiliar Flyers


Within a matter of months, the Philadelphia Flyers will reveal to the world a new third jersey. The design is a secret that's been well-kept so far. Today, we take a break from the speculation for a look back at a third jersey that never happened.

Designed by Ken Loh, The Mednick Group, 1995

Designed by Ken Loh, The Mednick Group, 1995

You may think it impossible that the Flyers ever considered making this a part of their otherwise unblemished record of classic hockey sweaters. But it was 1995 and the NHL wanted to be... bolder. Let me explain.

STARTING WITH A BANG

In 1992, Ken Loh was in his final year at Cal State Long Beach, working toward a degree in visual communications. He was intern at the Evenson Design Group in Culver City when the firm was hired by the NFL to design some new team logos.

He had an opportunity most design students only dream about as he went to work designing a new logo for the New England Patriots. Two decades on, you know it well.

New England Patriots, 1993—

New England Patriots, 1993—

If that's not an epic way to kick off a career, I don't know what is. This logo helped earn Ken his next job, one that would see him tackling the NHL.

SHIFTING TO HOCKEY

Ken's talents caught the eye of Pats fan and Boston native Scott Mednick — principal of The Mednick Group, another California design agency.

"He hired me partially due to the Patriots work," Ken said, "but also because his firm was interested in pursuing more sports work for various leagues. He had contacts at the NHL, so that’s when my work with the NHL started."

One of Ken's first projects involved designing a new logo for the Los Angeles Kings in 1993. It did not go on to become as well known, but it nevertheless found a special place in hockey jersey history.

Designed by Ken Loh, The Mednick Group, 1993

Designed by Ken Loh, The Mednick Group, 1993

The Kings elected not move forward with the rebrand, but the logo was unearthed a couple years later when the NHL was introducing its third jersey program around the league. On Jan. 27, 1996, the Kings took the ice wearing an altered version with a purple beard.

"To be honest, I always hated how the Burger King ended up with a purple beard," Ken said.  "Felt too cartoony to me, whereas my original design before it got applied to the third jersey program — with the silver/black/gold motif — was intended to be more serious and regal."

FURTHER READING: The Rise of the Burger King · The Royal Half · Jan 27, 2011

As the NHL entered the wacky world of '90s third jerseys, Ken and The Mednick Group weren't solely focused on the Kings, of course. They went to work on another team as well.

A NEW WAY TO FLY

And so brings us to the reason behind today's post. In 1995, Ken and The Mednick Group focused their talents on the Philadelphia Flyers — one of a handful of teams set to debut an alternate jersey during the 1995-96 season.

Fueling the NHL's desire for unorthodox new sweaters was an advance in manufacturing technology which provided for the use of color gradients and oversized graphics. Hockey jerseys would never be the same again. Or would they?

Ken created a new alternate logo for the Flyers along with a couple of third jersey options. Here's what he told me about the process:

The idea was to break the mold and be less traditional with the designs. The league ... wanted us to push the envelope, which is probably why there were some pretty garish patterns and gradients being used for other third jerseys around the league. Personally, I was never a fan of that approach so I tended to stick with solid colors in my designs.
While the brief was to redesign the jersey, we were encouraged to come up with new, alternate treatments for secondary logos and wordmarks. There wasn’t really any expectation that any of the artwork we designed would replace any of the existing team logos or identities at that time.
I don’t really remember any specifics around the use of teal, but as I noted, we were encouraged to experiment with “bold” statements so I imagine that was part of where that came from.

Once he finished with the design work, Ken wasn't part of the conversation between the firm and the team. So he's not sure how the Flyers felt about the design or the specific reason it was rejected. But I'm sure many of you will have your theories.

For me, it's exactly what a third jersey should be. It introduced an alternate color, a special logo and most of all, it was a unique design. Looking back, the style was very '90s and it probably wouldn't have lasted long. But the short ride would've been worth it.

Ultimately, the Flyers did not introduce a third jersey during that season. But two years later came the debut of the black third jersey, a simple recoloring of their existing sweaters.

In all, five teams debuted third jerseys that first year. And it was another product of The Mednick Group that would go to be the longest tenured third jersey in NHL history. Ken's friend and co-worker Tom Thornton designed the Boston Bruins' yellow sweater.

The NHL's original class of third jerseys, 1996

"For me, the Bruins third jersey was one of the better ones," Ken said, "due to its more subtle use of angular lines and solid colors."

That sweater debuted during the 1995-96 season and was worn every subsequent year until the Reebok jersey takeover in 2007 when the Bruins underwent their own rebranding.

Two more big NHL projects still awaited Ken Loh after the third jerseys. It involved developing new identities for a pair of new teams. In Part 2, we'll take a look at those plus some never-before-seen logo designs for another expansion team.

CONTINUE READING: Part 2: Expansion & Relocation

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