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Reign, Thunder first to unveil new branding for 2015-16 season


Reign, Thunder first to unveil new branding for 2015-16 season

Two teams impacted by the creation of the AHL's new Pacific Division — one from the AHL, one from the ECHL — unveiled new logos today which will be used starting this fall.

The Ontario Reign will have a new logo and uniforms as they graduate from the ECHL to the AHL next season. And the look is a familiar one.

The new logo is a modern twist on the one worn by their owner and NHL affiliate, the Los Angeles Kings, from 1988 to 1998 — during the Wayne Gretzky era.

But instead of a silver base, the logo is set on black, so as to emulate the Kings' current primary logo.

Also revealed today were the Reign's new uniforms, which — apart from the crest — are identical to those of their parent club. Classic AHL cop-out.

So, gone are the blue and orange that gave this franchise its own unique identity. The homogenization of minor league hockey continues.

What do you think of the Reign's new look?

In case you're wondering, I believe the Manchester Monarchs plan to carry over their existing branding as they transition to the ECHL.

Today's other unveiling caught me by surprise. The Calgary Flames' new ECHL franchise will move to Glens Falls, N.Y. next season and be renamed the Adirondack Thunder.

The team will play as the Stockton Thunder through the rest of this season, at which point the AHL's Adirondack Flames will take over that market. That team's name has yet to be announced.

Along with the name reveal this afternoon came the franchise's new logo — an adaptation of the Stockton version. The colors and typeset have been altered, but the viking character remains mostly unchanged.

The uniforms have not yet been unveiled. But my guess is they go the easy route with the Flames template — just like the A-Flames did.

Have any strong feelings about the Thunder or Reign you'd like to share? Please comment away.


Gwinnett Gladiators celebrate Atlanta hockey with third jersey


Gwinnett Gladiators celebrate Atlanta hockey with third jersey

Life after hockey goes on in Atlanta. But the answer to how lies in a suburb.

We're four seasons into a post-Thrashers NHL. It was the second time the ATL lost a franchise to a Canadian town. But signs of the city's hockey history — though perhaps unsuccessful — are beginning to re-emerge.

Back in the fall, the AHL welcomed a new franchise and a familiar logo. The fiery A that once represented Atlanta took on a new meaning in Adirondack with the arrival of the Calgary Flames' minor league affiliate.

Now in the Atlanta suburb of Duluth — in Gwinnett County — an ECHL club has unveiled its own homage. The Gwinnett Gladiators will take the ice on Friday night wearing Atlanta Flames colors for the first time. Behold their new third jersey!

Photos by Dale Zanine

"The new jersey will be worn at all home games for the remainder of the 2014-15 season," according to the Gladiators' press release, "except for Sundays, when the team’s traditional black uniforms will be worn."

When the sweater will makes its debut — a night dubbed "Flashback Friday" — a few former Atlanta Flames — Tim Ecclestone, Eric Vail, and Willi Plett — will be honored with a ceremonial puck drop and more.

The Gladiators made their debut in 2003 and was affiliated with the Thrashers from their inception until the NHL club relocated to Winnipeg in 2011. They are now the only pro hockey team representing the Atlanta area.

But the seeds for this new sweater were planted well before that happened.

Christi Johnson is the director of media, game operations and merchandising for the Gladiators and is credited with designing this new third jersey. She told me the Atlanta Flames throwback has been in the works for a while.

"When Steve Chapman — Gladiators president and general manager — and I met early in the 2008-09 season to discuss ideas for our specialty jersey, we knew we wanted to pursue a Flames theme," Johnson said.

"We began the process of getting approval of the concept — which we did — but then decided instead to go with an Atlanta Knights-themed jersey."

The team wore those black Knights sweaters in Feb. 2010. (Find more photos on Facebook.)

As it happens, that was the same season the Calgary Flames introduced their throwback third jersey — which was identical to the old Atlanta uniform apart from the crest. Johnson didn't say whether that was a factor in their change of plans.

Anytime I get the chance to talk to a someone in charge of designing hockey sweaters, I always have to ask about the process. It's interesting to see what designers go through and how it varies from team to team.

Johnson explains:

The process is one that’s worked for Steve and I for many years — we meet, decide on a theme, and he gives me a rough idea of what, if anything, he has already visualized in his head.
Then I hole up in my office to draft a few different looks. As with anything creative, sometimes the ideas come quickly and sometimes I have to go in search of inspiration. Fortunately, with this design, I knew where we wanted to head and it was just a matter of actually creating the two logos.
We went through a few variations of the crest along the way, but all in all it was a painless process. It was definitely one of the quicker design timelines I’ve experienced. We had final artwork within a week, if I remember correctly. 

This isn't Johnson's first foray into jersey design. She's been creating specialty sweaters for the Gladiators since the 2006-07 season, including the Knights jersey mentioned above. 

I’m responsible for our Salute to Atlanta Traffic, Pink in the Rink, Relay for Life, Glads Margaritaville, 10th Anniversary, and last season’s Arctic Camo Jerseys. I also did our two other alternates — the gold fifth anniversary jerseys and our most recent maroon retro incantation.

It's not the last she'll put together either. I asked her what lies ahead.

I actually just wrapped up our specialty jersey for this season. It’s a Valentine’s Day theme but with a design I created — not a stock look. The key with anything pink related is to find that nice balance between achieving a Valentine’s (or breast cancer) look without making it something full on crazy pink.

That is definitely the trick. Some teams find it and some do not. I'm eager to see what Johnson has put together for next month.

For now, what do you think of the Atlanta Flames throwback?

(Major stick-tap to Gladiators broadcaster Nick Bove for his help with this story!)


Utah Grizzlies celebrate Halloween in skeleton style

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Utah Grizzlies celebrate Halloween in skeleton style

The Batman theme jerseys we saw from Toledo the other day were cool. But not to be outdone, the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies went all out on Halloween night with these skeleton uniforms!

Images from Utah Grizzlies

What makes this theme night stand out is that they went beyond just the jerseys. Even the pants and socks were made to look like bones.

Impressively, the club raised more than $17,000 for St. Jude Children's Hospital in the post-game auction of the special sweaters. That's just awesome.

Unfortunately, the spooky costumes did nothing to rattle the visiting Colorado Eagles, who won 6-2.

But wait, there's more!

The Grizzlies are also celebrating their 20th anniversary season with a special jersey. The crest reads 1995–2014 — though it probably should say 2015. But the franchise's history isn't quite so straightforward.

The team we know today as the Grizzlies actually began play in Utah after a dormant ECHL franchise was resurrected in 2005. That franchise was founded in 1981 as the Nashville South Stars in the old Central Hockey League.

Two years later, the team moved to the Atlantic Coast Hockey League and became the Virginia Lancers. During a decade which saw a couple more name changes and a couple league changes, the franchise ultimately became a founding member of the East Coast Hockey League in 1988.

In 1993, the moved to Alabama and became the Huntsville Blast for one season. After that, they spent seven in Florida as the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks.

In 2001, the team relocated yet again to Georgia and got one of the greatest nicknames in minor league hockey history — the Macon Whoopee. Not kidding. But that only lasted a year, followed by a year as the Lexington Men-o-War in Kentucky.

In 2003, the franchise folded again and stayed that way for two years before it was mercifully transferred out of the south and sent west to Utah.

So where does the 20th anniversary claim come from? Glad you asked. The original Utah Grizzlies franchise began play in 1995 in the International Hockey League. It was one of the teams that jumped to the American Hockey League when the IHL folded in 2001.

In 2005, the franchise suspended operations while searching for a new owner. That's when the ECHL came knocking. But that original Grizzlies AHL franchise was reborn in 2007 as the Lake Erie Monsters.

I don't know what anyone could possibly do with that information. But there you have it.

So... how about those skeleton jerseys?

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Toledo Walleye reveal amazing Batman theme night jerseys


Toledo Walleye reveal amazing Batman theme night jerseys

Image from Toledo Walleye

Last month, I wrote about a handful of must-see minor league theme nights in 2014-15. Among them was Heroes Night from the Toledo Walleye.

This week, the ECHL club unveiled the specialty jerseys they'll be wearing for that game coming up on Sat., Nov. 22.

And they are epic.

The Walleye will sport sweaters modeled after the 1960s Batman suit made famous by Adam West in the wildly popular TV series.

Even their opponent will participate. The visiting Evansville IceMen will wear jerseys inspired by the well-known Batman villain, the Riddler.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of Batman's first comic book appearance.

From the team's announcement:

The game worn jerseys will be sold after the final whistle during a live auction, with proceeds benefiting the Muscular Dystrophy Association, March of Dimes and the Walleye Wishing Well. A limited number of replica Batman themed jerseys will be available at The Swamp Shop on Monday, November 3.

I rarely say this about minor league theme jerseys, but I really want these. Both of them!

Up next from the Walleye, Cosby Show-themed jerseys are coming in January. Meanwhile, the IceMen will have Pi Day jerseys in March.


Orange dominates minor league special event jerseys


Orange dominates minor league special event jerseys

On Wednesday, the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears unveiled the jersey they will wear when they host the 2015 ECHL All-Star Classic on Wed., Jan. 21. And they're very orange!

The jersey design is based on the team's existing primary uniforms with some colors swapped and some All-Star insignia added. The uniform is a little bright, but it's a nice homage to their home in Orange County.

The Solar Bears' opponent — the ECHL All-Star Team — will wear a white uniform that was first revealed last December following a fan jersey design contest, won by Jordan Roberts.

Meanwhile in the AHL, the Syracuse Crunch will host a stadium game at the 49,000-seat Carrier Dome on Sat., Nov. 22. And this is the special jersey they plan to wear.

The sweater, revealed on Oct. 4, features orange trim in honor of Syracuse University, where the covered stadium is located — and basically the center of the universe for locals.

If you're thinking the jersey looks a lot like the monstrosity introduced in 2007 by the Edmonton Oilers — you're not wrong. It's the same template but with classic Oilers colors, essentially. And good lord, all that piping. You don't need me to tell you it's pretty weak.

The Comets will wear their standard white jerseys for the game.