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!)