Love ’em or hate ’em, the design of the new Olympic jerseys for Team Canada are in the category “retro,” inspired by an earlier time when Canada first achieved international glory. Ken Black, the senior creative director for Nike, said the jerseys to be worn by Team Canada players at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games in Russia were inspired by the 1920 team that won this nation’s first ice hockey gold medal, with some touches coming from the 1972 national team uniform.
“When designing the new uniforms,” said Black, “we were very purposeful in our approach of blending Canada’s rich hockey history and tradition with the performance needs of today’s athletes.”
The red and white jerseys feature a Maple Leaf logo with a stripe across the chest and Canada written below the stripe, while the black jersey has Canada across it in white letters.
Canadians are passionate about their hockey teams and will undoubtedly forget about the mutterings of some, who regard the new jerseys as “ugly” — the Globe and Mail referred to it as “aesthetically offside — when the Olympic men and women and Paralympic sledge hockey players step onto the ice. And there is no shame in turning back the clock to find inspiration. In fact, the mere mention of the 1920 team helps to correct the past mistakes associated with the Winnipeg Falcons, a team made up of Canadians of Icelandic descent.
In 1920, ice hockey and figure skating were introduced to the Summer Olympic Games at Antwerp, Belgium. In 2001, the Canadian Hockey Association incorrectly inferred that, because it was the Summer Olympics, hockey was merely a demonstration sport. The CHA had used an inaccurate book published in 1997 called, Canada’s Olympic Hockey Teams: The Complete History, 1920-1998, as its source of information. But both hockey and figure skating were part of the Antwerp official Olympic program and received full-medal status as a result, which has been recognized by both the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation.
The CHA’s conclusion — and the book’s — was presumably based upon the Granites winning the ice hockey gold medal at the first Winter Olympics, which were held in Chamonix, France, in 1924.
Because of the CHA’s erroneous conclusion, a crest honouring the Granites was worn on Team Canada’s jerseys at the Salt lake City Winter Olympics in 2002.
The small, but vocal, Icelandic-Canadian community protested the snub, pointing out the success of their ancestors in 1920. By the time the error was recognized, it was too late. The Toronto Granites were being promoted across the land by a national beer company, and Team Canada’s jerseys had already been produced with the Granite’s emblem. The players did react to the news of the jersey’s inaccuracy by pasting Falcons’ stickers on their helmets and added the Falcons’ logo to pennants given out by the players’ to their opponents.
When the announcement was made to use the Granite’s logo on Team Canada’s jerseys, Brian Johannesson, the son of Falcon player Konnie Johannesson, told the International Ice Hockey Federation News that he was donating his father’s 1920 jersey to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. “What pushed me into doing something was that team Canada chose the wrong emblem for their commemorative sweaters for Salt Lake,” he said. “It wasn’t malicious, I don’t think. It’s just a fact not many people in the East know about the Falcons because they were from the West.”
Phil Pritchard, director for hockey operations and curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame, in a press release called the donation of Johannesson’s Olympic sweater, gold medal and armband, and Canadian passport and other documents “among some of the most unique artifacts the Hockey Hall of Fame has collected over the years.”
Team Canada is correcting the historical mistake for the following World Cup of Hockey. They wore replicas of the jerseys with a large red maple leaf on the front and Canada written in the middle worn by the Winnipeg Falcons during their first game against the United States, which Canada won 2-1. Cam Cole, a sports columnist with the National Post, wrote of “our mustard-coloured heroes” the next day. Roy MacGregor, a sports columnist with the Globe and Mail, was more disparaging of Team Canada’s return to its historic roots by describing the jerseys as “homely mustard.” Apparently, the Eastern media still doesn’t get the significance of the Falcons’ victory in 1920. Yet, the players did, and were reported to be proud to be taking part in a history lesson for the nation.
On May 22, 1920, the members of the Winnipeg Falcons hockey team stepped off a CPR train to a tumultuous welcome. Crowds of Winnipeggers lined the streets cheering their Olympic hockey champions. The city fathers declared a half-day holiday to allow thousands to greet their conquering heroes, who in the spirit of their ancestors had become “Vikings on skates.”
The Falcons were the toast of the town and the nation. Before arriving home in Winnipeg, they had been feted in Montreal and Toronto. Mayor T.L. Church of Toronto sent a congratulatory telegram to Winnipeg Mayor Charles Gray. Church called the Falcons’ “victory a most popular one here. Well done, Winnipeg!”
“To the land of the Maple Leaf goes the honour of winning the first Olympic championship at Antwerp,” proclaimed the Toronto Mail and Empire.
In the House of Commons, MP Dr. M.R. Blake (North Winnipeg) “rose and asked permission to speak on a matter of international importance,” reported the Canadian Press. ‘The Winnipeg Falcons have won the international hockey championship in Antwerp 12-1,’ he said, and the members applauded vigorously.” The scene was the same in the Manitoba Legislature and also during a city council meeting after Mayor Gray announced the result. “His words were received with great enthusiasm ...,” reported the Free Press.
As the Falcons approached Winnipeg, the excitement grew. Local newspapers reported their progress and outlined the lavish plans to celebrate their Olympic victory, including a parade as soon as their CPR train arrived. The parade started at Main Street, proceeded down Portage and finished at Wesley Park, where the University of Winnipeg now stands.
An official banquet was sponsored by the city at the Hotel Fort Garry. The T. Eaton company held a dinner and dance for them. The menu featured items named for the players, such as cream “Frederickson” tenderloin, “Goodman” style roast, “Byron” potatoes, “Slim’s” lemon pie, “Fridfinnson” rolls with butter and “Bobbie Benson’s” coffee.
The “retro” design of the new jerseys is a case of honouring the nation’s first ice hockey Olympic champions, and should be an inspiration for Team Canada players to strive for their own Olympic glory in Sochi.