Mr. Hockey tribute? Here are 5 ideas for Detroit Red Wings next ‘Reverse Retro’ NHL jersey

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings will wear their 2022 “Reverse Retro” red-with-black-stripes sweaters designed by Adidas for the second time Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes − who, uh, also wear a lot of red and black.

The Wings are scheduled to wear the jerseys four more times this season: Dec. 31 against the Ottawa Senators, Jan. 10 against the Winnipeg Jets, Jan. 24 against the San Jose Sharks and Feb. 11 against the Vancouver Canucks.

While we’re looking to the future, it’s time to start thinking about what the next “Reverse Retro” look might be for the Wings. (The first, you might have been able to forget, were a blah mix of white, silver and even more white that were worn a few times during the shortened 2020-21 NHL season.)

After all, as Brian Jennings, the league’s chief brand officer, told, the planning for these league-wide initiatives starts years in advance: “When we were winding down the initial 1.0 drop of Reverse Retro jerseys, we were already starting to think about the iterations for this drop.”

And, well, honestly, we weren’t much of a fan of this season’s look when we broke down all 32 kits, with the Wings’ jersey ranking in the bottom quarter. The red-and-black look, trailbreaking though it is in Detroit, just doesn’t look very Red Wings-y. Nor does the jersey’s ties to 1991 feel particularly retro-y. (Unless it was paying tribute to the first season of Little Caesars Arena, when they had to switch all the red seats to black because they were too apparent on TV.) And the worst part? They don’t look particularly cool, which is the one thing Adidas should nail (and did, for about a third of the league).

Part of the problem? The Wings haven’t had many different looks, with the Winged Wheel becoming a mainstay on the crest all the way back in 1932. Adidas didn’t let a lack of historic uniforms stop it from creating winners for several other shorter-lived franchises; the designers drew on regional hockey influences — not necessarily tied to the franchises themselves — to create new “old” looks for the Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights.

With that in mind, here’s five looks Adidas and the Wings should keep in mind when they skate out “Reverse Retro 3.0” for the 2024-25 season.

Vipe away the past

Let’s start with the franchise’s personal touchstone and, well, the face of hockey in Michigan: Mr. Hockey. Gordie Howe spent 25 seasons wearing the Winged Wheel before finishing his career with the Houston Aeros of the WHA and the Hartford/New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association (and one year in the NHL). But 17 years after he retired from the NHL, Howe took one more shift on the ice in the metro Detroit area, suiting up for the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Oct. 3, 1997.

Howe was only on the ice for 46 seconds as he became the first player to play in six decades; he was still Mr. Hockey, even at 69, so of course he still wound up with a hit and a deflected puck on net in front of 20,182 fans. “I almost got one,” he told the Freep afterward.

The Wings missed a chance to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Howe’s final skate, but maybe they’ll be ready when 2024 rolls around. The Vipers’ logos and general look are probably off-limits, but imagine a Wings sweater decked out in purple, teal and white, just like Mr. Hockey used to wear?

Deer-ly beloved?

Maybe we want to keep things a little closer to the center of the city, with a faux throwback to the other hockey team to call downtown Detroit home: The 1974-75 Michigan Stags of the WHA. Relocated from Los Angeles (where they were known as the Sharks for the first two seasons of the upstart league), the Stags lasted 43 games as a Detroit franchise. Just 22 of those were at home (then-Cobo Arena) before dire finances, including a tax lien by the IRS, forced a sale and move to Baltimore.

The roster wasn’t much to speak of, either, led by former Wings coach Johnny Wilson: The most notable names were goalie Gerry Desjardins, who led the Buffalo Sabres to the Stanley Cup Finals in the same season he appeared in 41 games for the Stags, and forward Eddie Johnstone, who had four goals as a rookie with the Stags before putting up a pair of 30-goal seasons with the New York Rangers from 1980-82.

So why even bring them up? Flexibility! In addition to their original red, black and gold uniforms — featuring a clever stag-in-the-shape-of-an-M — the franchise also spent some time as a team without an brand. After taking over the franchise, and while searching for a new owner, the WHA shipped the Stags new gear: white jerseys with red and blue trim — and no logo. (Makes it easy to get the Winged Wheel in there, right?) If Adidas goes this route, though, they might want to ignore the pants. The logo-less Stags were shipped purple pants to wear. That was a step too far for Wilson, however: “It was embarrassing,” the coach told the Freep in mid-January 1975. “We didn’t wear the purple pants, though. We wore our own black ones. Purple pants and red, white and blue sweaters?”

Reheated pizza?

Ah, but maybe paying tribute to a pair of semi-competitors would be a little too off-brand for the team owned by the Ilitch family and playing in, ahem, Little Caesars Arena, with thousands of Hot-’N’-Readys waiting to be sold to hungry fans. So let’s keep it in the family with a tribute to the preeminent juniors program in metro Detroit: Little Caesars AAA, which has 94 state titles and 23 national championships across various age groups dating to the program’s start in 1975.

The program’s individual pipeline to the pros has also been productive, with stars of the past (Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano), stars of the present (Dallas’ Jason Robertson, second in NHL goals this season) and even stars in the women’s game (nearly two dozen members of the girls’ teams have gone on to play professionally in Canada, Russia and the US).

So what would the look be? We’re thinking some orange jerseys with a powder-blue “Red Wings” script across the chest. Or, to satisfy the “reverse” requirement, maybe powder-blue jerseys with orange script? Whatever — just make sure to wear them once in April, when folks around here are starting to think about that other Ilitch team wearing blue and orange.

Red, white and new?

Of course, the Little Caesars junior club hasn’t been the only developers of hockey talent in the area; there’s also the U.S. National Team Development Program, which began in Ann Arbor in 1996. Since then, and continuing through the program’s move to Plymouth for the 2014-15 season, the USNTDP has produced hundreds of NHLers. That includes five former No. 1 overall draft picks — goalie Rick DiPietro (2000), defenseman Erik Johnson (2006) and forwards Patrick Kane (2007), Auston Matthews (2016) and Jack Hughes (2019).

The “retro” part of this jersey is pretty easy — the USNTDP already wore throwbacks last season for the program’s 25th anniversary, featuring a blue base with a red swoosh with blue and white stripes and blue stars across the bottom, a vintage 1996 Nike design. This would be Adidas’ chance to show the other jersey behemoth what they can do with the same basic ingredients. Perhaps a red jersey with blue stars? We can already hear “God Bless America” streaming through the speakers at LCA in their honor now.

State of rivalry?

We’ll finish with the one rivalry that might be bigger than Adidas vs. Nike: Spartans vs. Wolverines. The Wings already pay tribute to the two top hockey teams in the state (as well as the five other Division I programs: Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Western Michigan) with annual “College Nights,” but MSU and U-M take it to another level by playing one of their four annual games in downtown Detroit every February.

The fierce rivalry is gaining new steam this season as the Spartans, under the new direction of former USNTDP coach Adam Nightingale, appear to be making an NCAA tournament push. The Wolverines are again stacked with NHL talent, and could have another top 5 draft pick in forward Adam Fantilli, putting up nearly a goal a game as a freshman.

As for the look of the sweaters? We’re thinking a mix, blasphemous though it might seem, of some of the more distinctive looks from the Spartans and Wolverines. Perhaps some red-and-white stripes on the shouders to mimic U-M’s iconic helmet, mixed with a script “Red Wings” in the style MSU wore when winning the 2007 national championship — the most recent Division I title won by a Michigan school. Put it all on a silver background, since we’ve only got so many Wings colors to choose from (and as a nice tribute to the gray skies sure to show up in February when the Spartans and Wolverines pack LCA once again), and you might have a winner that fans from both schools could wear with pride.

And if not? Well, at least it won’t look like a reject from the Blackhawks, unlike a certain set we could name.

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