The History of Outdoor Hockey Sweaters


An age-old debate that seems to transcend international borders - or at least those between Canada and the United States - is that of the traditional hockey sweater. A term once synonymous with the sport and its foundations is one that has since been muddled with the emergence of advancements in material design.

As with any contentious issue near and dear to anyone’s hearts, we’ve got a healthy debate on our hands.  Here’s a quick look into how we got here.

The Origin Story

Before 20,000 people filed into state-of-the-art buildings in bustling city centers, the game we love was played outdoors. 

That outdoor element is an homage we pay respect to in everything we do. In fact, we’ve built our brand around the idea of playing in the elements on outdoor frozen surfaces. Typically made from wool, the original hockey sweaters were designed to keep players warm. This was well before the time of ‘breathable’ fabric, tear-aways and many other fashion advancements we’ve had the pleasure of witnessing over the past few decades. 

Rather than wearing an oversized coat that often would restrict movement, everyone from children to professional hockey players repped their favorite sweaters in style - in some cases off and on the ice.

The Debate

Today the debate seems to be between two major hockey nations. In fact, it’s become such a point of contention, that when the Ottawa Senators introduced their new ‘heritage jersey’ back in 2011, the internet exploded with discussion as to whether or not they used the right term to describe the new uniform, particularly because of the throwback roots surrounding the launch of the campaign.


It was found that the majority of Canadians believed it ought to be called a sweater, as it was traditionally referred to as for many years prior. The Americans, on the other hand, claim to have perfected the updated ‘jersey’ style of sweater that is now worn by fans and professionals alike. These ‘jerseys’ are created using moisture-wicking technology, offer circulation to keep players cold and give them an unmatched range of motion during play.

No one North of the Border is arguing that the advancements aren’t great, the debate as to whether the name, originally invented by the Brits, (used to describe a warm sweater worn by coastal seamen on one of the British Isles) was fitting.

The name jersey was quickly adopted by other major American sports such as football and basketball, and the rest is history. 

On the Canadian side, they are still reminiscent of Roch Carrier’s iconic piece of Canadian literature titled The Hockey Sweater. As the title suggests, Carrier’s short story tells the true story of him and his friends growing up playing pond hockey in rural Quebec. Each of the friends represented the Montreal Canadiens featuring the number 9 of their favorite player, Maurice Richard on their backs.

It goes on to tell the story of how the author’s sweater became worn out. After expressing his need to his mother, she eventually placed an order for a new one from a large department store.  The story gets slightly comical, as she was accidentally sent the sweater from the rival Toronto Maple Leafs, where the young man instantly faced the persecution of his friends and teammates.

While both sides of the debate seem to have their historical evidence to back up their claims, it doesn’t seem like this particular scrap will be settled any time soon. In the meantime, we’ll continue to call them sweaters, as we like to think that we represent the early and nostalgic days of outdoor pond hockey, but if calling them jersey’s is more your speed, we won’t fault you for it.

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