Jeff Tasca / Instagram

‘Best in the business’: Jersey designer ups game on unique looks

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One of the fun things about minor league hockey is their commitment to creating unique promotions to draw attention to teams or charitable ventures. One of those ways is getting creative with themed jersey nights, which usually end up benefiting charity through post-game auctions.

Many of the interesting jersey designs worn by teams from the AHL to ECHL to USHL and others have been the handiwork of Jeff Tasca and his team at Athletic Knit in Toronto.

For the last 12 years, Tasca and his crew, which has grown from him and an assistant to 14 people, have designed jerseys that have brought mainstream attention, including at least one that ended up in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Just look at some of the designs they’ve worked up.

Batman and Robin, used by the Toledo Walleye and Evansville IceMen 

Muskegon Lumberjacks’ Beach Night

Cincinnati Cyclones Superhero Night

Reading Royals ugly Christmas sweater

Utah Grizzlies Halloween skeleton

Chicago Express St. Patrick’s Day pint o’beer

Those are just a few of the several hundred Tasca and his crew have created over the years. So where do the ideas come from?

“It does kind of depend on what comes into my head sometimes,” Tasca told Pro Hockey Talk recently. “A lot of times it kind of depends on what kind of day I’m having and how many ideas pop into my head that day. Also, too, time. If it ends where it’s something that is a little bit shorter notice, I’ll do one and then just hear their feedback on that and go from there.”

The design process usually begins in August or September when teams will approach Athletic Knit with their promotional schedules for the season. Sometimes teams will have an idea for a jersey matching whatever theme they’re planning and other times they’ll let Tasca have full control over how the final product looks.

Information is important, right down to the little details. If you’re creating a Star Wars jersey, which Athletic Knit has done many times, you better get every aspect correct. Luckily for Tasca, he’s a Star Wars and comic book fan, so he’s the perfect designer to make sure every look is authentic.

Tasca studied design and illustration in high school and college. After freelancing for a few years, he heard that Athletic Knit was hiring people to help design sports jerseys. It seemed like the perfect fit.

“I love watching sports. I played a few sports and also, too, it’s bringing elements of designing into,” he said. “So I’m like hey why don’t I go check it out.”

He started in the sublimation department, knowing nothing about garment design. After a big learning curve, which included the sewers constantly being annoyed that his designs didn’t work with what they had to do, he figured out his limits from the manufacturing side.

Now Tasca and his team handle everything in the design process: from creating the logo to getting the proper art work to preparing the jersey for sublimation or screen printing. With proper notice, they can get a team’s set of jerseys done from anywhere between two and four weeks.

Athletic Knit works with between 20-25 hockey teams per season, mostly from the ECHL, but they also produce jerseys for teams in almost a dozen other sports. Hockey, though, is their big one when it comes to unique looks for theme nights.

Gregg Lewis, who handles merchandising and sales for the ECHL’s Reading Royals, worked with Tasca to create the original ugly Christmas sweater jerseys back in 2013. They’ve since collaborated on a handful more, including this week’s Halloween looks for the Royals and the Allen Americans.

“Jeff is the best in the business. He is the most creative and blends colors great,” said Lewis. “The jerseys are all works of art.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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League clears up 2020 NHL Playoffs picture, including re-seeding

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The NHL and NHLPA agreed to some key details to how the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will operate … assuming the playoffs can happen. We now know how the league will handle the Round Robin for Seeding, Qualifying Round, all the way to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Before we go round by round, note that the biggest takeaways are that the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs will involve re-seeding (not bracketing) and that every round will include a best-of-seven series after the Qualifying Round/Round Robin for Seeding.

In other words, if this all comes to pass, prepare for a lot of hockey.

How the NHL Playoffs will work through 2020 Stanley Cup Final

Let’s review what we know so far.

Qualifying Round; Round Robin for Seeding

  • As announced earlier, each Qualifying Round (four per conference) series will go by a best-of-five format. Read more about that format here.
  • Johnston reports that the Round Robin for Seeding will involve three games each per team. Points percentage will serve as a tiebreaker if needed during the Round Robin for Seeding.

It was first believed that teams who won Qualifying Round series would face specific opponents based on bracketing. Instead, re-seeding means that the highest seeds will face the lowest seeds all the way down to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Here’s how “home ice” will work out, via the NHL:

* In the Qualifying Round, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2 and 5. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3 and 4.

2020 NHL Playoffs: First Round through the 2020 Stanley Cup Final

To reiterate, following the Qualifying Round (best-of-five) and Round Robin for Seeding (three games apiece), each series will be a best-of-seven, with re-seeding. It might be easier to see how it flows this way, then:

  • Qualifying Round (best-of-five series, four series per conference); Round Robin for Seeding (three games apiece, top four teams in each conference involved). Re-seeding instead of bracketing.
  • First Round (best-of-seven series, four series per conference). Teams re-seed after First Round.
  • Second Round (best-of-seven series, two series per conference). Teams re-seed after Second Round.
  • 2020 Eastern Conference Final (best-of-seven series) and 2020 Western Conference Final (best-of-seven series).

Via the NHL, here’s how “home-ice” will play out before the 2020 Stanley Cup Final:

* In the First Round, Second Round and Conference Finals, the higher-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The lower-seeded team will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6.

  • 2020 Stanley Cup Final (best-of-seven series).

Finally, the league shared this “home-ice” info for the 2020 Stanley Cup Final:

* In the Stanley Cup Final, the team with the higher regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. The team with the lower regular season points percentage will be designated as the home team in Games 3, 4 and 6

NHL, NHLPA opt for more hockey approach

Before Thursday, some expected that the First Round, and possibly the Second Round, might instead be best-of-five series. Instead, the NHL and NHLPA opted to go longer.

Johnston captures the risk part of that risk-reward scenario quite well, noting that two extra best-of-seven rounds could add nine days to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that the playoff tournament could last as long as 68 days. That requires some big gambles that COVID-19 cases won’t spike to the point that the NHL needs to go on “pause” once more.

If it all works out, then the “integrity” of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs is definitely emphasized. (Also, more best-of-seven series definitely strengthens the “toughest ever” arguments.) Few can credibly say they’ve been robbed of a real chance, given that 24 teams are involved.

We’ll have to wait and see if it’s all worth it, and if the NHL can actually pull this off. Personally, re-seeding seems fair if it doesn’t lead to additional travel, while the bevy best-of-seven series seems dicey.

Naturally, the NHL and NHLPA still need to hash out other details.

MORE ON NHL RETURN TO PLAY:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins player tested positive for COVID-19, now recovered

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The Penguins announced on Thursday that one of their players had tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the team, the unidentified player “is recovered and feeling well.” Anyone who came into close contact with him has been notified.

So far, nine NHL players have tested positive for COVID-19, including five from the Senators and three from the Avalanche.

It is expected that the NHL will announce its Phase 2 plans this week. That will allow for players to workout in small voluntary groups at team facilities. Training camps are still expected to open in mid-July.

As players get set for Phase 2, the league will have strict screening protocols in place.

“We will have a rigorous daily testing protocol where players are tested every evening and those results are obtained before they would leave their hotel rooms the next morning, so we’ll know if we have a positive test and whether the player has to self-quarantine himself as a result of that positive test,” said Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “It’s expensive, but we think it’s really a foundational element of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

“You need testing at a level sufficient to be confident that you’re going to be on top of anything which might happen,” said NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr. “If that turns out to be daily, and that’s available, that’s OK. That would be good. If it turns out that that’s not quite what we need and we can get by with a little less, that’s OK.”

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Alabama-Huntsville coach steps down one week after program is saved

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A week after a $500,000 fundraising goal was met to save the program, Alabama-Huntsville hockey coach Mike Corbett has resigned.

The announcement was made on Wednesday, with assistant coach Gavin Morgan joining Corbett in leaving the program. Assistant Lance West will take on the role of acting head coach.

“I want to thank all of you for your support and supporting the players during this time,” Corbett wrote in an email to supporters obtained by WZDX. “It meant a lot to me and them. I wish things were different and the results were better, I truly do. I own that. I will not make excuses and I will tell you I came to work everyday and put everything I had into it. Not always making the right decisions, but doing what I thought was right for the program every day. Myself and my staff embraced it and fought the good fight every day. Only we know how that was and it was difficult but continued to put the program and the players first.”

The Chargers were 2-26-6 this past season, the seventh with Corbett in charge.

According to Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News, Corbett faced plenty of obstacles at the school.

According to insiders, Corbett wanted to leave on his own terms. The coach had led the Chargers for seven seasons and dealt with a lot of challenges, from a lack of recruiting money to the loss of a conference when seven WCHA schools announced they would be leaving Alabama-Huntsville and the two Alaska schools behind to form a new CCHA in 2021-22.

On May 22 UAH announced it was cutting its hockey and tennis programs, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporters and alumni, including Flames goalie Cam Talbot, backed a fundraising campaign that saw the goal reached before Friday’s deadline. The school then approved a $1.5 million budget for next season.

There is no guarantee beyond 2020-21 that the program will keep playing, but there is now time to create a sustainable, long-term plan.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Golden Knights’ empire; Senators’ youth to lead the way

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Playing games in arenas with no fans could lead to TV networks getting creative covering the NHL’s Return to Play games. [Edmonton Journal]

• On NHL GMs and their reactions to the league’s Return to Play format. [Toronto Star]

• With the announcement of an AHL team coming to Henderson, Nevada, the Golden Knights are building an empire out west. [The Hockey News]

• It’s looking like the Palm Springs AHL team will be called the Firebirds. [SportsLogos.net]

• The Senators’ youth will need to lead the franchise’s revival. [Ottawa Citizen]

• How LTIR can play a role in aiding the Canucks. [Canucks Army]

• On the lessons the Sharks can learn from the last time they missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. [NBC Sports Bay Area]

• What a full season in the AHL could do for Habs’ youngster Ryan Poehling. [A Winning Habit]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.