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

Jeff Tasca / Instagram
5 Comments

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.”

————

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.

MORE FROM NHL ON NBC SPORTS:

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

Getty Images
1 Comment

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

tampa bay lightning
Scott Audette/Getty Images
2 Comments

TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
Julian Avram/Getty Images
2 Comments

TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

marc-andre fleury
David Berding/Getty Images
2 Comments

ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.