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

Jeff Tasca / Instagram
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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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