Preamble: You may notice that the sweater illustrations in this post are approximately 1000% percent better than the ones I've had in the past. That's because these illustrations were done by fellow SIHR member Danny Laflamme, who is developing a virtual sweater museum for the SIHR website, and who I'm sure you'll agree does one hell of a job. Danny has kindly allowed me to use his illustrations on my blog. Thanks Danny!
Hockey's Most Recognizable Uniform
It's no secret that although the Montreal Canadiens have had essentially the same sweater design for many decades, in the club's early years they wore very different uniforms. In recent seasons, the Habs have trotted out several throwback jerseys to celebrate their history. In the team's first season of 1909/10, the sported a sweater like the one below. A modern throwback jersey based on this design was worn in one game by Montreal in the 2009/10 season.
In 1910/11, the Canadiens used an entirely new sweater design, illustrated below. Again, the modern club wore a version of this design 100 years after its original use. This is the first appearance of the bright scarlet red that is now so intimately associated with the club. And look, Toronto fans: the Habs had a maple leaf emblem well before your club even existed!
This sweater also lasted only one season, and the team switched the one below in 1911/12. At the very least, the club retained the calligraphic 'C' emblem, instead of changing everything entirely once again. In fact, this sweater looks something like an 'away' version of the previous one.
Everything was changed entirely once again the following season. In their fourth season, the Habs were using their fourth new sweater. The version also had a modern jersey based on it, used in the 2012/13 season.
Now, here's where it gets interesting. Barber-pole stripes such as the ones used in this design were fairly common for hockey sweaters in the game's early years. In fact, it turns out they were too common...
The Unintentional Arrival
Partway through the 1912/13 season, Montreal ran into a problem. The Ottawa Senators complained about the new Canadiens sweaters, because they were too similar to the Senators' design, making it easy to confuse players from the two teams for each other on the ice. Ottawa wore sweaters like this:
You can understand how, in the heat of the action on the ice, a Senator might mistake a Canadien for a teammate, or vice-versa. So, Montreal had to adopt a new sweater that they would use when playing against Ottawa. The Senators had worn such sweaters for many years, and so it was up to the junior team to make a change. Montreal kept the red and the blue colours, and took the 'C' style from their very first sweater from 1909/10, and came up with this:
The development of this new design, arrived at only because another team took issue with their preferred sweater, into the form we now associate with the Habs is clear. In fact, it seems this new design was popular, because the very next season (1913/14), saw the adoption of a sweater design that is finally recognizable as the modern Montreal uniform. It was the team's sixth sweater design in five seasons, but this one stuck. Really stuck.
And so, the original design of the most recognizable hockey sweater of them all was not intentional. The team had no desire for a new sweater at the time the need for one was thrust upon them by another team. This is certainly one of the greatest happy accidents in the game's history.