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!
When in need of an alternate uniform, NHL teams will often use a throwback design. For example, when Ottawa and Vancouver played their Winter Classic match earlier this month, both sides wore jerseys inspired by sweaters from decades ago in their cities' respective hockey histories. But this tradition may be older than you think. Arguably, the first throwback uniform design was used in 1920.
In 1920, the NHL's Ottawa Senators faced the PCHA's Seattle Metropolitans in the Stanley Cup finals. The eastern club wore the sweater illustrated below (essentially the same as their 1912/13 uniforms, which as we saw last time forced the Montreal Canadiens to adopt a sweater which became the iconic version we now know).
Seattle wore extremely similar sweaters. Both uniforms featured barber-pole stripes in a three-colour pattern, both including white and red. The only differences were that Ottawa used black as their third colour, while Seattle used green. The Metropolitans sweater is illustrated below.
The western team also had an 'S' on the front of the sweater, but that would not have always been visible to opposing players (or teammates for that matter), and as such the Senators opted to wear an alternate sweater design. They wore a simple white sweater with a large black 'O' on the chest, for Ottawa.
Now, if you're not familiar with the history of Ottawa hockey sweaters, you might just think this was a minimalist approach to avoid confusion with Seattle while still marking the club appropriately. What could be simpler? But there's one more sweater to look at, which Ottawa (then more often called the Generals) wore during the 1897/98 season:
The 'O' is certainly different, and there's no way to be certain that the 1920 alternate design was intentionally based on this 22-year-old (at the time) sweater, but the similarity is quite striking. I'm quite happy to conclude this was probably the first throwback sweater. What do you think?