The Jersey Journal: How I Pieced Together the Perfect Sweater

Spoiler alert: no jerseys were ripped, torn, stained, set aflame or otherwise damaged in the making of this essay.

June 19th — 5:42 PM

My journey begins with a single tweet.

This better not awaken anything in me…

I’ve been following @NHLstoreNYC for a few days, despite having driven past the store nearly every morning on the way to work for a year. I’ve heard rumblings on Twitter that the conveniently-located Midtown location is gearing up to offer some major sales. Very soon, all of the league’s Reebok apparel is going to be discontinued in the wake of the Fanatics takeover of NHL merchandising, so everything must go. Luckily, it doesn’t take long for my subscription to their tweets to pay off.

Here’s the thing: I’d been putting off buying a Sidney Crosby jersey all season long by making a bargain with myself: I can allow myself to pull the trigger after we get knocked out of the playoffs. After all, I already have a perfectly good Evgeni Malkin jersey in the old Vegas Gold that I wore during every single playoff game, which, if I may say, clearly brought the team tons of luck this year. But still, I reeeally wanted the Crosby jersey, and I figured waiting to buy it until after our season came to an end at the hands of another team would make it feel like a nice consolation prize.

When that ultimately didn’t happen, I decided that I was going to buy the captain’s jersey anyway, knowing it would be extra special to see that “Stanley Cup Champions” patch on the right side of the chest. As such, you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that the NHL’s online store had sold out of its stock of #87 home jerseys in Pittsburgh Gold and had no plans to restock before the supplier switch in September.

Suddenly, the tweet reading “50% off jerseys!” felt like a sign. If I’m going to find my dream jersey, it’s going to be in the store, and maybe, just maybe I won’t get a nosebleed when I look at the price tag. Trying to avoid overthinking it, I grab my umbrella and headed uptown.

I was. I tweeted this from the M14D bus.

June 19th — 7:12 PM

I don’t get a nosebleed looking at the price tag, but it’s a pretty close call. It turns out that apparel for Cup-winning teams doesn’t go on sale less than a month after they just won the damn thing. However, there are a few reasons why I decide to bite the bullet and buy it anyway.

#1 — Like I mentioned earlier, the online store was sold out of the jersey make I wanted and wouldn’t be making any more available. The only place you could really find the soon-to-be-discontinued sweaters was in stores, so this was really the deciding factor. It’s now or never (and by never, I mean September — same thing really). Additionally, the NHL Powered by Reebok store on 6th Avenue goes a step further by custom-making some of their stock right in the store. I’m told that the jersey I end up buying placed on the rack that very morning, after their original stock had been decimated by the post-Cup rush, which is kiiinda cool.

#2 — It’s a perfect fit. I tend to avoid the women’s jerseys because it’s clear that whoever designed them has a vested interest in me not having the full range of motion in my arms, so the sole men’s small that was left in the store was a godsend.

#3 — It has the patch! …Or, okay, it has a patch. To be specific, it has a Stanley Cup Final patch on the right side of the chest, which is close enough to the Stanley Cup Champions patch that I’d desperately wanted. (…Right? Right).

#4 — A really helpful employee tells me that the store miiight be placing their Penguins gear on sale in a week or two after the post-Cup rush dies down, but I’ll be out of town during that time visiting family. Where, you might ask? Oh, just Pittsburgh. (Hear that? Listen closely — that’s the sound of the universe laughing at me.) He also tells me that when they do go on sale, there will undoubtedly be size limitations, which is illustrated by the fact that the only other #87 jersey left on the rack is a size XL. On me, it’s a dress, and while I’m all for multipurpose clothing, the fact that I could probably use it as a parachute in case of emergency isn’t a major selling point.

Anyway, I swore a solemn vow that I will never talk about how much I end up paying for the jersey, but it’s not that hard to find how much they cost in-store if you’re really curious. (But, if you’re only kind of curious — yes, I can confirm that it’s more than it would cost online.)

See? Cute. This was minutes before I actively decided to tempt fate and fix something that wasn’t broken.

June 20th — 12:17 PM

The next afternoon, I return to the NHL store, this time with the goal of picking up a Penguins t-shirt — “anything in black or gold, just not grey, I’ve already got grey” — for my dad. I’m hoping to take advantage of the store’s 2 for $30 t-shirt sale. My mission: get in, get the shirts, get out. I end up failing in three unique ways:

Failure #1: There are zero gold Penguins t-shirts and the one that comes in black wasn’t available in his size. What color is the one I end up buying? Grey. Of course. #bestdaughterever

Failure #2: The Penguins championship t-shirts aren’t eligible for the 2 for $30 deal, so I end up paying full price. It’s not really a huge deal, but I could’ve just ordered it online and spared myself at least one L that day — the train.

Failure #3: Since the shirt I’m buying isn’t part of the deal, I can kiss the John Tavares name & number shirt that I’d picked up for myself goodbye… unless I also grab a Nathan MacKinnon shirt and just get two for myself. Oops.

While I’m checking out, I notice a stack of patches by the register and have a “huh…” moment that rears its ugly head only a few hours later. I debate sticking around and letting tourists wandering the store see just how badly I suck at ‘chel 17, but I decide to leave before I’m recognized by any more employees who remember me from the day before. (Yeah. That happened.)

June 21st — 4:27 PM

Now that it’s been almost 24 hours since I bought the jersey, buyer’s remorse starts to set in. If it’s not the Stanley Cup CHAMPIONS patch, is it the right one? Does it matter that it doesn’t have the NHL 100 Years or the Penguins 50 Years patches like the actual game-worn jerseys? Am I going to be happy with the way this jersey looks in the long run?

In a moment of self-awareness, I find it interesting that I’m having so much doubt. My trusty Malkin jersey bears outdated colors, doesn’t have the assistant captain letter and is starting to fray in some spots from how often I wear it, and I’ve never felt like it needs to look perfect — I actually rather like its imperfections. Something is different this time, though. This isn’t just any jersey. This is my “we won the cup… again” jersey. It’s commemorating a moment I never thought I’d get to see and if I live to be 100 years old may still never see again. It needs to be right.

I start to think about my options, and after having a discussion about patches with some other hockey fans on Twitter, I come up with a solution: I’ll buy the Champions patch, along with the NHL 100 Years and Penguins 50 Years patches and attach them on myself. You heard that right — me! I, with the sewing skills of your average 10th grader who’s taken approximately two weeks of home economics, who has only ever attempted to sew in order to preserve ripped workout leggings to which I’ve developed a bizarre emotional attachment, will be altering this jersey myself. All together, the patches cost a little less than $40 on Amazon. By now my quest for the perfect sweater is getting just a little bit ridiculous, but I’m in too deep at this point to turn back.

To prepare for my task, I bookmark a photo from Penguins equipment manager Dana Heinze’s Twitter page that shows where he placed the patches, as well as a couple more pics that show off the stitching. I also look up how to remove ironed-on patches from clothing, as the SCF patch will have to go. I discover that all you need is an iron, some wax paper, some product known as adhesive remover and no fear of God.

Heinze, who was robbed of the 2017 Conn Smythe trophy, is a godsend.

June 21st — 8:39 PM

By now, the new designs for the upcoming Adidas/Fanatics jerseys have appeared on Twitter, and while exactly no one was surprised that they were leaked early, the reactions I see are mixed. Fans of the Predators and the Devils in particular seemed to be unhappy with their new designs, but the Penguins jersey seemed relatively unchanged, save for a few small details. The shoulders are a bit different, and the NHL logo is going to be metallic now. I’m pretty indifferent, but I’ll admit that without having seen one of the Adidas jerseys in person, I’m a bigger fan of the Reebok one, and I’m happy that I was able to snag one when I did.

As I understand it, the consensus is “…Okay. The collars are ugly, but everything else is mostly okay.”

June 27th — approximately 2 PM

Thanks to the fine folks at Amazon.com, the NHL 100 Years patch is delivered to my apartment. At this point I’m out of town and haven’t seen it in person yet, but my trusty roommate tosses it onto the pile of nonsense that’s taken over my bed in my absence. I’ll dig it out in about a week.

July 2nd — approximately 2 PM

The Penguins 50 Years and Stanley Cup Champions patches, which took a bit longer, are also delivered to my apartment. I’m still avoiding New York like the plague, so the packages are unceremoniously added to the Pile, which by now has merited a capital letter.

July 4th — 7:16 PM

I’ve just arrived home from my trip and fished out all three of my patches from the Pile. Everything seemed to be in order, so after I unpack my suitcase, I grab my jersey, a needle, and some thread and prepare to get started.

July 4th — 7:26 PM

It takes me approximately 10 minutes to realize that I have no idea what I’m doing. Like, honestly, none. I’ll occasionally sew closed the random tears that appear in my clothing when they catch on things as I clumsily go about my business, and at all of 5'1", I’ve had to hem every pair of jeans I’ve owned since about age 12. However, after poking myself with the needle several times I start to fear I’ll get blood on the jersey (which, it’s not like hockey jerseys never see blood, so really it’s not big deal). Then I remember that I’d originally planned to melt one of these patches off with an iron and wax paper, and I laugh. It’s clear that I do not have the skill, focus, or patience to be doing this, so I decide to tap out.

July 5th — 3:47 PM

I arrive at the NHL store for the 3rd time. I am absolutely positive the manager recognizes me, but I power through anyway. I’d called earlier that afternoon to ask if anyone in the store would be able to attach my patches for me, and they said it’d be no problem. After talking through the layout with the presser, I decide on a slightly different design.

The Penguins 50 Years patch doesn’t cause any problems — it works perfectly well on the left shoulder. However, the other two were a bit tricker. The NHL 100 Years patch is supposed to fit beneath the numbers on the right arm but still within the gold-colored panel. On my jersey, which has much shorter arms than players’ sweaters because I Am Not A Professional Athlete, there’s not enough room. I decide to have it pressed on over the seam between the gold and black panels; this is probably not as difficult a decision as I’m making it out to be, but my skill is not in making things simpler for myself.

Next is the Stanley Cup Champions patch. I’m told that the Stanley Cup Final patch that came with the jersey can’t be removed, so they suggest putting the Champions patch on the right shoulder, which is left unadorned on the actual players’ jerseys. For the briefest of minutes I stress about whether I should add it or not, whether doing so would take away from my goal of having an “authentic” Stanley Cup Final jersey or simply whether it would overwhelm the sweater with patches. Then I decide to say screw it. My team — this determined, resilient, and frequently stubborn group of guys who I root for — just won the cup twice in a row. I’m never going to let anyone forget it, redundancy an inauthenticity be damned.

July 5th — 3:52 PM

The pressing takes about five minutes total, and before I know it I’m being handed back my decked-out sweater. As the presser helps me carefully tuck it into the tote bag that I swear was easily big enough to bring it there in the first place, he pauses, having noticed something on the front of the jersey. “Did you iron on another patch here?” he asks, pointing to the Stanley Cup Final patch — the one that couldn’t be removed. I tell him no, that I bought it off the rack in the store about two weeks ago, and he laughs to himself. “Someone here definitely ironed another patch on over this,” he tells me. “If I had to guess, I bet it had the 2016 Stanley Cup Final patch at first, and when we brought out more inventory after this year, they put the 2017 patch on over it.” For those keeping score, that brings the total patch count of my jersey to five.

What a beaut.

By now I’ve sunk hours of my life into piecing together this jersey in hopes that I’ll have something special to keep with me as this season ends and we start all over again with the next one. I worry about what next season will bring, knowing that we’ve lost five key players from our winning formula. In building this jersey I wanted to be able to have a memory that I can wear, through next season and beyond, until we get to hoist the cup again — and I think I’ve done that.

Before I know it, I’ll be wearing this jersey while getting into a shouting match with someone’s drunk grandpa at a Rangers game, which will almost certainly have to do with Phil Kessel in some way, and I absolutely cannot wait.