Before the Sabres celebrated their 50th year in the National Hockey League with commemorative jerseys, decade theme nights and reminders of better days, owner Terry Pegula decided to turn back the clock for good.
Pegula, whose childhood fandom inspired him to purchase the team, heeded an emphatic call from the fan base in the summer of 2018 by finalizing plans to restore the royal blue and gold color scheme worn by the Sabres from 1970 through the final season at Memorial Auditorium in 1996.
A committee at Pegula Sports and Entertainment – executive vice presidents Frank Cravotta and Ron Raccuia, and John Durbin, senior vice president of marketing and business strategy – was instructed to work with Adidas on designing a modern version of the uniforms worn by The French Connection.
“We have what’s been a really key part to the Sabres’ history, the fans want it, our owners love it and we just need to modernize it and go forward from there,” Raccuia said. “Sometimes it’s better to just listen and get out of the way. That’s what I think we did here.”
On Tuesday morning, almost one year after announcing the long-awaited rebranding, the Sabres unveiled two permanent uniforms that will debut when the next NHL season opens. The royal and white kits incorporate elements of the past – including the traditional bison crest with two crossing swords the franchise switched back to in 2010 – and one significant change fans will recognize from the 50th anniversary jerseys. They are available for preorder by phone or at ShopOneBuffalo.com.
Although all involved had a clear vision for the uniforms at the onset, the final product required a bold change by Adidas, a sheet of white felt and some experimentation.
“We knew where ownership wanted to go, we knew where the fans wanted to go and I think we got there. It was a perfect storm as far as the direction,” Cravotta said.
A large segment of the Sabres’ fan base has clamored for the return of royal blue and gold since a dramatic ceremony inside Memorial Auditorium in 1996 revealed a switch to the goat head logo and red and black color scheme.
The Sabres underwent another logo change in 2006 – now referred to by fans as “the slug” – but royal blue only returned on alternates or uniforms for the Winter Classic in 2008 and 2018.
Last August, the team finally announced for the 2020-21 season it was restoring the original color, only one day before it revealed its commemorative white and gold jersey for the 50th anniversary. The latter uniform – which featured a navy crest with gold stitching to accentuate the hair blowing down the bison’s back -- was unlike any in franchise history and was born from dozens of concepts created by a team at Adidas that included Eric Bodamer, a North Tonawanda native. Meanwhile, the same group was working on the Sabres’ permanent switch to royal blue.
The committee at PSE first met with Adidas to examine the franchise’s original set of jerseys and how elements from those kits could be applied to the new look.
“We didn’t just say, ‘OK, let’s just do our old uniform,’” said Raccuia.
Adidas successfully pitched a bigger crest on the front of both jerseys and provided examples – including the textured lion logo for Poland’s national team – to sell PSE on the logo stitching that would also be used for the bison and swords on the anniversary uniform.
The committee at PSE also looked at other jerseys with a similar color scheme, specifically the St. Louis Blues’ retro look, to ensure the striping would be “unique to Buffalo,” according to Durbin.
“One of the things we were really sensitive to was does this feel like a Buffalo jersey when it came to the striping,” Durbin said. “We didn’t want people to look at it and think of another team or something else. What’s the ownable width and pattern that’s from our history and we can incorporate that.”
Adidas sent eight total renderings, four royal blue and four white, to PSE and a few did not closely resemble the franchise’s original set. The group chose two concepts it felt honored the team’s history and received prototypes to present to ownership for approval in fall 2019.
Many elements on the white jersey resemble what was worn at Memorial Auditorium. There is gold piping below the royal blue shoulders. The royal blue and gold striping on each arm and the waist help highlight the crest. Gold-outlined royal blue numbers are on the back and arms.
Raccuia said the Sabres will attempt to wear the new white jerseys in KeyBank Center as many times as possible in the future. This will require cooperation from the visiting team because the NHL now has home teams wear a dark uniform.
Color placement on both sets of gloves – which were finalized with the help of Sabres equipment manager Dave Williams – resemble those worn in the past, featuring a gold cuff with royal lettering. The royal pants include a thick gold stripe on each leg.
“The whole idea of modernizing our fans’ and our ownership’s desire to go back to what people know us as is what you see here today,” Raccuia said. “I think the crest shouldn’t get left out of this because it is very clean and very modern, very fast. It’s all part of where we were going with this new design.”
Wow, I needed a minute to compose myself, watching that video produced unexpected tears of happiness. It’s been an honor to collaborate and create these uniforms for the greatest fans in the city I love. Let’s-Go-Buff-a-lo! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 #ReturnToRoyal #sabres #adidashockey https://t.co/sFw2s121ZO— Eric Bodamer (@ericbodamer) August 11, 2020
The royal jersey includes white-outlined gold numbers and no striping on the shoulders. There's also no yellow on the collar and the royal used on the uniform resembles that used by the original jersey in 1970. However, the first prototype presented to the Pegulas had three gold and two royal stripes on each arm and the waist, much like the original royal blue jersey, but this led to the white crest “dominating a sea of royal and gold,” said Cravotta.
With not enough time to work with Adidas on alterations, Cravotta, Durbin and Raccuia began to cut strips of white felt and placed them on top of the jersey in search of a solution. After a few days of working sessions in the PSE and Adpro Sports offices, the group decided on two thin, white piping between the gold and royal stripes on the arms and waist.
Photos were taken to send to ownership and Adidas, and both jerseys were finalized in late 2019.
“It’s this very slight adjustment,” Cravotta said. “That’s what we wanted. We didn’t want this banding to become overwhelming. It’s a very subtle but important detail. The white one was perfect. There was never a question in my mind, and the team that worked on it. We loved it right off the bat.”
Sabres introduce new royal uniforms
The Buffalo Sabres announced Sunday that the team will be returning to royal blue jerseys this year in honor of the 50th season. They are turning back the clock this week, unveiling new sweaters for the 2020-21 season as part of a bevy of community initiatives. As was first announced last summer, the '20-21 jerseys will feature the royal blue color scheme the team wore from 1970 to 1996 that has been a request of fans for many years since blue, white and gold returned as primary colors in 2006.
The new uniforms do not have patches on the shoulders and there aren’t numbers on the chest. Instead, they opted for one subtle change to honor the city. An electric flash logo was placed inside the back collar of the jersey, an ode to the municipal flag of Buffalo. These will serve as the primary jerseys for the distant future and the 50th anniversary jersey won’t be used as an alternate in 2020-21.
“This is a very clean, modern interpretation of a classic uniform and simplicity is key,” Cravotta said. “We’ve had a lot of detail on some other uniforms. From my perspective, it’s as powerful and clean as it can be, but all the materials and detail were current.”
The NHL typically wants teams to roll out a new look ahead of the NHL draft, however, the event this year was rescheduled from June to October because of challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Sabres did not receive the royal blue prototype from Adidas until last month and quickly worked to build a marketing plan to present the jerseys to the fan base. Since players aren’t around for photoshoots, a PSE employee modeled the new looks for team-generated content. Care packages were sent to players to show them the jerseys.
However, the 50th anniversary season gave the Sabres an opportunity to introduce young fans to the days of Gilbert Perreault skating inside Memorial Auditorium while wearing a jersey that resembles the one that will now be worn by Jack Eichel.
“We have a whole generation of Sabres fans that just don’t know about coming to a game and seeing that every single time,” Durbin said. “What’s exciting is that connection is going to exist now. We get to introduce this to a whole new set of fans, get them excited about it and really grow our connection with them while connecting with our fans who remember this and remember the '70s, '80s and '90s teams that wore royal.”