Team Canada’s iconic ’72 sweaters were designed in under 24 hours
by Darryl Webster
In the summer of 1972, just 24 hours before a press conference to announce the Team Canada roster and reveal the new sweaters a team of NHL all-stars would wear in the eight-game Summit Series with the Soviet Union, former Harvard hockey standout-turned-advertising exec Terry O’Malley got an unexpected call. Alan Eagleson — the lawyer for O’Malley’s firm, Vickers & Benson, and a hockey promoter — wanted a new hockey sweater designed from scratch. And he would need it delivered by the following afternoon.
From his downtown St. Catharines office last month, O’Malley set the stage. “There was a press conference going to be at Sutton Place [Hotel in Toronto], and [Eagleson] said, ‘I need a sweater,'” he recalled. O’Malley is one of those wonderfully rare and refreshing people — incredibly accomplished, but who prefers to heap praise on his friends, family and colleagues rather than discuss his own achievements. And so when you ask him about his role in creating one of Canada’s most iconic sports jerseys, it isn’t at all surprising that he speaks about the other people who made it happen.
“The art director I worked with was a guy named John Lloyd,” O’Malley said. “I think his only connection to hockey was his wife, Michelle, knew [Toronto Maple Leaf] Jim McKenny’s wife.… There was very little direction other than John saying to me, ‘Can I do whatever I want?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ I mean, I trusted him.”
Lloyd left O’Malley’s office on a mission. He bought four long-sleeved shirts — two red and two white — then rushed home to Michelle, a talented seamstress. (She would later go on to help found Club Monaco.)
The two got to work. Lloyd cut out a stylized maple leaf from a red shirt: his abstract take on the still relatively new Canadian flag. Michelle stitched the leaf onto the white sweater the Canadians would wear in Russia — and then reversed the colours for the red home sweater.
“[Lloyd] came in the next morning and he stood at the doorway, and I said, ‘Whaddya got?'” O’Malley recalled.
He said when Lloyd loved something, he’d press two fingers on the thumb of his right hand, hold them to his lips and let out a soft whistle. He was confident they’d come up with something special.
O’Malley marched the new Team Canada sweater to the Sutton Place Hotel, confident with what John and Michelle had come up with, but with no idea just how iconic this sweater would one day become. Later, Paul Henderson’s No. 19 sweater would fetch $1.28 million at auction.
I asked O’Malley what it felt like at the time, seeing the best hockey players in the world step onto the Montreal Forum ice wearing those sweaters, just weeks after they were designed.
“I hate somebody that says ‘a dream come true,'” he said. “It wasn’t that. It was kind of the culmination of a 100-yard dash, you know?… It was so quick.”
Before I left, O’Malley asked me to wait a moment as he headed to the next room. When he returned, he was holding a large work of art, its frame showing some age such that I wondered if it might be around the same vintage as the Team Canada sweater — 50 years this September. It was a remarkable piece: a vast cloudscape with two birds gliding peacefully, almost as an afterthought; the focus was undeniably the clouds.
“John gave me this,” he said. “His theory was that clouds were the ultimate abstract art form.”
Lloyd died in 1996, after a storied career in art and design. Even years after their partnership, O’Malley is still filled with stories about him, their friendship and what the two achieved together.
As I left O’Malley’s office, it had begun to rain and the clouds had moved in. I took a moment to think about what it was Lloyd saw in the clouds in July of 1972. I like to think it was a hockey sweater.