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Back in black: Breaking down the Flames’ return to the Blasty jersey

One of the NHL’s most fiery characters has made his long-awaited return.

On Monday, as part of a league-wide “Reverse Retro” jersey initiative, the Calgary Flames reintroduced their former horse logo, dubbed “Blasty” both by fans and the Flames’ marketing staff. Used as the primary crest on a black uniform donned by the team from 1998 to 2006, Blasty also saw prime deployment on the shoulders of the Flames’ iconic red jerseys with the black flaming “C” notably worn during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004.

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The horse logo made its debut during a particularly rough spot for the team, in the midst of the “Save the Flames” campaign of the late 1990s and a seven-season stretch of missing the playoffs. Between 2000 and 2003, the Flames went without a red jersey—unthinkable now—opting instead to use the black Blasty uniform as its primary dark jersey (to be worn on the road, as was the custom of the time).

But the black jersey continued as the team’s alternate in the wildly successful 2003–04 season and remained in use as the Flames captured the Northwest Division crown in 2005–06. The Flames retired Blasty as a main crest following that season and subsequently removed the logo from the shoulders of the red and white primary jerseys as part of the NHL’s switch to the “Reebok Edge” uniform template in 2007, replacing it with the flags of Alberta and Canada.

Now, as they would say in 1998, Blasty’s back (all right).

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How did the Flames decide to revisit this point in their history? What changes did they make from the previous iteration of the Blasty jersey to land on this new design? How will their new black jersey be used in games? I once again spoke to Flames director of marketing Ryan Popowich to find out.

Popowich said that the design process with Adidas and the NHL for the Reverse Retros began all the way back in the spring of 2019. From the start, he and Flames retail director Brent Gibbs had a few clear criteria for what they wanted in a new throwback design.

“We initially said, ‘OK, it has to, our number-one choice is gonna be Blasty, it has to be involved in some way,'” said Popowich. “The other thing we said, initially, too, was, ‘we don’t want to change Blasty in any way, so if we’re going to bring Blasty back, the logo has to stay exactly the same.’

“I know lots of people were talking about, ‘you should change the colour of Blasty, or modify Blasty, or update Blasty,’ but we talked about this initially before we even talked to Adidas, [and] we said no—our first criteria was that, if we’re gonna bring back Blasty, he’s gonna come back exactly as he was,” Popowich added. “Now, how he appears on the jersey [was] totally up for discussion, but that was our only initial criteria. We agreed that we didn’t want to modify Blasty in any way because, again, kind of baby steps in some ways, but we wanted to make sure that the legacy of Blasty stood on its own.”

With the Flames largely having eschewed black in their return to “full retro” in October, Popowich also saw the Blasty jersey as an opportunity to embrace a totally divergent colour palette.

“We wanted a black jersey. Predominantly black,” said Popowich. “Everybody wants a black jersey. We knew that we were switching out the black “C” jerseys because we were gonna go full retro. […] From a retail perspective, you still need black in the palette so you can do different types of stuff with merchandise and apparel. We knew we still wanted a black jersey and people still resonated with [it].”

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Popowich said he feels the league-wide jersey trial offered the Flames the security to try something a little more outlandish with the new design. The Blasty logo has appeared on more and more merchandise over the years, including as a marquee part of the team’s clothing line in collaboration with actor Jarod Joseph, but Popowich noted that it took some prodding to convince the higher-ups in the organization to allow the horse to appear once more on a uniform.

“The program is limited—it’s a limited time, a limited edition. We [aren’t] going to wear them on ice for a lot of games, it’s only kind of like a sampling,” said Popowich. “It was going league-wide, so we weren’t kind of out on our own and, if we’d made a mistake, then we wouldn’t be standing out by ourselves. So we knew that this was a really good opportunity to sort of float the balloon with Blasty internally.”

As part of the design process, the team collaborated with Adidas on a back-and-forth stage during which Popowich and the marketing staff received multiple concepts of what a Flames “Reverse Retro” could look like. According to Popowich, these concepts included Blasty on yellow and red jerseys, as well as multiple different takes on the Flames’ infamous ’90s-era “pedestal” jerseys and the 2004 chevron-heavy jerseys.

“Some of them were really cool, and stuff that we would definitely explore, maybe in the future,” said Popowich. “But again, Blasty was the number-one goal.”

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The refreshed Blasty design boasts some changes from the Iginla-era original. Most noticeably, the “V”-shape created by the chevron striping around the waist is now black instead of red, while the flaming “C” shoulder patches have switched from red to white. The collar has also been adapted to the Adizero template.

The white “C” on the shoulders is hardly new—it’s a holdover from the chest of the Flames’ red jersey from the mid-1990s. Popowich said they made that change to help satisfy the “reverse” component of the design and to pay homage to the “pedestal” uniforms.

The rest of the uniform falls largely in line with the Blasty jersey from the late ’90s. Barring some logistical hurdles, the Flames plan to bring back the old pants design worn back in the day with multi-colour striping running down the sides. The design for the socks is set to feature far less red than is pictured below, with the Flames opting instead for a primarily black design with adjacent horizontal red and yellow stripes (identical to the design on the waist of the new jersey, minus the chevron element) bisecting each sock.

Get ready to see a familiar old helmet look, too. As for Shania Twain’s Blasty dress, don’t expect to see it in FanAttic stores any time soon.

The new and revised Blasty jersey is set to be worn on an extremely limited basis for this upcoming season. Popowich noted that, owing to the constantly fluctuating plans for the 2020–21 season, the Flames and the NHL still don’t know when or how often the Reverse Retro jerseys will be worn.

“Everyone’s gonna wear it a couple times, one or two times,” said Popowich. “It was basically gonna be for a couple months, and that’s it. In fact, you won’t even be able to buy them anymore. That’s it, and Blasty no more. […] To be frank, the plan was probably going to be some sort of limited run, and then it’s supposed to go away and then we’re gonna do another program, with whatever the criteria is for that.

“Our method to our madness here is, we absolutely wanted this opportunity to prove that Blasty is gonna be huge,” Popowich added. “I’ve up-sold this right to [Flames CEO] John Bean. I said, ‘I promise you, we’re gonna sell so many of these jerseys that you won’t be able to deny that Blasty is the greatest thing ever, and that he’s definitely a big part of what we need to do going forward. So, our hope is that it sells really well, the fans resonate huge not just today but consistently. […] We’re going to make an honest-to-God case about why Blasty needs to be a part of our jersey inventory beyond this program. We’re going to do our darnedest to make that happen.”

Popowich brought up a unique proposal for how the Blasty jersey could be implemented down the line.

“My ultimate goal is that I’d like to have Blasty weeks in the schedule,” said Popowich. “If we, a couple times a year, say, ‘it’s gonna be Blasty week, and we’re gonna go all Blasty for a week,’ and then he goes away for the rest of the time and we just go back to normal stuff, that’s how I would like to deploy it.”

As for the Flames’ current alternate jersey, which previously served as the team’s home jersey in Reebok and Adidas configurations from 2007 to 2019, Popowich mentioned that the time might be coming soon for an update.

“It’ll be very disappointing if we don’t have a [Blasty] jersey element going forward, so we’re gonna do our best, and if that means we’re gonna sacrifice our third jersey and it becomes Blasty, well, maybe that’s the option that happens,” said Popowich. “If you ask me, it’s not the first choice that we want to do. We actually still want to keep a third jersey because we still do want a black “C” version. We still think that’s something we need to check the box and still have, but we also want that to live with the Blasty jersey as well. If I had my choice, I need four jerseys. That’s how it comes down to.

“The third jersey, like you know, is just our former home jersey, which will hold that place for now, because we feel very, very strongly that we need a black “C” version for the foreseeable future, at least,” Popowich added. “But, yeah, that jersey needs to be updated. So, there is going to be a [cycle] of where Adidas will be updating their technology, so, there’ll be a chance for, probably, the third jersey program to be updated here very, very soon, like, within the next two seasons for sure.”