Two of my favorite things collided last year when my local minor league hockey team announced their Military Appreciation Night sweater. I had been thinking all along that it would be amazing if they had a military themed logo instead of their existing one. My dream came true on February 26, 2022 when the team played the Charlotte Checkers.
The jersey was designed for the Springfield Thunderbirds Military Appreciation Night by Matt McElroy. The Thunderbirds are in the American Hockey League (AHL) and are the farm team of the St. Louis Blues. The sweater combines the team’s name along with features of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds jet demonstration team. The jersey is an almost perfect lift of the jet’s topside paint scheme placed onto the hockey sweater. This combination is perfect since the team’s name was actually inspired by the USAF jet team.
The main logo of the sweater is a copy of the USAF Thunderbirds flight helmet and oxygen mask, with Springfield written above it and a lightning bolt. This was not by mistake. It is actually a tribute to the original Springfield Indians logo. Springfield has a long history of minor league hockey, and was one of original founding member teams of the league. The original Springfield team was known as the Indians.
Overall, the jersey is white, which is identical to the USAF Thunderbird jets. The sleeves contain the player’s number circled in stars, just like the demo team jets. The elbow area proudly flies the rondel used by all United States military aircraft to identify their nationality. The bottom has the red scallop with stars just like the tail of the jets. The team also used navy blue pants, which matches the color of the underside of the Thunderbirds’ jets. Again, very specific attention to detail.
When the jersey was unveiled, several members of the team visited the 104th Fighter Wing, 131st Fighter Squadron “The Barnstormers” at Barnes Air National Guard Base, in Westover, Massachusetts. Several of the jerseys were taken aloft for a flight in the unit’s F-15 Eagles. (Photos of the players and the F-15 pilots were obtained via the team’s website and/or social media pages.)
Game Day and Beyond!
As this game approached I was hoping for a bunch of merchandise to be introduced at the team store. As soon as I saw the official replica jersey for sale, I bought one. It was customizable, so I picked the number and used my last name. I specifically asked for the number 5, and that it be purposely be sewn on upside down, which was my tribute to the USAF Thunderbirds. To my surprise, when the team came out onto the ice on the night of the game, Tyler Tucker also had his number 5 upside down! The team or Matt McElroy even used that little detail when they designed the sweater, and I was just elated. My jersey did not arrive until mid-April, but I was thrilled to see it in person.
The team also used the jerseys for a good cause. The team has several alternate jerseys each year. 2022 included a throwback night to when the were the “Falcons”, a special “Pink the Rink” tribute to cancer survivors, a Simpsons themed jersey and the Military Appreciation Night. After each of these special jersey games, the team auctions them off with the proceeds going to the various charities the Springfield Thunderbirds support. The Military Appreciation Night jersey auction raised $28,575!
(Game photos above are from the team’s website and/or social media.)
My Military Appreciation Night Merchandise
I took full advantage of all of the great merchandise the team put out with the jet team themed merchandise.
We really enjoyed the game, and the win sealed the evening as one I will not forget for a long time!