When Steve Berard heard there would be a new designer for NHL jerseys, he did not expect that it would be Fanatics.

“It was a surprise, but a good surprise, I would say,” Berard said.

Berard is the owner and CEO of SP Apparel, the Canadian company that has manufactured the NHL’s on-ice uniforms for nearly 50 years in Quebec. It will continue to manufacture those jerseys now that Fanatics will be the official outfitter of the NHL’s on-ice uniforms for the next 10 years, beginning next season.

Those jerseys were revealed Wednesday ahead of Friday’s NHL draft, where prospects will be among the first players to wear their teams’ new sweaters.

If the jerseys look the same as the ones in previous seasons, that’s literally by design. The goal for Fanatics and the NHL was consistency, giving players the comfort that while the designer was different, nothing had fundamentally changed about their uniforms — at least for now.

“It’s going to be the same way as before. The fabrics, the concepts, everything,” Berard said. “There’s no reason to risk trying new stuff in the first year. We just want to make sure that the NHL will shine and nobody will complain about the jerseys because they’re exactly what the NHL has known for so many years and the way we were on those products.”

The NHL is confident that players will be pleased with the changeover in designers since the manufacturer will remain the same.

“The actual game-worn jerseys are going to be manufactured by the same place that manufactured them for Adidas,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “They’re the best in the world at it.”

WHEN NIKE PURCHASED BAUER in 1995, two Bauer employees — Serge Berard and Phil Chiarella — were inspired to buy Bauer’s jersey business in Granby, Quebec, and renamed it SP Apparel in 1999. Chiarella passed away in 2008. Serge Berard retired. Steve Berard became executive VP and co-owner in June 2016, and was elevated to owner and CEO in 2018.

The company had two decades-old factories: One in Granby and one in Saint-Hyacinthe.

“I like to say that when you turn on a TV and you are watching a hockey game, all those jerseys are made here at the factory,” he said. “Bricks. No windows. Over the last 10-15 years, hiring people and attracting new people was difficult. That’s why we wanted to have one nicer factory.”

Berard remembers speaking with one of the seamstresses in the factory when she was about 24 years old. One day she asked, “Am I going to do this all my life?” regarding the dark, somewhat depressing environs of the older plant.

So SP Apparel opened a new, state-of-the-art facility in Saint-Hyacinthe last year.

“Now the factory is all-white, very bright. We have windows all around the factory,” he said. “All the washrooms are super clean, like when you go to the hotels. I just wanted to have a better place for my employees.”

While the aesthetics have changed, the process of creating a jersey has not. The factory is currently working on NHL, IIHF tournament, AHL, CHL and 2026 Olympic national team jerseys, partnering with Nike, CCM, Bauer and Adidas as well as Fanatics.

It begins with an idea from a designer at a partner such as Fanatics. Then SP Apparel’s eight-person development team, which has worked together “forever,” in Berard’s terms, takes the concept and fleshes it out, including how it could be executed.

“An NHL jersey needs to be perfect. Nice looking and incorporating new technologies,” Berard said. “It’s a fast-action game. There will be abrasions on the jersey. And there are fights, of course, and we have to make sure that the collar isn’t going to open up after one.”

Once all parties have signed off on the jerseys, it’s on to a manufacturing process where SP Apparel “controls everything from A to Z.” They buy the yarn, they sublimate the jerseys, they knit and cut the fabric, it’s all done internally.

“When everything goes well, it’s our fault. When there’s a problem, it’s also our fault,” he said.

The plant has automated some processes, like using a laser cutter, but an NHL jersey remains a handcrafted product. There are rows of tables with spools of yard above them. Whirling sewing machines stitch crests on the front and “fighting straps” on the back of jerseys, while the letters on nameplates are all individually threaded on.

“I don’t see how or when we could automate the chain of production. We need hands. All the jerseys have so many pieces to fit together and we need people to do that,” Berard said, adding that there are 200 people working throughout the year on the creation of NHL jerseys.

“I would say we have about 10% real hockey fans in the factory. The others are very proud to work on NHL jerseys and seeing their product that they’re working on TV about two months after it went through their hands.”

Brian Jennings, NHL senior executive VP for marketing and chief branding officer, has known the Berards for years. He has toured the factory in Saint-Hyacinthe and remains in awe of their process.

“There is something about the humility of the province, the pride that they take,” he said. “If you went to the factory and you walk around, you see the seamstresses, some of whom have been working there for their entire lives.”

ADIDAS BEGAN ITS DESIGN deal with the NHL in 2017. Its run included some bold designs and innovations — like the colorful Reverse Retro jerseys. But by the end of the deal, the league and Adidas were no longer aligned, Jennings said. While Adidas started off making shirts, hats and locker room apparel, the company gradually shifted to a focus on authentic jerseys.

Fanatics had been creating that kind of gear for the NHL over the last few seasons. “It was a natural evolution of our business with them,” Jennings said.

Berard said any concerns about Fanatics taking over NHL jersey design for the first time were calmed when he met their team and saw familiar names and faces in the industry.

“We knew we’d be working with a team that knew the NHL. We never had any concern at that point. We weren’t saying, ‘Oh, are they going to reduce the quality or make decisions we aren’t aware of?'” he said. “It was actually very good news for us when we met the team and we knew that they wanted to continue the same quality jersey that we’ve been making for almost 50 years now.”

It’s a team that includes Keith Leach, previously with CCM, Reebok and Adidas, who has been hired as Fanatics Brands’ NHL VP/GM to spearhead the project.

Leach said the first thing Fanatics did was build a strong uniform team that included Dom Filano, who was the head designer at Adidas and helped spearhead the Vegas Golden Knights‘ identity development.

“We’re keeping close to the standard of the jersey on ice so that players feel a seamless transition,” Leach said. “We talked to players and teams and equipment managers to find out what was working and wasn’t working.”

One thing Leach’s team kept hearing: The Adidas jerseys were having durability issues around the arm, breaking down from abrasions. He said the team believed it was from the shift of regular fabric to recycled fabric. So the team built in some pattern reinforcement in the arm, brought it back to the players and the equipment managers, and got the thumbs-up from them.

Among the other Year 1 changes for the uniforms:

  • New shoulder fabrics replacing the debossed pattern fabric used on the shoulders of the prior NHL jersey.

  • A new NHL Shield execution on the front neck of the jersey which includes a special hologram finish.

  • Fanatics branding embroidered on the back neck of jerseys.

  • A redesigned on-ice player practice jersey, which now features an embroidered lightweight crest.

While discussions with players was informative, it was also a bit of public relations. Fanatics had been in NHL dressing rooms since 2018, making apparel and headwear. It needed to inform players that SP Apparel was still in the picture.

“We felt like we were already kind of building that strong trust, but it was critical for us to go and say that we’re teaming up with the industry leader in uniform production and fabrication,” Leach said. “Our No. 1 consumer is the athlete. We have to build this product to work for the athlete. It was extremely important.”

Of course, there were more public relations to be done regarding Fanatics.

MONTHS AFTER THE NHL announced its deal with the company, Fanatics received public criticism after Major League Baseball players complained about their new uniforms in spring training.

The players cited smaller lettering on player nameplates, see-through fabric and rips in their pants. While the uniforms carried a Nike logo, they were manufactured by Fanatics.

Eventually, Fanatics was absolved of blame by the MLB Players Association, as it was essentially a sub-contractor producing uniforms based on Nike’s designs. The union said Fanatics “recognizes the vital importance of soliciting Player feedback, obtaining Player buy-in and not being afraid to have difficult conversations about jerseys or trading cards.”

Jennings said the NHL took “shrapnel” during the Nike baseball uniform controversy.

“Unfortunately, for us, we were getting drawn into it because we had made the announcement that Fanatics was coming onto our ice surface,” he said.

Jennings said that teams were reaching out to the NHL as they heard about the baseball uniform situation. So he reached out to Fanatics to ask if the league should be concerned.

“The good news is that ultimately the truth did come out on it, and we feel like we are in good hands,” Jennings said.

The entire baseball uniform dust-up was essentially Berard’s worst fear. “It is kind of a nightmare where everybody’s taking pictures of something that doesn’t work and it’s all public everywhere,” he said.

Berard is bracing himself for a negative reaction, whether it’s warranted or not.

“It’s going to be fun at the beginning of the season just to see what the fans and the people are going to say, because it’s the same jersey. So people are going to probably complain about something that doesn’t exist,” he said.

Fanatics’ design capabilities will be seen during the 2025 NHL Winter Classic and the 4 Nations Face-Off tournament scheduled for next February.

The bigger innovations in the jerseys and the design process won’t happen until 2025-26, according to Jennings.

Two teams were allowed to be “grandfathered” in with new designs next season: The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, who both will have new logos and jerseys in 2024-25. They both came to the NHL before the deal with Fanatics had been struck.

While the NHL and Fanatics intended there to be a moratorium on new designs this season, there was an unexpected wrinkle: The relocation of the former Arizona Coyotes franchise to Utah, where the temporarily named Utah Hockey Club will begin play next season.

“Here we had these compressed timelines that were beyond anything that we’ve dealt with before,” Jennings said. “A couple of sleepless nights, but I think they’ll have a nice jersey to have at the draft.”

Jennings said it won’t be their official jersey, but that the Utah players will receive them sometime in August. One thing the NHL and Fanatics are both excited about: Fans will be able to own the jerseys that the Saint-Hyacinthe factory makes.

For the first time in a decade, fans will be able to purchase the authentic on-ice jersey called the “Authentic Pro” jersey.

“Everybody was focused on more of that replica jersey but there’s an appetite for it, from fans to collectors,” Jennings said. “I think the industry underestimated the demand for having a product that is exactly what they wear on the ice.”

Stitched together by those who have made these jerseys for decades.