|Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson models the team's new heritage jersey, which was created with the assistance of Jacob Barrette, a Gatineau-based graphic designer and avid fan (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC).
Jacob Barrette can't remember a time when the Ottawa Senators weren't a part of his life.
Today, he'll see that connection to his favourite hockey team reach a level he hardly ever imagined when he began cheering for them as a youngster.
The Gatineau graphic designer's evening hobby springs to life this morning with the official release of the Senators' new heritage jersey at Puck Drop. Barrette played an integral role in the designing of a uniform which pays tribute to Ottawa's Stanley Cup champions of the past.
"It's pretty exciting," Barrette, 29, said of seeing Senators players were the heritage uniform for the first time. "I grew up as a fan. I was at the parade when they got the franchise (in 1990). I was at the first game in the Civic Centre (in 1992) and the first game at the Palladium (in 1996) ... When you're a fan, they take up a fairly good chunk of your social life.
"It all starts with the Senators. But I never knew, growing up or even in the past few years, that I'd ever be contributing to such an important part of the franchise. It hasn't fully sunk in yet, that's for sure, and it's very, very exciting as a fan, just knowing you're going to watch your favourite team playing in the jersey you designed. It's pretty surreal."
The creation of the jersey was a two-year odyssey that began when Barrette's designs began to gain growing attention when they were first posted a various online message boards. The Senators took notice of the positive reviews they were generating and approached Barrette about working with them on the project. He gained his original inspiration for the design when he noticed the heritage-style 'O' patches on the shoulders of jerseys unveiled by the team in July 2007.
Jeff Kyle, the Senators' vice-president of marketing, said the organization liked the idea of bringing a fan into the process. And he knew almost immediately that Barrette had a unique devotion to a jersey design that pays tribute to Ottawa's hallowed hockey past and some of the greatest teams the sport has ever seen.
"Jacob was really passionate about it," said Kyle. "I saw that early on when I first met him. Just some of the stuff he brought to the (first) meeting and how excited he was to be involved ... I just knew that he was going to put a lot of effort into helping us get the best jersey possible, so I had a lot of confidence in him."
Barrette teamed up with local hockey historian Paul Kitchen — whose book, Win, Tie Or Wrangle, details the accomplishments of the Senators' champions of the early 20th century — to research the jerseys worn by the 11 Cup winners. The final product combines elements from a number of those teams.
"There was no one jersey, when you looked back, that made you say 'that was the jersey,' " said Kyle. "We looked at a number of things that would come together into a jersey that would pay tribute to those teams. After that, Jacob put together some concepts and we would meet every couple of months to look at stuff."
"When you're a fan, they take up a fairly good chunk of your social life. It all starts with the Senators. But I never knew, growing up or even in the past few years, that I'd ever be contributing to such an important part of the franchise. It hasn't fully sunk in yet, that's for sure, and it's very, very exciting as a fan, just knowing you're going to watch your favourite team playing in the jersey you designed. It's pretty surreal." - Jacob Barrette
There was also the matter of marrying the design to the current work being done by Reebok, the official supplier of National Hockey League team jerseys. A series of prototypes were built, with the third one — which added red patches with the words 'Ottawa Senators ' and 'Senateurs d'Ottawa' on the shoulders — satisfying everyone's needs.
"Seeing the final prototype, I felt like we had nailed it," said Barrette, who suggested one final alteration to the look of the socks about six weeks ago.
Added Kyle: "People say 'two years to do it?' But there's a lot that goes into it ... The design needs to mesh with the actual construction of a current (NHL) jersey. We probably went back and forth with Reebok over a sixth-month period to get the shoulder patches right, to get the numbers right, to get the names right and the socks right."
The Senators will wear the heritage uniform on 11 occasions at home this season, with the debut coming Oct. 13 against the Colorado Avalanche at Scotiabank Place. Eleven symbolizes the number of Stanley Cups won by the original Senators — one more element of this tribute to the NHL's first true dynasty.
For Barrette, who runs his own graphic design company (Le Collectif Design) out of home in Aylmer, the release of the heritage uniform is the final chapter of a remarkable story.
"This was something I was doing on the side, working on it at night," he said. "I knew it was a longshot going into it. A fan approaching a team ... that rarely materializes into something. But at the same time, I was having fun with the project. I had so much spare time invested in hockey that I just enjoyed working on it.
"When I thought it was something that might be a serious option for the team, I thought I might as well go for it."
In the Senators' eyes, it turned out to be just the right fit.
"I always thought it would be neat if the jersey we developed had a fan involved in it," said Kyle. "It's special because the jersey is for the fans, so to have a fan involved in developing it just adds to the story."