The ongoing NHL lockout has many hockey fans angry as talks between the league and the players’ union have ended in a series of contract talks breakdowns.
For We Bleed Blue, an independent apparel line that primarily makes Rangers clothing, this means sending a message to the league via the shirts they make right in Queens.
Weeks after the 2012-13 NHL lockout began on September 15, We Bleed Blue founders Brendan Gebert and John Rizzo designed a T-shirt that called for the ousting of league commissioner Gary Bettman. The message on the blue tee is simple: “Fire Bettman.”
Gebert explained that this is the third lockout since Bettman took over the league in the early 1990s. “We decided it was time to unite the fans and let our voices be heard,” Gebert said in an email. “What better way then to make a ‘Fire Bettman’ shirt. We understand that it is not entirely Gary Bettman’s fault, but at the same time there have been three lockouts during his reign.”
The T-shirt has been a big seller since it was introduced by the online-only clothing line. And while they say sales of league-approved merchandise has gone down as a result of the lockout, We Bleed Blue has gotten the support of Ranger fans, the founders say, because they would prefer to shop with them than the NHL.
The line’s biggest holiday seller was “The King of New York” design to honor Rangers goalie and incumbent Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist. The design features a goalie mask with “King” as the mask’s top, and “New York” as the mask’s bottom.
Defenseman Ryan McDonough and winger Carl Hagelin have also recently been featured in We Bleed Blue apparel. Gebert said the Swedish-born Hagelin tweeted a picture of himself wearing his “Swagelin” sweatshirt while he is back in his homeland.
Support from the players has been one of the proudest facets for the owners. “We go to games, purchase merchandise, and spend a whole lot of time supporting these guys. It’s nice to see them support us and what we are doing here,” Gebert said.
If and when the season begins this year, or next, Gebert and Rizzo said they’ll be at Madison Square Garden for the first puck drop.
“We are all frustrated with the lockout and ongoing negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA (National Hockey League Players’ Association), but we refuse to turn our backs on the league,” Gebert said. “Some fans may say they will not return. We will be at MSG opening night whenever they decide to come to their senses and get a deal done.”