The Shirts Off Their Backs

Game-Worn Jersey Fanatic Has A Collection For The Ages

 

Eddie Olson is one of those good-hearted souls who would give you the shirt off his back. That is unless it’s a game-worn hockey jersey. Then he’ll guard it like a goalie defends his crease.

When it comes to game-worn jerseys, Olson would rather receive than to give. He’ll take it all – fresh and new or raggedy and worn – under one condition, it’s hung off the shoulder pads of a Colorado Avalanche player who’s lasted at least 200 games. 

The Littleton, Colo., native has a sizable collection, about 200 by his last count. About half of those are Colorado Avalanche jerseys; the rest of the collection is rounded out by a homogenous mixture of other NHL teams, U.S. National and Olympic teams, college clubs and a variety from different leagues. His collection could be bigger but he’s tapered off over the years.

“Right now, I have every player who has ever played at least 200 games for the Colorado Avalanche in my collection, and that’s for good reason,” said Olson, who spent eight years at USA Hockey as the director of internet development. “You have to have a target because this is one of those things that gets out of hand quickly.”

In the spirit of Hockey Week Across America, and more specifically “Wear Your Favorite Jersey Day,” Olson will be donning his J.T. Compher Avalanche home jersey from the 2017-18 season. Not only does it have the NHL 100-year patch on the sleeve but it also has great wear throughout, which Olson describes as “a great jersey from a tough USA Hockey guy.”

Olson’s foray into the hobby began before teams figured out there’s money to be made from the shirts off their players’ backs. Even a sweaty sweater of a low-level player can fetch a few hundred dollars in auctions, and there’s no shortage of demand from fans who are looking to share something with their favorite player or collectors eager to fill a hole in their collection.

For Olson, that player was Jan Hejda, who logged 286 games with the Avs between 2011 and 2015, which meant he spent years tracking down a jersey that would make his collection whole again. 

“If a player plays that many games, that’s a guy who really played for the team and wasn’t around for a cup of coffee at the trade deadline,” said Olson, who continues his hockey passion these days as an adult player in Huntsville, Ala. “By the same token, I do have a Ray Bourque jersey in my collection from the year the Avs won the Cup; and he was only around for a little over a season.

“I’ve got all the big names in there but the jerseys I like the best aren’t the ones with big names; they’re the ones that are a really great example of a game worn jersey. Hockey isn’t like other sports; the jerseys are a signature of the way a player plays the game.”

Those “signatures” are what Olson looks for when evaluating jerseys, living by these words: “the more a jersey can speak for itself, the less that someone has to answer the questions about it, the better it is.”

For fighters, the jersey might have popped seams, tears or alterations, like wider sleeves that allow them to get their arms out quicker. For those third- and fourth-line grinders, their sleeves have a lot of damage from working in the corners. Goalie jerseys tend to have puck marks crisscrossing their crest, for obvious reasons.

The 61-year-old has a bunch of those in his collection, including a sweater from the now-defunct Denver Spurs of the WHL, which Olson says is so beat up, if you didn’t know what it was, you wouldn’t use it as an oil rag for your car. He certainly wouldn’t, though, because it’s an important piece of hockey history. 

Even after years of collecting, evaluating and seeing some hockey artifacts up close – like T.J. Oshie’s jersey worn during that thrilling shootout against Russia in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games – it’s those ones with sentimental value that mean the most.

“When you’ve got that much tied up in a collection of used cloth, at some points you start to wonder what I’ve done with my life,” he laughs. “I would get rid of every jersey I have in the collection in order to keep my kids’ youth hockey jerseys.

“Those are the ones where we went through it together; those are the ones that are important to me.”

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