The “A-Ha” Moment: Ksenia Selemon and the making of an NWHL jersey
A glance behind the scenes from inception to execution
Hockey was never really on Ksenia Selemon’s radar.
By her own admission, for the first 15 years of her graphic design career, she hardly qualified as a die-hard for any mainstream sport — that is, with the exception of ballroom dancing (“It’s a sport; I will fight you on this,” she emphasizes).
A love of hockey didn’t develop until the summer of 2015, when her three-year-old daughter watched a Russian cartoon of hockey players singing about teamwork on repeat umpteen times — as kids are wont to do. Selemon popped a real hockey game on the television one night to see if it would hold her daughter’s attention.
That game was Game 6 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, when the Chicago Blackhawks clinched their third Cup in six years. Selemon recalls the thrilling moment: the home crowd roars and players rejoice. Daughter and mother alike are hooked. Mother learns all that she can about the game to support daughter’s newfound love.
“The next step, [a] three-year-old girl declares she’s going to play in the NHL when she grows up,” Selemon jokes. “At which point, I have to Google, ‘Is there a women’s hockey league?’ Sure enough, that fall, the National Women’s Hockey League was starting.”
Fast-forward to 2017. Selemon and her five-year-old hockey-crazed daughter take in their first NWHL game at the Prudential Center in New Jersey. Daughter is captivated by the action and enthralled by the player accessibility. Mother eyes the merchandise table and senses an opportunity for improvement.
Photos from #NWHL @Riveters vs @TheBostonPride at the Prudential Center— bdz sports (@bdzsports) October 30, 2017
More photos at: https://t.co/HKOyAMUU2W pic.twitter.com/IbkGtj3xG5
Selemon joined the NWHL for the 2017–18 season as a volunteer, designing social media posts and giveaway posters — first for the Riveters, then for other teams around the league. She soon parlayed that volunteerism into a full-time job as the league’s Marketing Director. By summer of 2020, she transitioned once more to Director of Marketing for Women’s Hockey Partners (WHP), an offshoot company headed by former league commissioner Dani Rylan tasked with overseeing operations for the Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, Metropolitan Riveters, and Minnesota Whitecaps.
Designing the jerseys
WHP and the NWHL wanted their in-house jersey designs to be authentic. Going onto the 2020–21 season, Selemon organized conference calls with general managers and players from each team to facilitate roundtable discussions on what previous designs worked and what future jerseys should “convey.”
“It was extremely important that when the players step onto the ice, they’re proud to be doing so in the jerseys, and that it reflects who the teams are,” she explains.
WHP decided to keep the season five designs for their four teams, in the interest of continuity, with a new jersey added in. Selemon set out on a researching journey, including social media interactions, geographical studies, and league history. Beyond brief consultations with individual teams, the only hurdles of approval to clear are Rylan and Selemon herself.
“What makes each team unique?” she muses as she develops the designs. “How do we represent that?”
With each team comes a different answer; a unique route to what Selemon calls the “A-ha!” moment.
First are the Connecticut Whale, what Selemon says she deemed the “most challenging one.”
“I feel like the green jersey is beyond beloved,” she laughs. “It’s been upheld as just the coolest jersey. How do you complement perfection?”
A color-swap was out of the question, as the Whale have already sported blue and white iterations of their beloved green-wave look. Though her degree is in art and graphic design, she elected to study marine biology for her answer.
“I looked at a lot of whale material ... the powerhouse of the whale is the fluke,” she explains, referring to a whale’s anatomy and not former Connecticut forward Emily Fluke. “The tail moves such a large body through the water at pretty high speeds. How do we make a super clean, crisp design and incorporate the fluke in a contemporary fashion?”
Selemon’s solution: blue-finned curvature on the wrists and socks.
Riveters fans have long been screaming for a return to the Season One designs. They finally get their wish in the form of a blue road sweater. It’s a mix of old with new, reintroducing the trademark rivets and sleeve stars with modern square shoulders and a sleeker font.
“It just felt right to bring back the old look,” Selemon acknowledges. “We wanted to pay homage to the fans and the ‘OG’ Riveters. This is the design the fans always gravitate towards ... the Essential Riveters Design.”
In the Buffalo Beauts, Selemon saw the best opportunity for a matching home-and-away set. With some tweaking of the color scheme and minor layout adjustments, she recalls mocking up a black jersey she felt embodies the spirit of the city.
“Buffalo Blue is a special color for them. They’re a strong powerhouse team. A black jersey would complement it nicely.”
It’s also somewhat evocative of their Season One look, which featured mostly silver and black with blue accenting.
The Minnesota Whitecaps’ new look is bold. It’s extremely creative and evocative.
It also was the hardest one to perfect of the bunch.
“We definitely went through a couple rounds [of mockup designs],” Selemon sighs. “Some designs come super easy. Sometimes you have to struggle a bit.”
Selemon details her initial, more geometric approach to the Whitecaps’ white home jerseys when mocking up possibilities. It was simpler, albeit unimpressive. “They were fine, but with the other three designs, when we arrived at the final version, it was this “a-ha” moment. ‘Yes, that’s the one!’ It was never ‘I guess that’s good enough.’”
In developing the Whitecaps jersey, “We just couldn’t get to that ‘a-ha’ moment.”
Needing a mental reset, Selemon took a step back to try and discover what she believed to be missing. She revisited her design board, complete with quotes, pictures, and environmental studies.
“Being the State of Hockey, they take such pride in being Minnesota, you know what I mean?” she ponders. “It has to represent Minnesota.”
In reviewing her notes, she spotted a picture of Amanda Leveille’s aquatic goalie pads. She considered the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” moniker Minnesota wears so proudly.
“I was feeling the light bulb go off. I got really excited about it.”
She showed her wilderness layout to Rylan. Immediate approval.
The “a-ha” moment.
On release day, the NWHL’s new threads are met with widespread praise. The Riveters’ set is featured on the Sportsnet Instagram page. The final team to be unveiled was the Minnesota Whitecaps.
“I was definitely holding my breath the day we released them,” she admits. “I knew it was an experimental move forward. To have them be so well received was amazing; the fans have been terrific about supporting this design.”
With her ideas already resonating with the hockey world before a game is played, the ever-innovative Selemon is keeping a wary eye on 2021.
“Once you start a project and you know there’s going to be another iteration of it, ideas keep popping up in your subconscious. When you’re a designer, your brain never stops designing.
“[I’m] for sure excited to see how they look on the ice and on players.”