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The Strange (and Unofficial) Artistic History of Coleco Player Decals  

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Steeler16
(@steeler16)
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23/12/2018 10:17 pm  

Since I didn't see any Coleco topics here yet, I figured I'd start it off!

The other day both myself and a friend of mine were discussing a possible mod for a Stiga board. In middle of it all, he randomly asked me "How many teams did Coleco originally make?" That got me thinking, since it's not only the first time I'd been asked that, but I've see it asked before and had quite often wondered myself when I was younger.

It's probably not only a common question for just interests sake....but rather it more than likely stems from the fact that Coleco released games that included (probably) logos of every team that played in the NHL from 1942-1990 on the side of their games. I say probably, because there is for sure one model of 5380 that included the Cleveland Barons logo on side of the board, but I can't state for certain whether or not one ever included the Kansas City Scouts logo.

At any rate, I've decided to try to half answer the actual queston here. How many specific teams were made, and what artistic changes were made along the way as it pertained to each team. I'm not going to include the three dimensional "Coleco Game Room" players, nor the metal players that came before my time. Just the individual teams of plastic players I grew up with that had stickers placed on them in the likeness of official NHL teams. The reason for this is quite simply this: any time Coleco decided to release an all new team set, a different artist seemed to step up and design them.

Artist # 1:

These are the first decals the company released. They were reproducitons of the paintings on the metal players that came before them. These were the "handsome" 1950's looking fellow, who flew around the ice helmetless, his hair flowing in the breeze. If you look closely, you'll note some of the the hair styles on these guys vary slightly from team to team, as does their hair color. The goalies were all drawn with no masks, as was the style at the time. (at least it was in the 50's I guess). None of this seemed to bother them though, nor did stopping a puck two sizes larger than their heads without said mask. Being the 1970's, it's at least nice to see Coleco attempted too keep up with the times by modernizing the players. Sigh. There was a point where Coleco was issuing these guys as both metal and plastic players simultaniously, before ultimately switching permanently to the (coincidently more cost-effective) plastic players. They got a ton of milage from this design, and carried it right through to 1980. It included not only the original six teams, but the six added in the 1967 expansion as well.

Teams Available:

Boston Bruins (yellow jersey)
Chicago Blackhawks
Detroit Red Wings
Montreal Canadiens
New York Rangers
Toronto Maple Leafs

California Seals*
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota North Stars
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburg Penguins (original blue jersey)
St. Louis Blues

*Note: This team is the California Seals; not the Oakland Seals as they became midway through the '67 season, and not the California Golden Seals as they later became. The logo on the front of their jersey is the original "C" around a seal. When they were re-christened "Oakland" they filled in the "C" around the seal to form an "O". After that they used the "Seals" font when they became the "California Golden Seals". The best part about this, is on the Coleco World of Sports decal sheet they were printed on, they were referred to as the "California Golden Seals". So either Coleco got the uniform wrong (go figure), released the team after 1970 when they were already known as the Golden Seals, or did some kind of combination of the two and were just too lazy to care about fixing it. Most likely though, is that Coleco just didn't bother to update the uniform they had originally released on their metal player, and then added the current team name to the old jersey design when they moved on to stickers.

Artist # 2:

The NHL expanded again in 1970, and Coleco added both new teams, The Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks to it's stable. Gone was the original look of the players, and new art work for the players was presented. The first thing you notice about these guys, is they look bigger, meaner and more aggressive than their predecesors....and let's be honest, who doesn't want a mean steak in a
hockey team? Coleco also managed to get a little lazy, (surprise!) and if you look, you'll notice they just flipped the players to make the left-handed guy. So the Buffalo on the poor left hander's jersey logo is backwards. There was also at least one more team released that was drawn by this artist. In the early 1970's Coleco released regionalized versions of the game called "City Series" in major
markets. The oddity in these regional games was a 5370 game called "Al MacNeil's Nova Scotia Hockey". If there were others, I've never seen them, but Al MacNeil's Nova Scotia Hockey certainly did exist. The game included a team in (at the time) a home white jersey, that looked a lot like the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, or at least a reasonable facsimile of them. What the other team included
was is anyone's guess, and the one photo I've seen of the game made it impossible to tell. Either way, that Voyageurs team was there. I'm sure finding a set of these guys is something akin to winning a lottery, but they do exist. I suppose there is also a chance the treasure in the money pit on Oak Island is actually cases of Al MacNeil games with this team. I'm also sure the Lagina's wouldn't see the humor in that statement at all. The Sabres and Canucks would also mark the last time Coleco released a painted team on metal players. All plastic from here on out!

Teams Available:

Buffalo Sabres
Vancouver Canucks (original blue/green jersey)
Nova Scotia Voyageurs (white jersey - non-NHL)

Artist # 3:

With the 1972 expansion of the New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames, Coleco followed suit to keep up with the changing environment of the NHL. I sincerely doubt these guys were actually released in '72, and probably showed up sometime after, but who really knows. Gone were the "bigger meaner and more aggressive" players of 1970; replaced instead with....I dont know.....
some kind of random Fred Gwynne dude with a side part in his hair, and teeny tiny little skates. These guys really showcase the high-end quality control Coleco was using at the time. The highlight was definitely the New York Islanders, who showed up in red shorts like their cross-town rivals, the Rangers. After all, if a team comes from New York, they obviously must use red and blue
jerseys, right? Atlanta suffered a similar fate, albiet not so blatant. They managed their red uniforms, with white trim. The yellow was absent, and most glaring, the stylized "A" they sported was nowhere to be found. Instead Coleco found it in their best interests to write the word "Atlanta" diagnally down the front of the sweater for some reason. Maybe it has to do with that New
York thing suggested earier. If the Rangers sport red shorts, the Islanders must as well. Therefore if the Rangers have diagonal printing on front of their jerseys, Atlanta would too. Who knows. The one thing Coleco finally got right during this phase? These are first players to feature goalies with masks! We're in modern times now.

Teams Available:

New York Islanders
Atlanta Flames

Artist # 4:

The 1970's landscape in the NHL changed quite a bit. The NHL expanded again in 1974 with the inclusion of the Kansas City Scouts and the Washington Capitals. The California Golden Seals moved to Cleveland 1976, and promptly folded two years later in '78 and were absorbed into the Minnesota North Stars who were also struggling at the time. Kansas City fared no better and moved to Colorado to become the Rockies in 1976. It's almost not hard to blame Coleco for not bothering to keep up with a mismanaged league or it's mismanaged teams at that point. It appears that rather than pouring money into mass-producing teams that may or may not fold or move in couple of years, they decided to hold back and let things even themselves out.

Enter 1980, and the start of the last great era for Coleco table hockey. A year before the rival WHA merged with the NHL, bringing with them four new teams, three of them Canadian. If I had to guess, and I think I have a pretty good shot at being right here, Coleco decided it was time to update their team sets knowing there was probably a large contingent of Canadian kids who would be more than happy to throw their parents money at table hockey featuring their new favorite home teams. It was in 1980 too, that the Flames landed in Calgary, which added a forth new Canadian team. It was really an easy decision for Coleco.

In my opinion this artist - the fourth - is by far the best artist to ever step forward for Coleco. They finally revamped their cobbled together mix of '50's, 60's and 70's teams, redesigned the entire run and released 21 teams in modern uniforms and....AND....helmets!! I guess they finally let go of the old guard and realized the game was changing. Each team was released with two different faces on the players, one for the left handed player, and one for the right. The goaltenders for each team were presented with a specific mask exclusive to that team, and they were modelled after particular players who had played for the club. How they chose who to use as "the goalie", I'm not sure, but some examples would be Doug Favell in Philadelphia, Dennis Herron in Montreal, Jaques Plante in Toronto, Pierre Hamel in Winnipeg, and Rogie Vachon in Detroit. This was as current, and on top of things as Coleco would ever be.

Teams Available:

Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Calgary Flames
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Rockies
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Hartford Whalers
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota North Stars
Montreal Canadiens
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
Quebec Nordiques
St. Louis Blues
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks
Washington Capitals
Winnipeg Jets

Artist # 5:

The Colorado Rockies moved to New Jersey for the 1982 season, so they didn't get a very long Coleco run. By 1985 I guess Coleco thought it was finally time to change the team over, so they shut down production of the Rockies and started up production of the New Jersey Devils. Now no offence to this dud, (and I do mean that lovingly) but this has to be the single worst attempt at drawing a mass-produced decal I may have ever seen. The guy or gal who did these either just didn't care, or was looking for a place at the front of the line for the mass exodus of employees that would happen to be only a few short years away. The good news is, we got the New Jersey Devils, and an updated Vancouver Canucks team. The bad news, is St. Louis happend to change their uniforms around that time, and Coleco added them to the "new design" mix. So we got some kind purpleish/blue team that looked like they wanted to be more Los Angeles than St. Louis. The Flyers and Kings also fell victim to this travesty, and decal sheets of these unwanted looks litter the internet if one is so inclined to look. The teams all lack definition, nice shadowing an the style that Artist # 4 incorperated just a few years earlier. To top it all off, the Flyers, Kings and Blues all got the stylish fiberglass mask look tossed, in favor of something that I think is supposed to pass as a helmet. Honestly there just isn't much to class as good in the 1985 redesigns.

Teams Available:

Los Angeles Kings
New Jersey Devils
Philadelphia Flyers
St. Louis Blues
Vancouver Canucks (flying skate logo)

So there you have it. Decal wise, Coleco realeased 24 teams total for the flat plastic players. There were five major design changes from the 1970's - 1985 resulting in different looking players each time. Some teams like Los Angeles, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Minnesota etc. had uniform changes, or jersey tweaks that were included when a new design team was called in. I don't have exact yearly releases of what came when and where, and if I've made any mistakes please feel free to chime in and tell me. This was just about the artistic changes I've noted throughout the years, as well as the total number of franchises created.

Coleco Produced Plastic Teams - 1970-1985:

Atlanta Flames
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
California Seals
Calgary Flames
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Rockies
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Hartford Whalers
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota North Stars
Montreal Canadiens
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
Quebec Nordiques
St. Louis Blues
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks
Washington Capitals
Winnipeg Jets


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