Take a trip to the basement of Tom Oltmans’ Littleton, Colorado home, and you might think, for a second, that you’ve been transported to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The walls of the basement painted to look like dasherboards at an arena; a tribute to the sport appears in every inch of space the eye can see – skates, pucks, signage, and over 100 jerseys, that number increasing by the week. Featured prominently in Oltmans’ collection are eight different sweaters from the ECHL’s league-wide program with Marvel.
The first-of-its-kind program, announced in October 2017 from famed comic book store Jay & Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, allowed each ECHL team to host a Marvel Super Hero game during the 2017-18 Season, and the right to wear specialty jerseys featuring select Marvel characters. For Oltmans, the announcement of the partnership between the two brands was an exciting one, as he knew it would provide an opportunity for him to add to his already sizeable collection. Though a self described rink rat now, Oltmans didn’t always have the affinity he does now for the sport that influenced his basement design.
“I didn’t get into hockey until 1994-95 when we had the Denver Grizzlies – the IHL team that came to Denver,” he revealed on the ECHL website. My dad’s company had tickets three or four rows off the ice and he could not give those tickets away. Nobody knew anything (about hockey), so we ended up going to a bunch of hockey games, and that ended up getting me going for hockey. Being a fan of the game, I really wanted my son to play.”
Though Oltmans didn’t grow up on skates himself, his son Jake, now 16, took the sport up at a young age, which further cemented his father’s interest in the sport.
“He officially signed up when he was five and a half. He had the Little Tikes hockey set and always had Colorado Avalanche clothes and pucks. He was super excited to try it. It was really hard for him at first because he didn’t know how to skate, but the coach and his son worked with him.”
While Jake learned the fundamentals on the ice, his dad quickly discovered something any hockey player, fan, or collector would know – a hockey jersey, is so much more than just a necessary part of a sports uniform. It’s a statement, a memory, and in some instances, a connection to someone else. So, the man who never laced up the skates himself, quickly became an avid collector of game worn jerseys from all levels of the sport.
“As far as my first jersey, I might say maybe ten years ago. It was just kind of a random thing at that point – I’d pick something up if I saw that I liked…It wasn’t until the last couple years that I’ve really gotten into a certain player and collecting a lot of stuff. At first it was NHL stuff, but then I started getting into the minor leagues. It’s definitely cheaper, and there are a lot more unique designs – the logos are just so different and the colors are so much brighter and vibrant.”
ECHL teams sported SpongeBob SquarePants, Grateful Dead, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and ugly Christmas Sweater jerseys, among others, in the 2017-18 season, so it would make sense that someone like Oltmans would be interested in collecting jerseys from the league. But it was the league’s partnership with Marvel that particularly piqued his interest.
“Everyone in my household is a big Marvel fan. Myself and my girlfriend are comic book fans,” Oltmans stated, noting that between taking his girlfriend Allana, or Jake, or both, attends pretty much every Marvel movie in theaters.
So as the jerseys featuring various Marvel characters were released throughout the 2017-18 season by ECHL teams, Oltmans couldn’t help himself. He was especially thrilled to see the Hulk in the group of characters used by ECHL teams for these specialty jerseys, as the 40 year old mechanic shares a special connection to the brutish green Super Hero.
“There’s always a thing with the Hulk. That movie sticks with me more than a lot of the other ones. My sister had passed away ten years ago in June, and I had some days off to help with things. And during the day, our family, we all went to see The Hulk in the movie theaters. It was just one of those movies, for two hours, that movie took away everything. My life was a wreck at that moment with my sister passing, and for two hours I got to forget all the stuff that was going on outside for a bit, I was so caught up in that movie, so that always sticks with me.”
So as the Marvel Super Hero ECHL games took place at various times of the season, Oltmans strategically monitored them, knowing his collection wouldn’t be complete without securing several of the game worn Super Hero jerseys. MeiGray Auctions, the league’s game-worn jersey partner, has been offering dozens of jerseys on its website throughout the season.
“I’ve bid on at least ten or eleven – I’ve been trying to get one of every style…they’re just really neat jerseys, really different stuff. I was actually planning on wearing one of them to the Infinity Wars when that comes out. I’ve got eight of them and every style except for two. I’ve got two Captain Americas, two Hulks, two Iron Mans and two Thors.”
And while some significant others may not be supportive of a potentially costly habit such as jersey collection, Oltman’s girlfriend is an exception to that.
“She always loves when I get a new one, because she’s like ‘No matter how bad your day is, I know you’re going to come home to a new jersey and it’s going to make you happy.’ But yeah I come home and open the box, look it all over, look for marks, see how worn or beat up it is, it’s like a new toy for me.”
What started as a casual habit for Oltmans quickly grew in size, and in preferences, as he describe his current collection, “It’s probably 100+ right now. So the guy that I’ve been collecting for a while is Cody McLeod, who used to be an Avalanche player. I have 34 of his alone in my collection. He actually came and skated with my son when he was seven or eight years old. And I’ve been a fan of the guy ever since. So I’ve kind of chased him. I kind of like to collect different stuff from Colorado – like the U and some of the other colleges here, some of the other minor league teams here. Also being kind of a rink rat I guess, I’ve seen a lot of NHL players come through the rink my son plays at – I’ve met quite a few, so if I meet someone I kind of try to find one of their jerseys just to have. So it’s really kind of – sometimes I’d like to say I have a specific collection but it’s really just anything that catches my eye – there’s really some neat stuff out there.”
The size of the collection could take up a significant amount of closet – or basement – space for anyone – so Oltmans makes sure none of his jerseys ever collect too much dust.
“I literally started wearing a different jersey to every practice he (son Jake) went to, every game. This year he was actually playing on three different teams – a varsity, junior varsity and a club team, so I was switching up jerseys all the time. It’s kind of an ice breaker – you know, people see something cool and something they’ve never seen before, so they start up a conversation with you.”
But with a jersey collection that’s growing constantly, how do you narrow down a favorite? Oltmans barely had to take a second to think of his.
“Cheesy enough, I have a jersey from my son’s season two years ago. It was his first year being an assistant captain, and my mom sewed his ‘A’ on his chest – so that’s probably my big one.”
Dads – the original Super Heroes.
Thanks to the ECHL’s Valerie Persinger for this story. You can learn more about the league and its players here.