In their next advertising campaign, the Washington Capitals needn't fall back on the usual generic hockey phrases (such as "the customer's always white") now that at last they have their own identity.

What's the standard phrase in these cases? "She asked for it."

As contemporary as the 2 Live Crew, as proud of their underwear as Madonna, the Capitals are "a team for today." (After 16 uniformly lousy seasons, they certainly can't be a team for yesterday.) "It's a feeling of relief" that an indictment wasn't returned, said General Manager David Poile. That's not bad either. "Come to the Cap Centre -- it's a feeling of relief." Hit it, boys. "I'm relieved," said Dino Ciccarelli. "I'm extremely relieved," said Neil Sheehy.

Since only three or four players actually were involved (and, don't forget, the date who yelled "rape" is as old as the franchise), it might take some work to hang the entire organization's helmet on this one hook of manliness. But nobody can say the front office hasn't stood by the troops, or that the uninvolved players have disassociated themselves very loudly from the episode.

"I think everybody's learned a lesson," whewed goalie Don Beaupre. Center Mike Ridley also elected the collective sigh: "As a team, it's good to get it out of the way."

When the grand jury declined to return an indictment, meaning it declined to believe the 17-year-old girl was Hayley Mills, the participants issued a statement through attorneys: "We appreciate and are grateful for the decision of the Grand Jury to reject the false accusations of criminal conduct made against us. This confirms our innocence . . . "

(Memo to the PR department: In future communique's, it might be better to avoid the word "innocence.")

". . . which we have maintained throughout the investigation. We cooperated with law enforcement authorities and the Grand Jury. We regret the embarrassment this investigation has caused our families {read: wives}, friends, fans and the Washington Capitals organization. The matter is now closed and behind us."

The team's press release was absolutely inspired. "Although there was no criminal activity involved in this incident, we realize there has been substantial damage to the image of the Washington Capitals' organization within the community. We deeply regret this situation and we do not condone or excuse the conduct of the players involved and their failure to appreciate the responsibility they have to shoulder as role models for young people."

Here's the inspirational part:

"Religious tradition emphasizes forgiveness, and we have decided to appeal to Capitals fans and the community at large to find it in their hearts to forgive these players. We know that they have learned a bitter lesson."

Next to an invocation at a bear-baiting, has there ever been a more calculated mismatch than ice hockey and religious tradition? No doubt about it, this could be the game of the '90s. By the way, don't you think the players showed marvelous tact not mentioning the girl in their apologies? Management very tastefully left out her bitter lesson.

Hockey is the last of the man's-man's games. Boxing was spoiled slightly when Joyce Carol Oates began writing about it lustily. Remember when Mike Tyson bragged that the best punch he ever uncorked was a blow he fetched to the body of his ex-wife? What a man.

Throughout the current wave of violent talk and treatment of women, much more than Andrew Dice Clay, sports have manned the vanguard. Some superstars are showing the way. Darryl Strawberry was just on an 18-game hitting streak for the New York Mets. According to his wife, not to mention the arresting officers, he had a similar streak in the offseason.

But he's a valuable player. That's the message of the Capitals' case. Wade Boggs is a sleazeball, but he gets two hits every day and the Boston Red Sox are in first place. Go Wade!

Except for cheerleaders like Paula Abdul and pinups like Christie Brinkley, women are nuisances around sports. In collegiate athletics they're aggravating Title IXers. In golf the feminine ones wear derbies and smoke cigars. Noel Coward had a good line: "Some women should be beaten regularly, like gongs."

That's the ticket. The Caps should try for something like that. Maybe they could set aside a section of Capital Centre just for women, the ones who will be so eager now to see the boys play rough. It would be a nice touch: Seventeen-year-olds admitted free. And every time a young girl takes her seat, the good-natured fans dressed all in white could shout out in unison: "She asked for it!"