Washington’s original screaming eagle design debuted with a blue, white and bronze color scheme for the 1995-96 season and was the primary uniform design when the franchise reached the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in the 1997-98 season.
“I think it’s a great combination,” former Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig, who wore every one of Washington’s different primary jerseys during his 16-year career in Washington, said in a phone interview of the red-white-and-blue screaming eagle design. “It combines the history of the franchise. I think it’s pretty sharp.”
Uniform changes are typically initiated by individual clubs, but in this case, Adidas, the NHL’s uniform partner, approached every team about the Reverse Retro concept and started the design process two years ago. The idea was to honor an important moment or season in each team’s history, with throwback designs in updated or inverted colors. All 31 teams were required to participate.
“They looked at our history of logos and uniforms and they gave us a couple of options in terms of color scheme,” Hunter Lochmann, Monumental Sports & Entertainment’s senior vice president of marketing and brand strategy, said in a phone interview. “Our internal group looked at it, and we all knew it was time to bring the screaming eagle back. We thought the combination of the screaming eagle plus the red was the way to go, pretty universally.”
The Capitals wore the same red-white-and-blue design with lowercase “Capitals” wordmark from the time they entered the league in 1974 through the 1994-95 season. At that point, owner Abe Pollin decided the team’s original look was “outdated and staid” and made a change.
“At the time, I think we were all pretty excited,” Kolzig said of the change. “I guess we didn’t really appreciate how iconic that original Caps logo was. The eagle was something unique, kind of cutting edge with different colors, and to be a part of that was pretty cool, but in hindsight, we shouldn’t have left the red, white and blue.”
The Capitals’ new look didn’t immediately coincide with on-ice success. Washington lost in the first round of the playoffs in 1996 and missed the postseason the following year, prompting the team to fire Jim Schoenfeld as coach. Kolzig became the No. 1 goaltender in 1997-98 and led the Capitals, coached by Ron Wilson, to the Stanley Cup finals that season.
“Everything seemed to click that year,” Kolzig said. “Up until two years ago, it was the most success that the franchise had.”
While some of Kolzig’s best memories, including that 1997-98 season, came with the screaming eagle across his chest, he said his favorite jersey with the Capitals was the franchise’s original red-white-and-blue design. He was less fond of the screaming eagle design on Washington’s road blue jersey, or the black-and-bronze third jersey the team introduced in 1997. The black jersey, which replaced Washington’s road blue in 2000-01, featured an image of the Capitol dome with two crossed hockey sticks. That logo is featured on the shoulders of the Reverse Retro jersey but in red, white and blue.
Washington retired the screaming eagle and returned to its red-white-and-blue roots with an updated version of its original wordmark in 2007, Kolzig’s final season in Washington. The team’s primary home and away jerseys have been mostly unchanged since then.
All the while, a segment of the fan base has maintained a certain fondness for the screaming eagle era. Before Alex Ovechkin faced off against Wayne Gretzky in EA Sports’ NHL 20 video game to raise money for coronavirus relief in April, the Capitals polled fans on Twitter about which digital jersey Ovechkin should wear in the showdown. The original screaming eagle design won in a landslide.
When Ian Oland of the Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks reported in October that the screaming eagle would probably return as Washington’s Reverse Retro concept, he shared an image of a blue jersey with a white “W” and three red stars that the team was also reportedly considering. Lochmann declined to comment on that design, or the status of the Capitals’ most recent throwback jersey, which is modeled after the team’s original red jersey and has been worn since the 2018-19 season.
It’s unclear if the Reverse Retro concept is a one-time effort, or if Adidas might pursue something like what Nike has done with its NBA “City Edition” uniforms, introducing a different alternate jersey for each team every season. The Capitals’ Reverse Retro jerseys will be available at the team stores at Capital One Arena and MedStar Capitals Iceplex and online beginning Dec. 1.
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