Fashion Sense…Hockey Style: History of the Capitals Alternate Sweaters

Photo: NHL via Getty Images

The jersey, or as traditionalists prefer, hockey sweater, is a staple of the National Hockey League fan’s wardrobe.  Some fans have one go-to piece worn for all occasions.  Others obsessively collect sweaters like trading cards.  Some fans rock the jersey of their favorite player, while others personalize it with their own name or message.  Whether a replica reproduction or authentic model complete with fighting strap and stitched name plate, the hockey jersey is the only player equipment mass-produced for fans.  

It immediately identifies a fan as one of the pack, part of a larger cheering community.  The jersey is also the most discussed piece of equipment.  Fans criticize them, speculate on possible changes, even create their own designs.  With the NHL bringing its third sweater program back for the 2018-2019 season after a one-year hiatus, it is a good time to look back at the history of third sweaters worn by the Capitals and across the league.

The NHL officially debuted their third, or alternate, sweater program for the 1995-96 regular season.  Prior to then, only a handful of teams had worn a third color sweater in a given season.  From the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s, the Boston Bruins occasionally wore a black sweater in place of their home gold or road white.  The Pittsburgh Penguins wore a gold jersey for a couple games per season during the early 1980s, and for the NHL’s 75th anniversary season (1991-92), the Original Six franchises wore throwback jerseys in select games.  Not all teams participated in the third sweater program every season during its first run from 1995 to 2008.  The Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, and New Jersey Devils have technically never used a full-season third sweater, but each team has donned vintage sweaters for various holiday games, Winter Classics and NHL Heritage games.  Like in 2017-18, the program was suspended for the 2007-08 season when the league switched jersey manufacturers.  In the ensuing 10 years, until last year’s hiatus, teams moved toward more traditional, throwback-style uniforms for their third sweaters.  This, of course, was in stark contrast to the wild, colorful third jerseys of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

When teams joined the third jersey parade in the late 1990s, many tried to create memorable marketing opportunities to boost franchise visibility and jersey sales.  Some teams were successful, while others were memorable for all the wrong reasons.  Probably the most iconic of all the third sweaters was the New York Rangers Lady Liberty Jersey, followed closely by the Ottawa Senators stately “O” sweater.  Some of the more critically-panned thirds were the Dallas Stars’constellation/steer’s head combination, the Mighty Ducks’ ice-smashing Wild Wing character, the Calgary Flames’ fire breathing horse head, the Los Angeles Kings’ King of Spades logo, and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s storm jersey that looked more suited for a roller hockey team of the future than an NHL rink.

The Washington Capitals have been a mixed bag when it comes to alternate sweaters and uniforms.  The Caps debuted a third jersey in 1997, two years after switching from red, white and blue, to the blue, bronze, and black era.  The jersey was black to match the regular pants, and featured bronze striping, arching name plate, and new a new primary logo.  The logo, two hockey sticks crossed behind the Capitol dome, was criticized as boring, but three years after becoming the alternate jersey, the black kit, with a few minor adjustments, was promoted to the full-time road uniform.

Photo: NHL via Getty Images

This remained the case until 2007 when Ted Leonsis brought back the red, white, and blue color scheme.  The Capitals went a little over a decade without a third jersey (2000-2011) until debuting a throwback uniform for the 2011 Winter Classic.  This set hearkened back to the Caps’ inaugural season, minus the white pants worn early in that first campaign.

Photo: Pittsburgh Gazette

The uniform remained the official third set until the team switched to red throwback from 2015 through 2017.  For the 2015 Winter Classic and the 2018 Stadium Series game, Washington skated in two unique uniforms that incorporated different shades of the team’s current colors and included subtle nods to Washington D.C and its architecture.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The third sweater experiment has been fun since officially adopted by the NHL in 1995.  As information is released, or in some cases leaked, about new third sweaters for the upcoming season anticipation builds among fans.  The Capitals are expected to announce a third jersey so speculation abounds.  Will it be another throwback nod to tradition?  Something completely new like the Stadium Series navy blue?  Perhaps a Weagle or a color-corrected red screeching eagle?  Whatever the case, whatever the uniform, one thing is for sure: it will be proudly worn by the defending Stanley Cup champions.

By Bryan Hailey

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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6 Responses to Fashion Sense…Hockey Style: History of the Capitals Alternate Sweaters

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’d love to see a complete redesign of all the Caps kit, with the Stadium Series navy kit being the new home kit. But I’ll settle for a black 3rd kit.

  2. DayOne Caps Fanatic says:

    Bring on those third jerseys! And why not a fourth and a fifth? And how many more decades does the NHL enforce the stodgy, frumpy “Must be a White uniform on the ice policy?” Watch an Original Six game from the 1960s and you’ll see Red against Blue, Red against Black … Violating “Always One White Jersey” has only occurred recently in the Outdoor Games in a big stadium — but it was Wonderful! The old LA Kings had BEAUTIFUL unis, with Purple or Gold as the primary color. But their weirdo fans prefer Gang colors of gray, gray and more gray. The new Anaheim Ducks 3rd jersey is spectacular. So is the Desert Dog 3rd uniform of Arizona Coyotes.
    Baseball’s got it right: Examine a Washington Nationals baseball game and you might be looking at any of TEN different uniform designs and color combinations. Why not? Life is short. This is pro sport. Bring on the colors!

  3. J says:

    Big fan of the screaming Eagle, the Capital building 1 is alright too.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Bring back the blue jersey with the eagle on it from the 90s!

  5. Pingback: What Will Washington Wear? : The Champions’ Third Sweater (READERS POLL) | NoVa Caps

  6. Bert says:

    Why are the “Washington” Capitals Alternative uniform the Russian flag colors?

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