The Washington Capitals made the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in team history in 1998 but were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in four games.
But what if they didn’t? What if we lived in the Upside Down and Esa Tikkanen actually buried that breakaway? What if Dale Hunter was handed the Stanley Cup from a 46-year-old Commissioner Bettman and celebrated on the ice with Olaf Kolzig, Peter Bondra, Joe Juneau, Brendan Witt, and the rest of those Capitals legends on the ice?
Now, thanks to Capitals fan Michael Alper, we can see what the Championship Caps would have looked like on the ice if they did win it all that year.
Alper recently shared a photo of one of his prized possessions: a Capitals 1998 Stanley Cup champions shirt.
“I wanted to share one of my favorite oddball pieces: a 1998 Cup champs shirt,” Alper wrote. “No idea how many were actually printed, or why since they didn’t win a game and was no need to have them on standby. Everybody has a 2018 shirt or four. But who else has a 1998 champions shirt? Never been worn. Never will.”
The shirt produced by then NHL-merch partner, Starter, is essentially an impressionist painting on cloth. It shows a Capitals player celebrating as dabs of red and blue paint, representing fans, celebrate in the background. The type Stanley Cup Champs and Washington Capitals is arc’d above and below the imagery, which also includes the Stanley Cup.
Alper says he bought the shirt off eBay “probably 15-20 years ago.”
Sports merch manufacturing and technology, in general, have come a long way since the late 90s. Championship shirts were likely made for both teams as soon as the Eastern Conference and Western Conference champions were determined so that brick and mortar stores like Sears, JC Penny, and the Sports Authority could sell the Stanley Cup championship gear the day after a victor was determined.
And to think, I thought my Capitals’ 1998 Eastern Conference champions gear was as cool as it got that year.
Photos: Michael Alper
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