There are a number of things that you may immediately notice about the new Colorado Eagles third jerseys.
The complete color-scheme change from the Eagles’ primary palette of black and white, or blue, yellow and red to the Burgundy and Blue is the obvious most noticeable standout. Second, you’ll likely notice the shimmering, silver-plated Eagles logo in the middle of the chest, a nice touch that is sure to glisten under the bright arena lights of Budweiser Events Center.
But dig a little deeper and you may begin to notice the more intricate details of the jersey.
More than just a color or design change, rather, the new Colorado Eagles jerseys are a celebration of one of hockey’s most successful minor league teams of the last two decades — a journey that’s been 15 years in the making now.
Getting the jerseys right was no easy feat, however. It took a brain trust that included some Colorado Avalanche brass, namely Declan Bolger, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, along with some of his crew from the Avs marketing team. Also included were the likes of Eagles President and General Manager Chris Stewart, Director of Marketing Chris Augusto, Head Equipment Manager Tony Deynzer, Jennifer Dollarhide, who oversees the team’s merchandising, and Assistant GM Gavin Riches.
“We really tried to take a collaborative approach to it to make sure we weren’t missing anything,” said Riches. “And then obviously the Avs side of things was huge. Declan Bolger and his team down with the Avalanche and their marketing department was awesome. They really had a lot to say in working with us and working with the NHL and the jersey pattern and everything to make it look just right.”
Riches said it took about a year and a half, dating back to the start of last season, the Eagles’ first as the American Hockey League affiliate of the Avalanche. The actual designing of the jersey began around this time last year.
“It was basically in design around Christmas last year,” he adds. “Final sign-offs on it were closer to around March and then we got into prototyping. We got a prototype back early summer and made a couple of tweaks to the actual Eagle head itself — the silver on that — and then we released it in September and everyone loved it.”
Arguably the most noticeable feature of the new threads — aside for the Avalanche-inspired colorway — is actually a relatively small portion of the overall jersey. The shimmering silver Eagles logo on the chest was the “tweak” Riches alluded to after the team received the initial prototype in the spring.
Getting that part of the jersey right really made all of the difference.
“It was a big deal,” Riches said. “We were kind of going back and forth between our traditional brand marks and the silver mark. Chris Stewart and Tony Deynzer really said ‘hey, I think this is going to look great; it’s going to look the part; it’s going to represent the Eagles well and it’s going to tie into the jersey nicely.’ And those guys have had so much experience down on the ice, seeing the stuff first-hand. That was their idea and they did a great job with it.”
Riches said the initial idea was to have a very close representation of what the Avs wear. The initial prototype featured the Avalanche’s Burgundy and Blue home sweaters with the Eagles traditional red, blue and yellow logo that the fans have come to know and love over the years. When the received the prototype with the Eagles’ traditional logo, they opted to try it with the silver-crested alternative.
“That was kind of the first thought, the first prototype, and then we made a couple tweaks to it. The big one being the namesake on the front,” Riches said. “I think it turned out awesome.”
That was the consensus among the Eagles locker room, too.
“It’s nice to throw on a similar sweater. The affiliate being right down the road has been awesome for the organization and for the fans in Fort Collins and Loveland here,” Logan O’Connor said. “It’s nice for us down here to sort of feel that energy around the state of Colorado, and just throwing on that jersey is a little touch that we feel that through.”
Rookie defenseman Conor Timmins shared the same sentiments.
”It’s pretty cool,” he added. “Obviously we’re proud to be an affiliate of the Avs, and these jerseys are pretty awesome.”
When designing the jersey, the brain trust knew there were a few key details that the jersey must have. That list included the Colorado state flag on the shoulder, which has become synonymous with the Eagles jerseys since the team’s early ECHL days; and the Avs logo on the other shoulder was the other must-have.
“The state flag on the shoulder was a big part for us. That’s been part of the Eagles namesake for a long time. We’ve had that Colorado flag and that state pride as part of the jersey design, so that was one that we all said ‘yep, we got to have that.’ Obviously, the Avs logo on the other shoulder — we had to have that,” Riches said.
It really came down to that center logo. Once everyone saw the silver variation, they knew that was the one.
And they nailed it.
Physical color aside, above all, the jerseys are meant to be a much larger representation of what was, what is and what will be. For 15 years now, Northern Colorado has been more than supportive of its minor league team, as evidenced by Eagles’ minor-league hockey record for the most consecutive sellouts, fully-booking nearly 350 games in a row. One would be hard-pressed to walk around Fort Collins or Loveland without spotting at least a few people sporting the logo of their beloved Eagles.
“The thing that’s so cool is you look around this crowd and everyone’s wearing a jersey — the whole gamut,” Riches adds. “You have people who have been coming for 15-plus years, you have people that just bought their first jersey tonight. It’s cool to see that sea of Eagles support.”
The near-exact replication of the Avalanche’s home uniforms was obviously intentional. It’s a nod at the recently-formed affiliation between the Eagles and Avs. But more than that, it’s a celebration of hockey in the state of Colorado.
“The Avalanche came in in 1995 and really paved the way for hockey here,” Riches said. “This area — I don’t think the Eagles would’ve happened without the successes the Avalanche has had.”
He adds, the excitement of the newly-formed “Hockey Highway” has been a long time coming. The highway is a reference to the 50-mile stretch of Interstate-25 that leads to and from Budweiser Events Center in Loveland directly to Pepsi Center in Denver, creating a literal and metaphysical connection between Colorado’s Eagles and Avalanche.
“For so long, the Eagles and Avalanche ran parallel. Fans, for a long time, have wanted to see that affiliation. People are just excited about that affiliation finally happening here,” he added.
Riches has been with the Eagles since the team’s inaugural season in 2003, when Colorado was a member of the now-defunct Central Hockey League. For him — and so many others — watching this team rise through the ranks has been an emotional coming-of-age story of sorts.
From a relatively smalltown minor league CHL team, to winners of back-to-back Kelly Cups in the ECHL, to now serving as the direct affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche — the Eagles truly are a living, breathing testament to the spirit of hockey in the state of Colorado. The Burgundy and Blue Eagles-crested jersey is a celebration of that.
“I could not have imagined this 15 years ago when this thing was in its infancy,” Riches admitted. “To see those jerseys come out on the ice tonight — it was a big sense of pride, it was awesome. It was cool to see where we’ve come from and all the players and the staff and all the people that made that happen. To make that jump into the ECHL, and then that jump into the American Hockey League, and then to have all these guys that are skating at the Bud Center and Pepsi Center in a year is a special deal, that’s for sure.”