BY ROB MACNEIL
Ever wanted to know how your favourite, or least favourite, NHL team got its name? Well wonder no more as sportsnet.ca has the answers.
After Disney had a monster movie hit in 1992 with The Mighty Ducks starring Emilio Estevez, the NHL looked to capitalize on the popularity by awarding a franchise to Disney in 1993. The club was called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim complete with the same logo from the film. When Disney sold the team in 2005, the team name was changed to Anaheim Ducks.
“Thrashers” had actually been runner-up to “Flames” for Atlanta’s first NHL team, which moved to Calgary in 1980. Owner Ted Turner christened his 1997 expansion team after the state bird of Georgia, the brown thrasher.
When grocery store tycoon Charles Adams brought a franchise to Boston, he asked his GM Art Ross to come up with a nickname. The team colours the same as his grocery store chain, brown and yellow, while name had to reflect an untamed animal displaying speed, agility, and cunning. Eventually, Ross came up with “Bruins”, an Old English word used for brown bears in classic folk-tales.
Owners Seymour Knox III and Northrup Knox wanted the nickname for their new team to be unique. In 1970, the brothers sponsored a name-the-team contest and chose Sabres. Seymour felt a sabre was a weapon carried by a leader and that it was swift and strong on offence as well as defence.
The Flames played in Atlanta from 1972 until 1980 and their nickname was a reference to the city being burned to the ground during the Civil War. When the team moved, new owner Nelson Skalbania decided that ‘Flames’ would be a good fit for an oil town like Calgary, and the flaming ‘A’ logo was replaced by a ‘C’.
It was announced in March, 1997 that the Hartford Whalers would move to Carolina in time for the start of the season in October. As a result of the tight timeline, owner Peter Karmanos, Jr. named the team himself rather than hold a contest. The club was named for the storm system that frequently hit the area.
Owner Frederic McLaughlin named the team in 1926 after the 86th Infantry Division, the “Black Hawk division” he served in during World War I.
Denver’s previous hockey team left to become the New Jersey Devils in 1982, and by the time the Quebec Nordiques were to replace them, the city’s new MLB team had already claimed the moniker. Avalanche eventually won out over Black Bears, Outlaws, Storm, Wranglers, Renegades, Rapids, and Cougars.
Columbus Blue Jackets
When a name-the-team contest was held, over 14,000 entries were received. The name came down to two, ‘Blue Jackets’ and ‘Justice’. The former was chosen to celebrate the Civil War history in the state of Ohio and Columbus. Ohio contributed more residents to the Union Army than any other state, including William Tecumseh Sherman (who led the burning of Atlanta), Ulysses S. Grant, Philip Sheridan, and George Custer.
The Minnesota North Stars relocated to Texas in 1993, and since Texas is the Lone Star State, ‘North’ was simply dropped.
Detroit Red Wings
James Norris purchased the Detroit Falcons in 1932 and renamed the club after an amateur hockey club he once played for, the Montreal Winged Wheelers. He chose a winged wheel as the team’s logo, to reflect Detroit being the centre of the emerging automobile industry.
Original owner Bill Hunter previously owned a junior club called the Oil Kings in the 1950s and 1960s, with Oilers being a popular nickname for the team. When he founded a franchise in the World Hockey Association in 1972, he named the club Oilers and kept the name when the team joined the NHL in 1979.
Franchise owner, and Blockbuster Video owner, Wayne Huizenaga picked the name because he wanted to draw attention to the Panther, as the native wildcat of Florida was endangered at the time.
Los Angeles Kings
Owner Jack Kent Cooke chose Kings as the team nickname from entries submitted in a fan contest. He apparently wanted his club to take on “an air of royalty” with the team wearing the same colours as the NBA franchise Cooke owned, the Los Angeles Lakers.
In 1998, Wild was chosen as a tribute to the state’s wildlife and outdoors reputation. It was chosen from a group of six finalists, beating out the Blue Ox, Northern Lights, Voyageurs, White Bears, and Freeze.
In 1909, John Ambrose O’Brien created the Club de Hockey Canadien, which translated simply means Canadian Hockey Club. Ambrose wanted his team to appeal to Montreal’s francophone population and is often referred to as “The Habs” or “Les Habs,” an abbreviation of “Les Habitants.” The H in the logo stands for “hockey” — though it is often mistakenly thought to mean “Habitants.”
In 1971 Nashville, a nine-inch fang belonging to a saber-toothed tiger was discovered during the construction of an office building. When it was time to name the franchise, three choices were presented, Ice Tigers, Fury and Attack. Owner Craig Leipold then added his own submission to the vote, Predators. Once the contest closed, Predators ended up being the successful pick.
New Jersey Devils
The club needed a new nickname after the Colorado Rockies relocated to New Jersey in 1982, with the Devils being chosen in a newspaper contest. Other finalists included Americans, Blades, Coastals, Colonials, Gulls, Jaguars, Meadowlanders, and Meadowlarks. The nickname is based on a legend about a creature, which lived in the woods of New Jersey and was known as the Jersey Devil.
New York Islanders
The name Islanders finished third behind the Mets and Empires when New York was deciding on a team name for their MLB expansion franchise in 1961. Eleven years later, Islanders was selected as the nickname for New York’s new hockey team. The name came as a surprise as the club was widely expected to take the Long Island Ducks name used by an Eastern Hockey League franchise.
New York Rangers
In 1925, Madison Square Garden president G.I. ‘Tex’ Rickard decided he wanted his own NHL team and was awarded one in 1926. Local fans and media at the time started referring to the team as “Tex’s Rangers” and the name stuck.
When Ottawa was awarded an expansion franchise in 1991, the new owners decided to reclaim their successful past. Founded in 1883, the original team won 11 Stanley Cups and was the popular, if not obvious, choice for the reincarnated club.
The team sponsored a name-the-team contest in 1966 after Ed Snider brought an NHL team to the City of Brotherly Love in 1966. Thousands of ballots were entered, with more than 100 people suggesting Flyers, a name originally put forth by Snider’s sister. The top prize was an RCA 21″ color television, with two season tickets for both the second- and third-prize winners, and a pair of single-game tickets for the next 100 winners.
Coyotes was the winner in a name-the-team contest after the Winnipeg Jets relocated in 1996. Over 10,000 entries were submitted, with Scorpions finishing second.
Carol McGregor, the wife of one of the franchise’s part owners at the time, is reportedly the one responsible for the nickname. Author Bob Grove recalled how she came up with the name in his book, ‘Pittsburgh Penguins: The Official History of the First 30 Years’. “I was thinking of something with a P. And I said to Jack, ‘What do they call the Civic Arena?’ And he said, ‘The Big Igloo.’ So I thought ice. . . Pittsburgh. . . Penguins.” More than 700 of the 26,000 contest entries were for Penguins and the name of Emily Roberts of Belle Vernon was drawn as the contest winner, making her the first Penguins’ season ticket holder.
San Jose Sharks
Every fan that entered their name-the-team contest was entered into a drawing for tickets to the 1991 All-Star Game in Chicago, so ideas came in from around the world. Besides the eventual winner Sharks, other finalists included Rubber Puckies, Screaming Squids, Salty Dogs, Fog, Icebreakers, Redwoods, and Blades. The Blades actually finished first but was rejected because of concerns over gang implications.
St. Louis Blues
Owner Sid Saloman Jr. selected the nickname Blues in 1967 after a W.C. Handy song, “St. Louis Blues.” Other names under consideration were Mercury and Apollo as the space capsules with those names were built in St. Louis.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay area is considered the lightning capital of North America. Fittingly enough, in 1990, there happened to be a thunderstorm in the area that inspired franchise president Phil Esposito to come up with the name.
Toronto Maple Leafs
When Conn Smythe purchased the Toronto club in 1927, he set about renaming the team. Originally, the franchise began play as the Arenas in 1917 as they were owned by the Arena Company and played in the Arena Gardens. The club then changed to the St. Patricks in 1919 to attract Toronto’s Irish population. Smythe eventually decided on Maple Leafs, but the specific reason why is uncertain. Smythe fought in the Maple Leaf Regiment during World War I, and there was a former Toronto hockey team called the East Maple Leaves. Another version perpetuated by Smythe’s grandson states that Conn named the team after the Maple Leaf insignia he had worn during the First World War.
Canuck is both slang for Canadian and a reference to Johnny Canuck, a Canadian political cartoon character in 1869. More famously, Johnny Canuck made a return as a comic book action hero during World War II where his character who fought Adolf Hitler. According to the club website, Johnny Canuck has been adopted, unofficially, by the Canucks as a second team mascot and alternate logo.
Owner Abe Pollin decided on the obvious nickname Capitals after staging a name-the-team contest. His selection proved to be less controversial than the nickname for his NBA team at the time, the Bullets, who are now called the Wizards.