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What's In A Name?

Wednesday, 01.02.2008 / 12:29 AM / Feature
By Kurt Daniels
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What\'s In A Name?

NHL clubs came up with their nicknames in a variety of interesting ways, and now you can brag of your all-encompassing hockey knowledge at your next cocktail party.


Animals. You see a lot of animals as nicknames in the National Hockey League. You could lump birds into that category, too, since, if my seventh grade biology class taught me anything, they are animals as well. Also, Mother Nature seems to be a big player around this league, as does geographic context. You know, naming your team for something that ties in locally with your city or region. All of which makes perfect sense.

What is a bit on the, shall we say, odd side of things, however, is just how some of these teams happened to come up with their animals or what have you. Why did the folks in Boston feel the Bruins would be a good fit? Who decided Red Wings was the way to go in Detroit? And, when and where did Lightning strike the thought process?

When determining a nickname, there’s been everything from the traditional fan contests to simply accepting the whims of an owner to, well, just basically going with what they gave you. Don’t believe me? Just take a look.

Anaheim Ducks – This team originally started off as the Mighty Ducks, incredibly named for the popular 1992 movie starring Emelio Estevez. Disney distributed the movie and then started the expansion club, creating the very definition of crossover marketing. When the club was sold to Henry and Susan Samueli in the spring of 2005, they severed ties with the entertainment giant, losing the word “Mighty” from the name and the cartoon mask from the logo.

Atlanta Thrashers – After seeing the Flames depart for Calgary nearly two decades earlier, Atlanta was back in the NHL for the 1999-2000 season. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. was awarded the expansion team in 1997 and it was their founder, Ted Turner, who actually named the team the Thrashers after the State Bird of Georgia, the brown thrasher. The unveiling of the logo was held on April 23, 1998, at the CNN Center Atrium in Atlanta, but was also simultaneously shown live on the Internet, a first for the NHL.

Boston Bruins – Boston is the only NHL team to have decided on their name based on their colors. The original owner, Charles Adams, was the president of Brookside Stores, whose color combination was brown and yellow, and he mandated that the team’s colors had to be the same. He also asked that the name imply size, strength and power. A contest was held although none of the entries were deemed appropriate. Finally, the secretary of Art Ross, Boston’s general manager and coach at the time, offered up Bruins, a perfect fit.

Buffalo Sabres – When the city of Buffalo was awarded a franchise, the owners, brothers Seymour and Northrup Knox, had a few criteria for what they wanted in a name. They were looking for one that was not in use by any other professional franchise, could be easily used in their marketing campaigns and stayed away from the traditional Buffalo references like Bills, Bison or Braves. A contest was held and from over 13,000 entries, only four offered Sabres. But, the name was exactly what the team wanted.

Calgary Flames – The Flames name goes back to the organization’s beginnings in Atlanta, referring to the city being burned to the ground by General William T. Sherman during the Civil War. So, why did they keep the name upon moving to Calgary? Some say since the team relocated in May of 1980 and with training camp starting in September, there simply wasn’t time to change and still market the new team. So, the flaming “A” was simply replaced by a “C” on the team’s logo and jersey.

Carolina Hurricanes – Originally based in Boston as a World Hockey Association franchise called the New England Whalers, the team eventually moved to Hartford, before joining the NHL in 1979. Relocating to North Carolina in the summer of 1997, new owner Peter Karmanos Jr. chose the name Hurricanes himself. Not only had the area seen a few mighty winds blow through, he felt the name also tied into the similarities of power, speed and intensity seen in both hurricanes and hockey.

Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawk name came from a combination of the owner’s past and the region’s history. When Major Frederic McLaughlin purchased the team in 1926, he named his new group after the Black Hawk Division artillery unit in which he had served during World War I. Going back even further, that division actually got their name from the Sauk Indian Chief who did battle with the Illinois State Militia over disputed land treaties in the Black Hawk War of 1832.

Colorado Avalanche – When the Quebec Nordiques announced their move to Denver in the summer of 1995, they did their fan contest a little different. They provided Coloradoans eight possible names from which to choose: Avalanche, Black Bears, Cougars, Outlaws, Rapids, Renegades, Storm and Wranglers. Easily taking the nomination was Avalanche, an obvious reference to the nearby Rocky Mountains, as well as a nod to the havoc that the forces of nature, and perhaps hockey teams, can wreak.

Columbus Blue Jackets – Over 14,000 entries were submitted in Columbus’ “name the team” contest, from which 10 were sent to the NHL for approval. Of that group, two were deemed acceptable, Blue Jackets and Justice. Blue Jackets was then chosen in reference to their area history. Ohio contributed more of its population to the Union Army than any other state during the Civil War, and many of their uniforms were made right there in Columbus. The name was announced in November of 1997.

Dallas Stars – Texas’ only NHL team originally began as the Minnesota North Stars back in 1967. Through a fan contest, those folks up there chose the name based on their state’s “Star of the North” motto. When the organization decided to move south, the word “North” obviously didn’t make sense anymore, but considering that Texas is the Lone Star State, the use of the word “Stars” alone worked perfectly.

Detroit Red Wings – Originally known as the Detroit Cougars after the team moved from Victoria in 1926, the organization changed their name to Falcons briefly in 1930-31, before James Norris bought the club in 1932. Norris had once played for a team in the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association known as the Winged Wheelers and based on that, decided to name his new squad Red Wings with a winged wheel as a logo, a logical choice for what was fast becoming the automobile capital of the world.

Edmonton Oilers – When Edmonton became part of the old WHA in 1972, they also held a name the team contest with Oilers eventually being selected. That region produces the most oil in Canada, and Edmonton is a hub for the industry north of the border, so the moniker fit well. One little known fact, however, is that the club played as the Alberta Oilers in their first year, referring to their province, before changing to Edmonton in the second season.

Florida Panthers – Awarded a franchise in December of 1992, Florida also asked for fan suggestions prior to their first official season in the NHL, 1993-94. Panthers was the odds-on favorite, and then-owner H. Wayne Huizenga also liked the name because he wanted to draw attention to the big cat. Originally discovered in 1896 by Charles B. Corey, the panther was named Florida’s official state animal through a vote by elementary school children in 1982. Unfortunately, the animal is now on the endangered species list.

Los Angeles Kings – Jack Kent Cooke was the owner of basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers, but the native Canadian had hockey in his blood. Awarded a franchise in 1967, he chose the name Kings from those submitted in a fan contest because he wanted his club to take on “an air of royalty.” Cooke didn’t stop there. He went on to nickname several of his players, including Eddie “The Jet” Joyal and Real “Frenchy” Lemieux, hoping to make them household names in the Los Angeles area.

Minnesota Wild – Although they didn’t actually begin play until the 2000-01 season, Minnesota went about the business of picking a name far earlier, announcing their winner in January of 1998. A contest was held with over 8,000 fans offering some 2,800 suggestions with six being narrowed down as finalists – the Blue Ox, Freeze, Northern Lights, Voyageurs, White Bears and Wild. The latter entry was eventually chosen in reference to the state’s wildlife, outdoor activity and natural beauty.

Montreal Canadiens – History shows that Ambrose O’Brien got the idea to put together a team consisting solely of French-Canadian players as part of a rival league to the Canadian Hockey Association, a precursor to the NHL. O’Brien himself, though, was quoted as saying James Gardner, former owner of the Montreal Wanderers, was the real mastermind. Regardless, this new team was dubbed simply Club de Hockey Canadien, or in English, Canadian Hockey Club. Although O’Brien’s league quickly failed, the team went on to become the most famous in the history of the sport.

Nashville Predators – While Predators was the name selected through fan balloting by an overwhelming two-to-one margin, the real story for this team is their logo, which features a saber-toothed tiger. Back in May of 1971, excavation began on the 28-story First American Center in downtown Nashville. During drilling, workers discovered a cave containing a nine-inch fang and a foreleg bone of a saber-toothed tiger, only the fifth discovery of its kind in North America. As a result, the team has honored a one-time predator that roamed the Nashville region.

New Jersey Devils – This team finally settled down in 1982 after starting out as the Kansas City Scouts and then later the Colorado Rockies. Upon moving to New Jersey, a fan contest was held to come up with a new moniker for the team. Of the 10,000 or so entries received, close to 2,400 of them nominated Devils. As legend has it, the New Jersey Devil is a half-man, half-beast that roamed the Pine Barrens of South Jersey for some 250 years.

New York Islanders – This one was perhaps a no-brainer, considering where the team makes their home, Uniondale, Long Island. Actually, the nickname Islanders was one of the runner-up suggestions when a fan contest was held to label Major League Baseball’s new National League team, the Mets. For the NHL club, co-owner Roy Boe’s wife supposedly suggested calling the team the Islanders, a logical idea for Long Island’s first major sports franchise.

New York Rangers – The Big Apple seemingly has little to do with Texas lawmen, so how did the name Rangers come about? In 1926, Madison Square Garden President Tex Rickard, having seen the success of the city’s first hockey team (the Americans), decided to form his own NHL club. Local fans and media inadvertently wound up providing the label, however. Using a fun play on words, they started referring to the owner’s new team as “Tex’s Rangers.” The name stuck.

Ottawa Senators – With Ottawa being the seat of Canada’s government, Senators was a logical name for the original team, which, believe it or not, actually began play around the turn of the 20th Century. That Senators squad won the Stanley Cup in both 1908-09 and 1910-11, even before the NHL was formed. They went on to play in the league from 1917 to 1934 before folding. When the NHL returned to Ottawa in 1992, the name Senators was a commonsense selection, harkening back to the history of those earlier champions.

Philadelphia Flyers – Sometimes a name is chosen for no other reason than it just sounds good. Such was the case for the Flyers. Upon being awarded an expansion team in 1967, owner Ed Snider and general manager Bud Poile formed a committee to pick out a name. A contest was held with over 25,000 submissions provided by fans. The committee plucked Flyers out of that group, mainly because the word worked well with the city’s name, Philadelphia.

Phoenix Coyotes – The Coyotes originally started out in Winnipeg, where the owner decided to call them the Jets based largely on the fact that he was friends with the owner of football’s New York Jets. When the team moved to Phoenix in 1996, a fan contest was held with Coyotes coming out the winner. Just missing out in second place was the name Scorpions.

Pittsburgh Penguins – Other than a fondness for the cold and ice, the penguin has no real connection to hockey and definitely none to this western Pennsylvania city, other than perhaps the local zoo. But like their cross-state rival in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh was also given an NHL franchise in 1967, and they held a name-the-team contest as well. From that, the offering of Penguins caught the eye of the search committee, mainly because they too, liked how the word sounded after their city’s name.

San Jose Sharks – When San Jose was awarded a team in 1990, every fan who entered their name-the-team contest was entered into a drawing for tickets to the 1991 All-Star Game in Chicago. As a result, suggestions came in from all over the world. Management finally decided on Sharks because the neighboring Pacific Ocean is home to many species of the beast. In doing so, they passed on other “helpful” submissions like Fog, Icebreakers, Redwoods and Waves.

St. Louis Blues – History has it that the owner, Sid Salomon, supposedly named the team after finding the other two offerings unacceptable. He felt the name Blues tied in with the city’s tradition for blues singers as well as the one-time hit song composed by W.C. Handy called, fittingly, “St. Louis Blues.” Good thing he did. The other two names being bandied about? Apollo and Mercury. While both referred to the heightened popularity of the space program at the time, neither one had much of a connection with St. Louis.

Tampa Bay Lightning – While many team names have come about in a variety of odd ways, Tampa Bay may take the cake as far as being the least conventional in their decision. Then-general manager Phil Esposito was sitting on a deck with friends overlooking the bay when a lightning storm hit the area. After two bolts struck nearby, someone mentioned that Lightning would be a good name for a hockey team, especially one located in the lightning capital of the world. The rest, as they say, is history.

Toronto Maple Leafs – Toronto’s club began in 1917 as the Arenas and was later changed to the St. Patrick’s in 1919 in an effort to attract the large Irish population in the city. When Conn Smythe purchased the team in 1927, he supposedly renamed them the Maple Leafs after the fighting regiment in which he served during World War I. He may have also drawn inspiration from a former Toronto team called the East Maple Leaves, not to mention his country’s flag, which prominently features a Maple Leaf.

Vancouver Canucks – The term Canuck is slang for Canadian, much like Yankee is used to describe those of us in the United States. But, there was also a political cartoon character named Johnny Canuck, who back in 1869 was often portrayed as a kind of younger cousin to our own sometimes-bullying Uncle Sam. Johnny lost steam at the turn of the 20th Century, but then reappeared in comic books during World War II to do battle against Hitler and the Nazis.

Washington Capitals – No surprise here that the name of this Washington, D.C., club would have an obvious tie-in with the home of our nation’s government. When owner Abe Pollin was awarded a franchise in 1973, fans were asked to supply nickname ideas with Capitals eventually being picked the winner. Pollin originally chose the fitting colors of red, white and blue, which Washington has now gone back to this season after a stint wearing a teal, black and gold color scheme.

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