Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Feathers And Fur And High-Fives

Routinely at this time of year, hockey clubs begin to hold job fairs and post employment opportunities on their websites and in local newspapers in order to attract the local faithful in filling the vacancies. All of these jobs are important, and, unlike Steve Jobs to the right, all allow you to watch hockey while being paid. Sorry, Steve. However, the one job that everyone says they'd like to do as a kid is being the mascot. Kids love mascots, and parents seem to be comfortable with letting a cartoon caricature of the local team maul their children as a sign of appreciation and affection. It's a major job for anyone, though, and requires a huge amount of athletic ability and patience. Today, we're going to take a look at the mascots found in the NHL.

Anaheim Ducks - Wild Wing: Wild Wing was "born" October 8, 1993, according to his bio page. He got his name through a "Name The Mascot" contest, and has been entertaining fans ever since. The odd part is that Wild Wing is probably the most commercialized mascot ever, appearing in statue form, on jerseys, and even in a Disney cartoon. Yes, the Ducks did wear those jerseys on the ice.

Atlanta Thrashers - Thrash: Thrash was "hatched" on September 4, 1999 at Zoo Atlanta, according to his bio page. Thrash was named after the official bird of Georgia, the brown thrasher. Similarities are tough to spot between the two birds, but I guess that light blue jersey is appropriate winter wear for the brown thrasher.

Boston Bruins - Blades: Blades became the official mascot of the Boston Bruins when he discovered the game on a winter evening before he was about to hibernate and was enamored with the Bruins player on the ice, according to his webpage. He climbed into the back of Johnny "The Chief" Bucyk's truck, and hitched a ride to the Boston Gardens. The Chief discovered him, and decided to feed him a pile of junk food (kids, do not try to feed bears. EVER!) before asking a group of children what this bear should be named. A "young girl from Winthrop named Jillian Dempsey" suggested the name "Blades", and the rest is history. Ok, it's a pretty lame story, but I have admit that this picture is probably one of the best mascot pictures I have seen to date, and really shows the bond between mascot and child.

Buffalo Sabres - Sabretooth: Sabretooth is one of the more recognizable mascots in the NHL, and one of the few to not resemble the team name. He was apparently born on January 1, 1988, according to this webpage, and is the only left-handed mascot in the NHL. I absolutely love the paw print number on Sabretooth's jersey. Sabretooth is a great play on the team name, and I'm actually relieved they didn't try to fashion a bison into a mascot. Sabretooth was a fixture at the Winter Classic this past year as well.

Calgary Flames - Harvey the Hound: Harvey is perhaps the most well-known mascot to have ever been assaulted by a coach when Craig MacTavish tore Harvey's tongue out of his mouth after Harvey's antics went too far. Harvey is the original NHL mascot after he began appearing at Flames games in 1983. Harvey is actually a two-sport mascot as he also appeared at Calgary Stampeder football games in the CFL for a while.

Carolina Hurricanes - Stormy: Stormy became a Carolina Hurricane mainstay on October 10, 1997. He is technically an ice hog, according to this page. Stormy is actually fashioned as a pig due to the corporate sponsorship that the Hurricanes had in their early days. Stormy has had a facelift to make him less scary, but he's a loved mascot in North Carolina. I guess the Iowa Chops and Rockford IceHogs aren't the only pig-themed teams in hockey. Ironically, Stormy was supposed to debut in September during a preseason game, but the man inside the costume had an anxiety attack and was taken to the hospital before he even hit the ice.

Chicago Blackhawks - Tommy Hawk: Tommy Hawk was born at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, according to his bio page. He was also a performer in the Barnum & Bailey Circus before joining the Blackhawks. Tommy Hawk is a decent on-ice performer, and has some pretty decent hockey skills for a bird. Personally, Tommy Hawk seems a little weak when it comes to his look. It isn't all that spectacular, nor does it seem very kid-friendly.

Colorado Avalanche - no mascot: This is ridiculous. The Avalanche used to have a solid mascot. Howler of the Avalanche was introduced to the NHL on October 1, 1997, according to this page. Howler's name comes from sightings of a creature roaming in Colorado's Gore Mountain Range, and he resembles that of an Abominable Snowman or Yeti. Surprisingly, the Avalanche allowed Howler to wander away from the arena, and the Avs now play in front of mascot-less crowds. Huge thumbs-down to the Avalanche for this move.

Columbus Blue Jackets - Stinger: Stinger buzzed into Columbus on July 4, 1999, according to his bio page. #00 is a fixture at all Blue Jackets games, and routinely makes appearances at school and hospitals. Columbus' website has a cool section called "Stinger's Hive" where there are a pile of things for kids to check out.

Dallas Stars - no mascot: Sean Avery aside, the Dallas Stars have no official mascot. That's brutal. How do NHL teams not have a familiar face that dances like a goof while making kids laugh? Weak, Dallas, very weak.

Detroit Red Wings - Al the Octopus: Al the Octopus is the only mascot who doesn't head into the crowd to wow the fans with his spectacular dancing and gimmicks. However, Al is a fixture for the Red Wings, and almost overshadows the team during the playoffs. His legend started back in the Original Six days as it only took eight wins to secure the Stanley Cup. Eight wins, eight legs... you get the idea. Of course, this turned into a tradition in Detroit during the playoffs when, in 1952, fish merchants Pete and Jerry Cusimano threw a real octopus on to the ice of the Detroit Olympia. The tradition continues today whenever the Red Wings begin the quest for the Stanley Cup.

Edmonton Oilers - no mascot: Brutal. If Calgary can have one, Edmonton can certainly get something going. The scales of the Battle of Alberta are now tipped towards the Flames.

Florida Panthers - Stanley C. Panther: Stanley C. Panther made his pro debut on October 12, 1993, according to this page. He was named after the Stanley Cup. In 2007, the Panthers added a second, smaller panther to the team, named "Mini Stanley", so that kids could have someone more their size to which they could relate. Memories of this come flooding in.

Los Angeles Kings - Bailey: Bailey, seen here with Alyssa Milano, is actually the second mascot for the Kings. He was introduced in September 2007 as the team's new mascot, and was actually named in tribute to Garnet "Ace" Bailey, the Kings' Director of Pro Scouting, who died in the September 11th tragedy. Bailey actually has a pretty cool website. The Kings originally had Kingston, a snow leopard, as their mascot. Personally, I prefer Bailey over Kingston. He's just too cartoonish.

Minnesota Wild - no mascot: For a team called the "Wild", this is a gross misconduct. They literally could have anything they wanted as a mascot. However, in keeping with Jacques Lemaire's "no fun" policy, a mascot would encourage cheering. That's forbidden in the Wild's system.

Montreal Canadiens - Youppi!: Youppi! originally starred with the Montreal Expos from 1979 to 2004. However, when the jerks running the team decided to pull up their roots and head south to Washington, Youppi! lost the only thing he knew. However, the Montreal Canadiens came calling, and Youppi! was officially hired by GM Bob Gainey for the start of the 2005-06 season. Youppi! officially became the first mascot to switch sports completely, leaving behind his summer baseball passion for the cold of the Bell Centre. Youppi! hasn't missed a beat in his new role with the Canadiens, looking quite at home in the hockey world.

Nashville Predators - Gnash: Gnash is the second sabretooth tiger on the list, following the same career path as Sabretooth in Buffalo. Obviously, Gnash is a play-on-words of the city's name, but the mascot was introduced in 1998 and has been a part of Predators hockey ever since. Gnash has redefined some of the stunts that mascots perform by using ATVs, fast ziplines, amazing rappelling stunts, and a pendulum swing. Gnash is one of the biggest draws for kids at the Predators games, and for good reason.

New Jersey Devils - NJ Devil: NJ Devil plays on the Jersey Devil myth, and has endeared himself to fans at the Prudential Centre. He made his first appearance in 1993 by throwing peanut shells onto the crowd from the rafters in the old Continental Airlines Arena. A solid mascot, and a well-designed costume.

New York Islanders - Sparky the Dragon: Sparky is actually a two-sport mascot, attending games for the New York Islanders and the AFL's New York Dragons. His tail actually is in the shape of a hockey stick for Islanders' games, and he changes colors depending on which sporting event he is attending. Charles Wang, owner of the Islanders, owns both teams, so this factors into Sparky's appearances at both events. To me, this is pretty brutal, considering that Sparky is more geared for the AFL Dragons. In any case, here's Sparky's website. Sparky is a little better than the Islanders' previous mascot, Nyisles, pronounced "Niles" like Niles off Frasier. Love that jersey, though!

New York Rangers - no mascot: Again, simply brutal. They had Lady Liberty on their jerseys, yet no mascot. How can one of the most storied franchises not have a caricature that kids can associate with? How is this possible?

Ottawa Senators - Spartacat: Spartacat has been wowing crowds in Ottawa since October 8, 1992, according to this webpage. Spartacat does a lot of aerial stunts, and routinely makes games against the Maple Leafs a lot more entertaining. Spartacat makes routine visits to schools to help the Senators get children involved in the "Read to Succeed" literacy program.

Philadelphia Flyers - no mascot: Again, a storied franchise with no familiar face with which you can associate. They had a mascot named "Slapshot" during the 1976 season, but he didn't make the cut in 1977. No mascot has been seen at Flyers' games since, and that's probably for good reason considering the fans' treatment of Santa Claus in Philly.

Phoenix Coyotes - Howler: Phoenix introduced Howler on October 7, 2005 to Coyotes fans. Howler currently holds the mascot speed skating record, and was in attendance for the jersey unveiling last season where he got his new jersey with the "M" designation for "mascot".

Pittsburgh Penguins - Iceburgh: Iceburgh debuted at the midway through the 1992 season in Pittsburgh, and has been a popular mascot since. He was featured in the 1995 Jean-Claude Van Damme film, Sudden Death, along with a few Penguins players. I'm pretty sure that's a low point in his career, but at least he's been on the big screen. Ironically, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have a mascot named Tux who looks remarkably similar. The best part is that Tux seems to be a fan of parades, and gets dressed in his best St. Patrick's Day gear for the parade in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

San Jose Sharks - SJ Sharkie: SJ Sharkie made his first appearance on dry land in January of 1992. Sharkie doesn't actually wear a number, thanks to the large dorsal fin that protrudes through the back of his jersey. Sharkie is routinely featured at the NHL All-Star games, and participates in a number of on-ice activities. Sharkie has his own website as well, and it has a ton of information on it.

St. Louis Blues - Louie: Louie was introduced as a nameless mascot on October 10, 2007. On November 3, 2007, he was given the name "Louie" after fans voted online through the St. Louis Blues website. Louie already has a love of the blues music, as seen here when dressed as a Blues Brother lookalike. Louie has a pile of info on the St. Louis Blues website, including a bunch of stuff for kids to do.

Tampa Bay Lightning - Thunderbug: Thunderbug is probably one of the most recognized mascots in the NHL. He routinely makes appearances around the Tampa Bay area for a number of charitable causes, and has held the distinction of "Best Mascot in the Bay Area" a number of times. He used to have a female accomplice named Ladybug, but Ladybug has since flown the nest, leaving only Thunderbug to perform for the crowds. His efforts in helping the Lightning win the Stanley Cup cannot be overlooked either.

Toronto Maple Leafs - Carlton: Carlton the bear got his name from the location of Maple Leaf Gardens on Carlton Street. He was introduced to Leafs-nation on October 10, 1995. #60 has appeared in 17 arenas thus far, making him the most traveled mascot in the NHL. How he gets into other teams' arenas is beyond me, but he clearly uses his stealth-like abilities. Ironically, Gary Roberts' triple-overtime goal against Ottawa in the 2002 NHL playoffs is his favorite hockey goal of all-time.

Vancouver Canucks - Fin: Fin was introduced to Canuck fans on June 4, 2001. Fin actually has a really cool feature in that he can blow mist from his blowhole, and usually does when the Canucks score. The strange part is that when looking for images of Fin, the majority of ones that I found had him biting people's heads. Fin also likes to get himself into holiday-themed costumes, such as his leprechaun outfit for St. Patrick's Day.

Washington Capitals - Slapshot: Washington introduced Slapshot to fans on November 17, 1995, according to his bio page. Slapshot is actively involved in the community, and performs all sorts of stunts at Capitals games. His rivalry with Iceburgh has intensified over the past couple of years as the intensity between the Penguins and Capitals has been turned up.

Bonus! Winnipeg Jets - Benny: Benny, a play on the Elton John song "Benny and the Jets", was a lovable blue figure who wore a "B" on his jersey instead of an "A" or a "C". Benny was seen all over the Winnipeg Arena before the Jets headed south to Phoenix. Unfortunately, Benny has been MIA since the Jets left.

Bonus! Quebec Nordiques - Badaboum: Badaboum actually was the mascot for Rendez-Vous '87 when the NHL All-Stars played the Russian All-Stars in Quebec City. However, he was adopted by the Nordiques after the special event ended, and lived on as the Nords' mascot until 1995 when they left for Denver. Badaboum sounds exactly like "Ba Da Boom", as you Sopranos fans can vouch for. The big blue beaver can now be seen at the offices of Creations JCT, outside Montreal. Creations JCT still makes mascot costumes today.

There you have it, folks - a complete rundown of all the NHL mascots, past and present, of which I could find pictures. A mascot's job is a tough one, and these men and women deserve as much respect as the players do, especially when it's the caricature that receives all the praise and thanks. Good job, ladies and gentlemen, and keep up the good work!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Nadine said...

Teebz: Although the Flyers have no mascot, the Phantoms generously lend theirs - Phlex - to us on occasion. I have no idea what Phlex is supposed be (and I really don't care), but it's nice of our baby team to entertain the kids attending the big team's games.