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Beware of the fan poll: How each NHL team received its name

Jul 24, 2010, 11:30 AM EST

redwingslogo.gifI’m a sucker for origin stories. While it’s fairly certain that the world doesn’t need to know why Batman fights crime anymore, I find that one of the most interesting questions to ask is “How did we get here?” So it’s no surprise that I was delighted to read this story from the Palm Beach Post that covers how each team in the NHL stumbled upon their names.

(There seems to be two central themes to the team naming process: 1) it’s dangerous to allow quirky owners to create team names, even if it occasionally results in something iconic and 2) giving fans the right to name the team can result in some wacky mascots.)

Anyway, here are a few of the most interesting entries, with a sporadic comment or two inserted here and there.

Buffalo Sabres

The team was founded in 1970. Owners had an interest in polo and were fascinated with cavalry, knight and chivalry themes.

See: theme No. 1 above. For some reason that reasoning made me giggle.

Detroit Red Wings

Founded in 1926 as the Detroit Cougars, the team was renamed Falcons in 1930. In 1932, the new owner, who had once played for Winged Wheelers of Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, renamed team “Red Wings” and adopted winged wheel logo.

I’m still not sure that actually makes sense, but a strange preference by an owner (again, see theme No. 1) resulted in one of the greatest logos in all of team sports.

Minnesota Wild

The North Stars, who were founded in 1967, moved to Dallas in 1993. When a new franchise awarded to Minnesota in 1997, “Wild” was picked in a name-the-team contest. The team said the name honored Minnesota’s rugged natural wilderness. Other finalists: Blue Ox, Freeze, Northern Lights, Voyageurs, White Bears.

Does anyone else find it astonishing that the Wild was actually the best choice of the finalists, at least if you consider the fact that the Northern Lights would be too close to the North Stars? It doesn’t change the fact that the Wild is an inexplicable attack on grammar and good mascot sense, though.

Montreal Canadiens

When the National Hockey Association was founded in 1909, Montreal already had a team comprised of English-speaking players called the Montreal Wanderers. A group then founded a team of French-speaking players and called it “Les Canadiens,” French for Canadian. The NHA became NHL in 1917. “CH” on front of Canadiens uniform is French for “Club de Hockey Canadien.” In 1920s, New York Rangers owner Tex Rickard had picked up on a rumor that the “H” was for “habitants,” a French slang term for a Quebec farmer. The nickname stuck and was later shortened to “Habs.”

It never hurts to include an explanation of why people call the Canadiens the “Habs.”

New Jersey Devils

When the Colorado Rockies moved to New Jersey in 1982, newspapers held a naming contest that led to Devils. The legend of “New Jersey Devil” dates back 250 years. It says a woman in southern New Jersey who dabbled in witchcraft gave birth to a 13th child, a demonic creature that was part man, bat, snake and kangaroo. Creature supposedly continues to torment region.

Apparently the New Jersey Devil creates smog, nasally accents and cranky citizens. Still, I might pay money to see a creature that is “part man, bat, snake and kangaroo.”

Tampa Bay Lightning

Shortly before the franchise was awarded in 1990, team management was meeting during a thunderstorm and saw bolt of lightning, inspiring name.

That’s a pretty neat little story, right there.

So those were my favorite of the bunch, but if you want to learn more about why your favorite, most hated or any other NHL team got its name click here. It’s fascinating stuff.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner.)

  1. pj21 - Jul 24, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    The Sabres got their name from a fan poll contest, not from their owners.

  2. JSJ - Jul 31, 2010 at 8:45 PM

    The Knox brothers gave the Sabres their name through a fan voting contest. “Sabres” was one of the choices that the fans were given to vote on. It was the fans who ultimately named the team, not the Knox brothers.
    James, please do better research when you write articles about subjects you know very little about.

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