20 Most Creative and Original Team Nicknames in Minor Pro Hockey History
Much like the aspiring NHL players who represent their emblem, there is a massive spread of minor league hockey teams whose nicknames are rightly forgotten or not forgotten despite everyone’s best effort.
But then there are those who are of genuine legend, those who seize attention without cutting corners and without taking on a messy moniker that is suited only for fantasy leagues. Those are the ones that skate an extra lap to improve upon an obvious or somewhat clichéd choice.
There are those who craftily customize a nickname in accordance with the franchise’s locality. There are those who ought to induce a few head-in-hands episodes among the teams that went with an egregiously gimmicky nickname.
If the select few minor league teams that stand out with their positively attention-grabbing nicknames were a team of their own, the following 20 would constitute the active roster.
20. Jacksonville Barracudas (ACHL/WHA2/SPHL)
Not nearly as aggressive-sounding as a shark or a piranha, mind you, but good enough for those seeking a fish mascot that is not exactly a pushover—especially for a minor league hockey team in Florida looking to select a representative within the region while staying away from the more well-known fauna, such as the alligator.
19. Austin Ice Bats (WPHL/CHL)
When Austin fielded pro hockey from 1996 to 2008, bats (or Bats) were a year-round attraction in the Texas capital in one form or another.
One of the more unique hockey-specific mascots containing the adjective “Ice,” the Ice Bats could only fit in a city where residents flock to the Congress Avenue Bridge every summer to watch a horde of bats emerge for their nightly activities.
Sounds sort of like watching a spotlight descend on 20 stick-wielding men in skates and pads coming down a tunnel to commence the first period, does it not?
18. Muskegon Fury (UHL)
Ordinarily, it is best for a serious (i.e. non-fantasy) sports team, especially a hockey team, to go by a nickname that conveys a group endeavor. One surefire way to do that is to take an appropriate noun and pluralize it with a simple “s” at the end.
There are exceptions to that, such as the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, and another one can be made here. “Muskegon Fury” somehow has a better ring than other potential options for this tempestuous emblem, such as “Muskegon Tornadoes,” “Muskegon Cyclones” or “Muskegon Twisters.”
Given that the team played in an arena that was almost literally on the shore of Lake Michigan, “Waterspouts” would have been a sound and original icebreaker, but this was good enough.
17. Amarillo Gorillas (CHL)
Implicitly because the regional accent sometimes has the name of this Texas city come out as “Amarilla,” the hockey team that ran from 2002 to 2010 went for a rare rhyme scheme.
It’s somewhat surprisingly hard to find many other sports franchises that have used the gorilla as its nickname, although junior hockey’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks offer an even more original variation.
16. Texas Wildcatters (ECHL)
Turns out the term that inspired the name of this team that played from 2003 to 2008 doesn’t mean a big-game hunter who goes after wildcats. It's still cool though.
15. Baltimore Skipjacks (AHL)
The second most recent hockey team to represent Baltimore, Md., honored the city and state’s dense connections to various marine industries. Actually, so did many predecessors, but after a slew of franchises known as the Clippers, “Skipjacks” was a creative upgrade.
14. Kentucky Thoroughblades (AHL)
You know you’re a bona fide puckhead when, as a kid growing up in the 1990s, you encountered the term “Thoroughblades” before you ever encountered the word “thoroughbred.” (That was the case for this author.)
Was the nickname of Lexington, Ky.’s, AHL franchise from 1996 to 2001 a tad corny? You could argue that, but it’s hard to fault them for paying homage to one of the state’s better-known pastimes while trying to instill local interest in a new sport.
13. Orlando Solar Bears (IHL/ECHL)
12. Florida Everblades (ECHL)
At their inception in 1998, southwestern Florida’s ECHL franchise went all-out to acknowledge its locality and foster interest in the sport.
What may have been an obvious—but understandably irresistible—choice was to take the name of a neighboring national park, one of the largest in the continental U.S., and give it a hockey-related twist.
11. Elmira Jackals (UHL/ECHL)
10. Lowell Lock Monsters (AHL)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Admittedly, this nickname doesn’t make the most sense. Lowell, Mass., is based around a body of water, though that would be the Merrimack River, not a lake.
Then again, seagulls are still identified as seagulls, even when they hover over fresh water, so why not let Lowell have its Lock Monsters? I mean, for reasons other than the AHL’s difficulty sustaining an eighth team in the crowded region of New England?
9. Madison Kodiaks (UHL)
After encountering handful after handful of teams that answer to “Grizzlies,” the 1999-2000 United League season offered a refreshing, albeit brief, change of pace with one team paying homage to a less publicized species of bear.
Today, in Alberta, there exists a Junior A team that goes by the Camrose Kodiaks.
8. Port Huron Border Cats (UHL)
Port Huron, Mich., brushes along the Canadian border opposite Sarnia, Ont.
Before pro hockey came back in Double-A form in 1996, one of the city’s previous franchises in the IHL tried to offer a nod to its location by calling itself the Flags.
Suffice it to say, “Border Cats” was an astronomically creative upgrade. The team only lived for six seasons, but look at the video above from the 26- through 32-second mark for evidence of their existence.
7. Columbus Cottonmouths (CHL/ECHL/SPHL)
This Georgia-based franchise demonstrates soundly executed alliteration in the midst of lending a rare nod to an intimidating creature found primarily in the southern United States.
6. Youngstown Steelhounds (CHL)
Given this Ohio town’s rich steel-based heritage, it was naturally tempting to incorporate that into the identity of the city’s first professional hockey club, which came into being in 2005 and would ultimately live for three seasons.
The lazy course of action would have been to go by the name “Steelers” or any given synonym that might exist in the industry’s lexicon. The corny thing to do would have been to take “Steel” as an adjective and compound it with a relatively vague animal en route to something along the lines of “Steeldogs.”
Instead, Youngstown fans cheered for the “Steelhounds,” a new coinage that teamed up the city’s signature business with a more specific type of dog, each of whom connote a certain work ethic that is also synonymous with the sport.
5. Grand Rapids Griffins (IHL/AHL)
Getty Images/Getty Images
As far as the trusty Internet Hockey Database can tell us, no other professional or junior hockey franchise has ever adopted the mythological half-eagle/half-lion as its mascot.
The rarity of the Griffins nickname is perplexing, but at least someone has picked it up. After all, if ancient cultures placed such emphasize on imagining an animal that combined the traits of a great land beast and a great air predator, then surely that animal works for a sport that combines athletes of varying skills.
4. Winston-Salem Mammoths (SHL)
The Mammoths lasted one season in the Southern League and have been gone for 16 years, though there is at least one piece of video evidence (see above) to verify their existence, which ended in a loss in the playoff championship.
But of the six teams in the short-lived circuit, Winston-Salem wins gold in the mascot department, being history’s only minor league hockey team ever emblemized by the brawny Ice Age mammal.
3. Quebec Rafales (IHL)
Neither of those English words would be particularly enthralling for an athletic nickname. But the native term and snowboarding Yeti-like logo of Quebec City’s short-lived IHL team both fittingly evoked the concept of a hard-charging offense raring to unleash a blizzard of pucks on the opposing net.
2. Adirondack Frostbite (UHL)
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Here is another rare instance of a team deviating from the standard practice of going by a plural noun nickname and making it work.
After five years as the IceHawks, Adirondack’s defunct Double-A team took on a new, never-before-seen moniker in 2004. “Frostbite” not only works well for ice hockey, but it also blends with the “Adirondack” dateline as a nod to the mountainous, often cold region of upstate New York.
As a side note, the club was co-owned by ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose and former NHL play-by-play announcer Steve Levy.
1. Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL)
Admit it, the whole team name is fun just to read and fun to say. I know for a fact that it’s fun to type, so let me do it again.
How often does one get to alliterate a dateline and nickname with a “Ph?” Sure, Philadelphia has the Phillies in Major League Baseball, but surely someone could do better than just name the team after the collective fanbase.
The Flyers did just that in 1996 when they moved across the street to a new arena and transplanted their AHL prospects to their old abode in the Spectrum. The local fans clearly embraced the arrangement, as evidenced by Philadelphia’s consistent posture around the upper echelon of AHL attendance.
Unfortunately, in 2009, the Spectrum received its “property condemned” notice, and the Flyers’ top farm team has since operated in Glens Falls, N.Y.
“Adirondack Phantoms” certainly does not have the same ring, but at least the movie-monster mascot lives on.