NHL Mascots: The 5 Best and Worst of Hockey's Costumed Creations
Those fluffy, lovable little warriors of whimsy that are hell-bent on rallying the crowd with a somersault and a chuckle.
A well-conceived mascot can electrify the stands, sell merchandise, and give its franchise one more dynamic with which to be recognized by the sports community.
Fabric and yarn do not a success make, however, as an ill-conceived character can elicit a subconscious (or very direct) pity reaction from fans who merely feel bad for the poor sucker sweating underneath those layers of cloth.
Trust me. I'm from Pittsburgh.
In a town that has the Pirate Parrot and Steely McBeam, we know the markings of a great mascot against aesthetic pink-eye.
From firing t-shirts and hot dogs into the arena to performing stunts of daring during intermission, a lovable mascot weaves the fiber of aggressive fanaticism and child-like exuberance for games that often take themselves too seriously.
And, fans at Heinz Field have spent enough time trying to avoid the bastardized Steely McBeam (would you claim that guy?) to understand when nothing amounts to more than something.
Pictured above is a veritable who's who gallery of NHL mascots, some clearly better than others. In a countdown that would make Jim Henson proud, we will look at the five best and worst fabric creations that hockey has to offer!
Al the Octopus: An Unfortunate Disqualification
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In the old days, before mass expansion, 30-team leagues, and lengthy playoff marathons, eight wins were necessary to win the Stanley Cup.
As such, the Red Wings adopted the octopus as a mascot, each tentacle representing a victory on the path to the coveted prize!
In honor of tradition, Al the Octopus, often clad in his eight-armed Red Wings jersey, descends upon the Joe Louis Arena ice only for the NHL playoffs.
Al is symbolic to the core and a lot less icky that the gooey octopi thrown to the ice by fervent fans!
I'd love to include Al on this list, but I'd categorize him as more of a symbol than a mascot! Perhaps in the purest definition he's a mascot, but I'm referring to the costume-wearing loonies with unpredictable acts and extreme gestures (all family-friendly, of course!).
It's Al that gets the last laugh, though, his Cheshire Cat-like grin resulting from a playoff history to make most franchises envious!
The Best: A Forced Entry Honorable Mention for Gnash
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His photo from the official team website tells us everything we need to know about Gnash, the predatory protector of the aptly named Nashville Predators.
The official site description reads: "GNASH, the lovable and fun-loving Predators mascot..."
...who will apparently kick your kids, take their lunch money to buy a beer, and enjoy the game with his paws kicked up, extreme B.A. style!
You know how your parent (or guardian) would give you that look as a child that essentially said, "This is the button, and if you push it, you know the outcome isn't going to be in your favor."
Gnash has the look, and while he's only an honorable mention, I couldn't keep him off of the list!
Just look at him in the photo above, blazing onto the ice in his Steve Austin four-wheeler, ready to open a can of (insert bodily part that emits excrement and add the word "whoop" in front of it here) on whoever dares defy his "mascotial machismo."
As far as he is concerned, he made the cut, okay? Nobody need tell him anything different....
The Best- #5) Slapshot
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Lots of great birds garner kudos for having predatory appeal, but the bald eagle, albeit patriotic, does not qualify as an intimidating winged warrior.
Unless your name is Slapshot.
First, the name Slapshot is one that should have already been taken! It's a pronounced element of the game and a cool character name, blending hockey and cotton together in a way that makes sense and sounds pretty rad, too!
Slapshot is the mascot of the Washington Capitals, which means 50 percent of his celebrations stem from an amazing play by Alex Over-Chicken...excuse me, Ovechkin! (Birds on the Brain!)
Slapshot is so awesome that he has cronies, a sort of birds' nest of bad-ass that follows him around at various games and events.
Air Slapshot and Hat Trick normally accompany this sleek-looking bird of prey.
A mascot with a posse. Not too shabby!
Though, I must put out a word of caution. Back before the bold red jerseys, Slapshot would have missed the cut. And there are definite bonus points for having a crew of cronies!
Keep the crew, Slapshot! Or else S.J. Sharkie will take your spot on the list. (Whoops, did I give something away?)
The Best- #4) Harvey the Hound
When I first saw this dopey dog, I laughed out loud, anticipating a clear entry into my "worst of mascots" list.
"And then I started to pay attention to Harvey and all that he's been doing as our new DA. And you know what? I believe in Harvey Dent. I believe that on his watch, Gotham can feel a little safer, a little more optimistic. Look at this face. This is the face of Gotham's bright future."
-Bruce Wayne ("The Dark Knight)
Wrong Harvey, but every bit the pioneer of the aforementioned, the Hound was the first NHL mascot, originating in 1983.
Even with his pappy pants and lil' red cap, Harvey opened the doors for other mascots to live their furry, fabric-filled dreams in the NHL.
His tongue hangs out of his mouth, and in a laughable story, Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish ripped the tongue off of the mascot in 2003.
At the All-Star game that season, many mascots arrived with tongues hanging down in a show of support for Harvey.
If that isn't a showing of loyalty and respect among the mascot ranks, I don't know what is?
What else cay I say?
"I believe in Harvey Hound."
The Best- #3) Wild Wing
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Being a risk-taker gets you noticed, as Wild Wing was the first mascot to descend from the roof of an NHL arena.
Starring on a cartoon ("The Mighty Ducks," named after the popular movie) entrenches you as a mascot to be reckoned with.
Appearing as a hybrid of a hockey mascot and a masked serial killer?
In my book, that earns you major respect!
If any person or thing can thank the "Friday the 13th" slasher series for turning the innocent goalie mask of past eras into an icon of blood-curdling horror, it's Wild Wing.
This mascot is the most cool-looking that the NHL has to offer, a marvel of sleek design and macabre aesthetic.
Mascots are supposed to invite fan interaction with their beloved sports franchises, and that's fine!
That said, how can you ignore this fiendish, feathery figure that looks like a demented Donald Duck, minus the bloody knife in his hand? This anthropomorphic night fright is best left to the arena and not kids' birthday parties!
The Best- #2) Iceburgh
The Pittsburgh Penguins' mascot came to being during the 1991-92 season, in the midst of back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Needless to say, that type of nostalgic beginning will embed your popularity with the population of a hockey town!
A play off of the words iceburg and the city of Pittsburgh, Iceburgh the Penguin has had the distinct honor of celebrating goals from some of the game's premier stars: Jaromir Jagr, Sidney Crosby, Ron Francis, Evgeni Malkin..... who am I missing?
In nine of 10 seasons from 1991-2000, Lemieux or Jagr led the league in scoring, and the duo of Crosby and Malkin have carried out the feat three times since then.... all in the Iceburgh era!
In other words, the leading scorers, Stanley Cups, and Hart Trophies are all the result of one lovable mascot who gets none of the credit.
Propelling Iceburgh over the top is his movie stardom. A fan of sport and cinema, the mascot had a significant role in the movie "Sudden Death," starring Jean Claude Van Damme. Sure, it was the bad guy wearing the costume...
....but teddy penguins can't always be soft and cuddly, can they?
Iceburgh wants is to be universally known that it was his name and likeness used in the movie; he'd have never lost a fight in real life!
The Best #1) N.J. Devil
Well, when your mascot is a kid-friendly version of Lucifer, you've mixed the highs and lows of life in the utmost of metaphorical perfection or imperfection, deciding on what side of the fence you rest your purview.
What can I say about N.J. Devil? I suppose he's exactly what you'd expect. C'mon, a team named the Devils can do better than an enormous, inflated hockey puck.
N.J. Devil is a mascot with fiery spunk. Er, very poor choice of words!
To make matters worse (or better?), the New Jersey Devil is considered a mythological beast child, and many associate these stories as the inspiration behind the team and mascot!
For all of the satanic hoopla of righteous fanatics who insist that the mascot is evil, the N.J. Devil rallies fans in Jersey as well as any mascot in hockey.
My fondest memory of the mascot is his starring role in my favorite "This is SportsCenter" commercial spot of all-time! (see above)
Whether its sending religious fundamentalists into a tizzy or playfully walking the line between kid-friendly and the personification of Mephistopheles himself, N.J. Devil seems to never lost that big, huge smile on his face.
I would recommend a dental hygienist, however, as that yellow tongue is the clear result of some serious bad hygiene.
The Challenge of Selecting the Worst
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In the NHL, there are a little more than a handful of great mascots.
Mediocrity dominates the mascot ranks, and that's okay. A dozen or more odd-looking, non-standout costumed creatures put smiles on the faces of fans in the tens of thousands 40 times per year, which is no small feat.
From lightning bugs in Tampa Bay to Sabretooths in Buffalo (who could have easily made the list if garbed in a warrior's outfit and fitted with a sword), the average mascot is a fun mascot, delivering love and cheer to the masses.
Nevertheless, choosing the worst of the worst was a difficult feat.
With their odd backgrounds and strange quirks, the mascot ranks of the NHL is a who's who gallery of social misfits, many of whom stand out far more than their peers for all of the wrong reasons.
Narrowing it down to only five mascots (and an honorable mention) was a difficult feat, but I stand by my decisions.
The beneficiary of the limited selection process is Stormy the Pig, who could have easily made this list if not for his look-alike brethren cheering on the Washington Redskins in the 1980's. Indeed, it once was cool to be a hog, so Stormy gets a reprieve.
As for those who did make the cut, if you encounter these folks, don't be afraid; they're an fun-loving as any other professional mascot. Perhaps, though, put a few dollars down the tuft of their outfit; after all, most of this last group are in need of a major overhaul.
The Worst- Honorable Mention: Youppi!
The video really says it all, but I'll elaborate!
First, he "hargued with the hump," (01:26) which I'm not sure precisely what that entails, but it sounds very naughty.
Secondly, he had an apparently scandalous affair with a female singer who appears to be approximately 16 years of age (01:32).
Most importantly, he represented a baseball team that folded, and the only reason he isn't on the unemployment line is the charity of the storied Montreal Canadiens.
But, let's face it: expectations couldn't have been too high for a child born of basketball star Bill Walton and Miss Piggy. (Just, again...see the stinkin' video.)
The Worst- #5: Fin the Whale
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So, this mascot's shtick is to emit steam out of its blowhole and chomp the heads off of the unsuspecting at Rogers Arena, which apparently includes....
Children. I grieve for the loved ones of the child seen in the horrifying image shown above. In fact, if you find this image offensive, please let me know. I will censor it.
Really classy, atop of the fact that an anthropomorphic killer whale is just silly. At least ducks walk....
I think my last straw is the official team homepage for the Vancouver Canucks mascot, which overviews an apparent identity complex.
Aside from music that could drive sane men to unthinkable acts, the site tells us that he is often confused with the much cooler S.J. Sharkie (well, he doesn't say cooler, I do..). The whale tells fans who want a shark to go to San Jose. Considering their recent playoff history, he ought to just tell the fans to go to hockey hell.
However, should folks in Vancouver ever want a more classy form of mascot entertainment, there is a contingency plan in place....... (continued next slide)
The Green Men Can Save Vancouver's Mascot Mystique!
And the contingency plan is the green men!
If Canucks fans ever want to be renowned for a finer taste in mascots, they need to dump the whale and get on board with "Sully" and "Force," the green men.
They not only rile up fans and represent the most unique potential mascots in hockey, they interact with the opposition on a regular basis and have a magnetism to the television camera!
With a rise to popularity during the most recent NHL playoffs, these faceless friends have the potential to climb all the way to the top of the best mascot listing.
Yet, for all of their credibility, Fin remains the official mascot of the Vancouver Canucks.
C'mon, British Columbia, do the right thing.
Revolt against the child-eating killer whale!
The Worst- #4: Bernie the St. Bernard
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Reading his profile on the Colorado Avalanche's team website, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Where have I seen this St. Bernard before?
A laundry list of TV shows and movies went through my head.
Rin-Tin-Tin? K-9 Cop?
"It can't be Lassie. Lassie is a collie."
Then, like a ton of bricks, it hit me.
This was the womanizing dog that had left his lover Missy and abandoned his four children for his hockey team.
"Beethoven's 2nd" was a commercial success, but oddly a different St. Bernard was used for "Beethoven's Big Break."
Apparently, the star had fallen on hard times.
Aside from being a dead-beat dad with alcoholism (we all know what's really in that keg, pooch!), the concept of a St. Bernard as the mascot for the Colorado Avalanche is lost on me.
Honestly, the key character of the hit film "Weekend at Bernie's" would make more sense, because avalanches kill people!
Why not an Abominable Snowman or, heck, Bigfoot? Anything but this.
The closest connection I can make between the franchise and the purebred is the Slush Puppy dog, a white dog with a blue cap used to promote the cold, icey, fruity beverage that you just can't find like you used to!
Yet, an icey drink and a frickin' avalanche are two entirely different things.
The Worst- #3: Spartacat
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When Carol ("Where the Wild Things Are") and Charles Manson met for a candlelight dinner, nobody could have predicted the monstrosity that would result.
Spartacat is the mascot of....the Ottawa Senators? Because, you know...that makes sense.
I hope these people know what they're exposing their children to!
The Worst- #2) Carlton the Bear
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Bruins fans are blessed with a fitting mascot. Albeit uncreative, Blades the Bruin is a fine mascot, a clear selection for a team named after....a bear! He's kid-friendly, but sports a look of attitude that lends itself well to an aggressive game.
There are plenty of other famous bears in this world, notable the Charmin bear who enjoys all of his blankets snuggly and "Charmin soft."
Perhaps sports mascots should not take their cues from their cute little predecessors of television commercial fame.
Louie the Bear in St. Louis doesn't get entirely off the hook, his huggable mystique lending itself more to heart-warming the ladies than pure hockey fans.
Yet, he has that wonderful blue fur and makes attempts beyond a jersey to look like a hockey player. That give him a semi-cover from the hoards of alpha-males that want his head.
Carlton, the acclaimed mascot of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is not as lucky.
The idea of a polar bear being a mascot for professional ice hockey makes sense, but a closer look at Carlton reveals that hockey is only a part-time job for the Maple Leafs' furry friend.
It turns out that the cute, cuddly Carlton goes by a different day name, and he also has a history in television marketing!
Just take off the jersey and add a chef's hat.
Tell me: have you ever been told to look for the...B-I-M-B-O...BIMBO bear?
My opinion is that this penny-pincher needs to stick with baking delicious bread and let another, more manly mascot (a tree trunk, perhaps?) take up the arms for the local hockey crowd.
The Worst- #1) Sparky the Ice Dragon
Gotta give Sparky one thing: he digs the ladies, and isn't adverse to tossing a man to the side to capture a cute blond.
Other than that, Sparky sucks.
I have no idea why Puff the Magic Dragon's evil twin brother was picked up as the mascot of the New York Islanders.
More than any other mascot in hockey, this random attempt at looking cool but making no sense simply comes off as desperate.
Perhaps the Penguins can pick up a Viking as their mascot?
Should the Devils swap N.J. Devil for soft, cuddly bear to appease certain religious factions? It's worked for other franchises.
A hearty look through search engines, you tube, and even the Bleacher Report photo album revealed only a small gallery of respect for Sparky, the dragon who...
...can't breath fire.
...and who isn't the mascot for a team named the Dragons.
Personally, I think it's a shame that NFL Europe wasn't a commercial success. Barcelona would have been a great landing spot for this fallen-from-the-sky lizard.