Fishes of the Small Leagues

Up to the moment the Seattle Kraken announced their name, I’d’ve bet money they were going with “Sockeyes”. It would have made them only the second piscine team in the NHL — the biggest fishes in all of hockey’s frozen ponds.

But there are lots of other fishy franchises across hockey’s long history and myriad leagues. Here’s a look some fish-themed team names and logos from beyond the NHL. Which ones are fin-tastic? And which ones stink on ice?

Baton Rouge Kingfish
When the ECHL charter Erie Panthers moved to Baton Rouge in 1996, they reinvented themselves as the Kingfish. Their name and logo pay homage both to Scomberomorus cavalla, the king mackerel, hugely important to sport and commercial fishing in the region — and to populist strongman governor Huey Long. The logo’s got a lot going on, conceptually and graphically. The Kingfish went defunct in 2003.

Burlington Barracudas
The Barracudas of Burlington, Ontario were a founding team in the women’s semi-pro CWHL in 2007, and operated until 2012. The logo and identity survive as part of Burlington’s Girls Hockey Club. Burlington is on the western shore of Lake Ontario, about a 700 mile drive from the nearest barracuda-infested waters.

Cape Cod Bluefins
The FHL just couldn’t seem to find a place for the Bluefins. The team was founded in 2010, and spent its first season as the Broome County Barons in Chenango, New York. Then they were renamed and relocated to Cape Cod where they played a year with no dedicated home ice. The league announced plans to move them again, this time to Syracuse, under the name New York Bluefins.

Instead, they became a road-only team, filling out other FHL clubs’ schedules, and then disbanded. The New York and Cape Cod logos are markedly different in style.

Connecticut Whale
The Whale make a strong claim to having the handsomest logo on this page, with its clean, friendly lines, and evocation of Connecticut’s erstwhile NHL franchise. They’re one of the four founding teams of the NWHL, established in 2015 as the first women’s pro hockey league with paid talent. But whales are mammals, so they probably shouldn’t be on this list. It’s supposed to be fish only! You see any pinnipeds or crustaceans here?

Corpus Christi IceRays
The NAHL’s IceRays have a complicated team genealogy involving the Pittsburgh Forge, Toledo IceDiggers, Alpena IceDiggers, and the IceRays of the WPHL.

It figures that a club with such a history of identity crisis would have a multiple, disparate logos. One’s a classic-looking (if also maybe a little collegiate-looking) exercise in restraint; the other looks like the label off an extreme energy drink.

Denver Cutthroats
The cutthroat trout is one of the western United States’ native salmonids, popular among fly anglers, and named for the red color under its jaw. The Cutthroats of the CHL played in Denver from 2012 to 2014.

Gulf Coast Swords
The tale of the Gulf Coast Swords is a weird one indeed. Planned as an ECHL expansion team, they got a waiver to sit out the 2004-2005 season while they built their new arena. Anyone who’s dealt with a Sunshine State contractor can predict what happened next. The arena never got built. All that materialized were three concrete walls locals derisively dubbed “Stonehenge”. In the fall of 2006, after a second full season of lawsuits and delays, the ECHL terminated the franchise, and Bradenton hockey fans, like Hemingway’s Santiago before them, bemoaned the marlins they had nearly brought home.

Huntsville Channel Cats
Huntsville, Alabama’s Channel Cats did stints in the SHL (1995–1996), the CHL (1996–2001), and the SEHL (2003–2004) before going defunct when that league collapsed. The channel catfish is the official fish of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee, but not Alabama. Curiously, the Yellowhammer State has two official fish, one in the saltwater category (fighting tarpon) and one in freshwater (largemouth bass). I know of no hockey teams named for either, in Alabama or anywhere else.

Idaho Steelheads
Idaho’s Steelheads played in the WCHL from 1997 to 2002, moving to the ECHL in 2003, where they’ve been since, as an affiliate of the Dallas Stars. Despite their name, no trout was pictured in any of their graphics until 2006, when the team debuted a new alternate logo with a fish in it. It became their main logo after the ECHL’s other salmonids, the Victoria Salmon Kings, disbanded in 2011.

Jacksonville Barracudas
The Barracudas of the ACHL (2002–2003), WHA2 (2003–2004), and SPHL (2004–2008) had a bonkers logo! It’s a fish, but it’s a man. It’s playing hockey, but it’s surfing. It’s passing, somehow, for some reason, through an abstract porthole. It’s a lot to take in.

Madison Ice Muskies
The Ice Muskies were formed to participate in, and disbanded before the end of, the Midwest Hockey League’s inaugural 2009-10 season. Team broadcaster Adam Hoge tells the story of the team’s collapse at Madison.com: “it was ugly from the start.” Under new ownership, the Ice Muskies moved to Wooster, Ohio before the start of the next season, becoming the Wooster Korn Kings.

Minnesota Mullets
The Minnesota Mullets of the USPHL are, in fact, named for the hairstyle (so closely associated with hockey it is sometimes simply called “hockey hair”), and not the ray-finned fish found in temperate and tropical seas worldwide. We regret the error.

Mississauga Steelheads
Missisauga’s OHL squad debuted in 2012 under the fan-selected “Steelheads” name, with the seagoing trout mascot “Sauga,” also named via fan contest. They’re apparently big on fan engagement in Mississauga — the team website currently hosts a contest for kids to design goalie Kai Edmonds’s helmet. (Closed July 31st; sorry, kids.)

San Jose Barracuda
The San Jose Barracuda (AHL, 2015–present) are the Worcester Sharks, relocated and rebranded.

The Sharks had a nine-year run in Massachusetts, from 2006 to 2015, before their affiliated NHL team, the San Jose Sharks, moved them west, where they now play in the parent club’s arena.

The new look, name, and location make the team’s identity a lot more coherent. What were they doing, wearing that California color scheme around in New England? They call that color “Deep Pacific teal”, for crying out loud. And it always seems such a lame failure of imagination when farm teams get the same mascot as their parent clubs. (Sorry, Providence Bruins, Scranton Penguins, and Texas Stars.) But farm teams named for smaller, less-frightening versions of the NHL affiliate? That’s adorable. Love it.

South Carolina Stingrays
The Stingrays are South Carolina’s first pro ice hockey team, and have played in the ECHL since 1993. Their logo history is a tour through recent trends in sporting design. The cartoon version the Stingrays wore during their awkward aughts still serves as the character design for “Cool Ray”, their costumed mascot.

Tallahassee Tiger Sharks
This organization has been remade in at least six locations, in a couple different leagues, serving as a farm team for at least four NHL clubs — they’re currently the Avalanche-affiliated Utah Grizzlies — but from 1994 to 2001, they played as the ECHL Tiger Sharks in Tallahassee. The motion lines in their logo are there so you can tell the shark is catching, rather than regurgitating, the puck.

Tidewater Sharks
The short-lived SHL boasted not one, but two Norfolk, Virginia teams: The Hampton Gulls, and the Tidewater Sharks. The Sharks existed from 1975 until January of 1977, when the team missed payroll, and the players understandably took their leave. The Tidewater Sharks’ logo is an astonishing piece of outsider art, and should be celebrated.

Toledo Walleye
The Walleye of the ECHL were founded in 1991 as the Toledo Storm. In 2009, they rebranded as the walleye, arguably the Great Lakes region’s premier eatin’ fish. They’re an affiliate of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings.

Victoria Salmon Kings
After the Baton Rouge Kingfish folded (see top of this list), interests in Victoria were keen to grab the franchise rights. Since 1994, Victoria had been the largest city in Canada with no professional or major junior hockey. The rechristened Victoria Salmon Kings debuted in the 2004–05 season, capitalizing on that year’s NHL lockout. They operated until 2010-2011, when the WHL’s Victoria Royals arrived (formerly the Chilliwack Bruins), precluding the Salmon Kings’ viability.

West Palm Beach Barracudas
For all three seasons of the six-team Sunshine Hockey League’s existence, the West Palm Beach Blaze lit it up. They were three-time championship winners, beating the second-place Jacksonville Bullets in 1992-93, 1993-94, and 1994-95. The next year, the SHL reorganized as the Southern Hockey League, and the Blaze, rebranded with arguably the most realistically rendered of the four barracuda mascots on this list, finished out of the playoffs. (The above-mentioned Huntsville Channel Cats were league champs.) The new SHL folded after that single season, and with it went the Barracudas.

The Ones That Got Away
Do you know of any fishy hockey team names and logos missing from this list? Post a comment, please; I’d love to see them.

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