Canines of the Small Leagues

Dogs! They’re humankind’s best four-legged friends, capable puck droppers, and make a pretty good mascot too. In the big leagues, dog-themed team names are surprisingly rare: there’s the Coyotes, and then… that’s it? Except possibly whatever the Wild’s logo is supposed to be?

But beyond the NHL, canine team names and logos are everywhere. As we did previously with fish logos, let us now check out a few!

A “sundog” is actually not a dog, but an optical effect of sunlight passing through ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere when the sun is low in the sky. It appears as a phantom light on one or both sides of the sun. Meteorologists call it a “parahelion”. Arguably the Arizona Sundogs, late of the Central Hockey League (2006-2014), shouldn’t be on this list at all, much less first.

The Bullies were Birmingham, Alabama’s Bulls until moving to Jersey in 2001. For four years the team was strong, but ticket sales were weak, so in 2005 they got relocated to Stockton, California and renamed the Thunder. They moved again in 2015, this time to Glens Falls, New York, where they play as the Adirondack Thunder today.

The Boston Jr. Terriers are a collection of youth teams from mites to elite U18s, playing in Canton and Rockland, Massachusetts. From their logos, you’d figure they’re affiliated with BU’s storied NCAA squad, but if they are I can’t figure out how.

“Ice Dogs” is a popular team name on this list, claimed by a multitude of junior teams, as you’ll see below. It’s so common, the 2006 Borne Cup finals saw the Icedogs (one word) of Bozeman pitted against the Ice Dogs (two words) of Fairbanks. It’s Ice Dogs all the way down! Bozeman’s team was founded in 1996 with a half-constructed rink, so their first season was all road games and outdoor practices. They’ve played in several western leagues through multiple league renamings and reorganizations, and today the inheritor of the Icedogs name is part of the tier III Junior NA3HL.

The Bulldogs existed for one season (2015-16), seemingly as a stopgap team to solve a series of ownership and arena leasing disputes in the Federal Hockey League. Based in Brewster, New York, the team finished in fifth place out of the FHL’s six teams, missing the playoffs.

Named for Louisiana’s state dog, the Catahoulas played in the WSHL from 2005-08, when they moved and became the Texas Renegades for a season, then moved again and became the New Mexico Renegades for five years, then to Springfield, Missouri to play as the Express for four years, suspending operations amidst the fallout from 48-year-old Andrea Conger exploiting her role as team co-owner and billet host to stalk and sexually harass a junior player.

The Chicago Hounds were a relocated version of the Richmond RiverDogs. They were named for the Windy City, but played 25 miles away on the Cook County line in a suburb called Hoffman Estates. They lasted one season in the United Hockey League (2006–07), the first home game of which was canceled due to substandard ice. Read all about that fiasco at Fun While It Lasted, a blog dedicated to dead teams.

Founded as an IHL team in 1994, the Chicago Wolves are an AHL team today. They’ve been an affiliate of a half-dozen big-league clubs: The Thrashers, Canucks, Blues, Golden Knights, Hurricanes, and Predators. The Wolves are the only team in the AHL whose full 76-game regular season and playoffs are broadcast on television. Also, for a $100 donation to Chicago Wolves Charities, you can get their mascot Skates the Wolf to make an appearance at your socially distant quarantine birthday parade! (Probably limited to Chicagoland.)

The ill-fated North East Professional Hockey League had plans for four teams, but two of them (the New England Pharaohs and Twin City Yeti) went inoperative before the season even started when their owner had major medical emergencies. A replacement team, the Boston Wings, likewise folded without playing a game. The Connecticut C-Dogs were hastily assembled to pad out a league that was already foundering before the first puck could drop. They lasted from the middle of November to late December of 2009, a month and a half of the NEPHL’s first and only season.

The Seawolves were a Junior A team in New Hampshire, playing in the America East Hockey League. For their first two years, they were the Exeter Seawolves, then they moved 20 miles north on Route 108 for their third and final season, ceasing operations in the summer of 2008, when the AEHL folded.

The Elmira Jackals of Elmira, New York were established in the United Hockey League for the 2000-2001 season. Their home arena was still being built when the season opened, so they played their first ten games on the road, and still had to hold their eventual home opener in an unfinished building. They had some early success, winning conference championships twice in their first four seasons, but struggled in the years that followed. Notably, Flyers enforcer Dave “The Hammer” Schultz served a stint as the Jackals’ head coach during this period (but went 5-16-0). They joined the ECHL in 2007 and folded in 2017.

The Fairbanks Ice Dogs date back to 1997. They play Tier II Junior A hockey in the NAHL. To get around COVID-19 travel restrictions their first 10 “home” games of 2021 will be at the the Red Baron Arena & Expo in Marshall, Minnesota. They open tonight, January 21st, against the Austin Bruins.

The Colonial Hockey League consisted of five teams from Michigan and Ontario when it opened in 1991, and expanded to seven teams after two years. In 1994, the ‘Dogs moved to Utica, New York to become the Utica Bulldogs, but failed midseason under what the Utica Observer-Dispatch bluntly called “the financial mismanagement of former general manager Skip Probst.”

The AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack takes its name from submarine warfare in honor of Connecticut’s naval operations and industry. It is by far the most venerable team on this list, originating way back in 1926 as the Providence Reds, one of the original five teams in the Canadian–American Hockey League. That team lasted until the late ’70s, went briefly defunct, and was resurrected in Binghamton, New York as the Binghamton Dusters, then Whalers, then Rangers. In the late 1990s, they relocated again, to Hartford, where a fan contest gave them the name Wolf Pack, which they have used since. (Except for three seasons from 2010 to 2013, when they went by the Connecticut Whale. The Connecticut Whale, as you undoubtedly know, is now one of the four founding teams of the NWHL.)

The Ice Dogs originated as the IHL’s San Diego Gulls in 1990. They moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to become the LA Ice Dogs for just one year before relocating again to Long Beach. In 2000, they joined the West Coast Hockey League, which was absorbed into the East Coast Hockey League in 2003. They folded in 2007.

The Mississippi Sea Wolves were founded in 1996 and lasted ten years in the ECHL, winning a Kelly Cup in 1999. They suspended operations after Hurricane Katrina messed up their home arena in Biloxi, and never recovered. They also had, it must be said, the goofiest logo on this whole list.

The Missoula Maulers a junior team founded in 2007 for the Northern Pacific Hockey League. Naming yourself after a notorious serial rapist and murderer is a bold choice — maybe this comports with a humorous sensibility unique to Big Sky country? The Maulers went out of business in 2016, the result of a contract dispute with their home rink, a leading cause of death among minor and junior hockey teams.

The New England Wolves were established in 2005 in Laconia, New Hampshire as the Laconia Leafs. Reorganizational turmoil across tier III junior hockey forced them into a one-year hiatus for 2013-2014, and when they emerged, they had relocated and rebranded as the New England Wolves of Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. They came back to Laconia in 2016 as the Wolves. Highlights from the team’s history are visualized in a timeline they posted on their website this very morning! Check it out here.

The New Mexico Ice Wolves, a tier II junior team in Albuquerque, debuted in the NAHL for 2019-2020, sporting a really sharp southwestern logo and color scheme. Their first season was curtailed by COVID-19.

The North Iowa Huskies were Mason City, Iowa’s junior team in the USHL from 1983 to 1999. They were subsequently renamed the RoughRiders and relocated to Cedar Rapids, where the team remains today.

Richmond’s RiverDogs were a UHL expansion team in 2003. Their three-year stay in Richmond was marked by unstable ownership and financial difficulty, all of which drama they took north with them when their operations were consolidated outside Chicago and they became the Chicago Riverdogs, as described earlier on this page.

The Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs are an SPHL team in Roanoke, Virginia. They are inactive this season for the COVID-19 pandemic, but otherwise still a going concern. Like the ECHL’s Roanoke Express and arena football team the Roanoke Steam (two previous teams who likewise called Roanoke’s Berglund Center home), they’re named for the area’s historical significance as a railroad hub. Their canine mascot is called “Diesel.”

A semi-pro squad from Australia, the Sydney Ice Dogs are the only team on this list in the southern or eastern hemisphere. They were founded in 2002 as the Western Sydney Ice Dogs — they dropped the “Western” in 2009. They’ve twice won the Goodall Cup, the Australian Ice Hockey League championship trophy first awarded in 1911.

While we’re on the subject of Ice Dogs, I’m realizing too late I should never have included non-professional teams on this list. There are too many of them, and there’s no good way to decide which ones to exclude. There’ve been junior Ice Dogs in Salem, Massachusetts; there are junior IceDogs in Niagara (coached briefly by Don Cherry in Mississauga); there are junior Ice Dogs in Dryden; there are junior Icedogs in New Jersey; there are junior Ice Dogs all over Minnesota; there are West Michigan Ice Dogs; there’s a Southern IceDogs hockey program in New Brunswick; there’s even an (awseome seeming) Ice Dogs program in D.C. designed to provide opportunities for players with physical and developmental disabilities. It’s too much! No more juniors or other amateur teams on future versions of these lists.

The FHL’s Wolves were founded in 2010 as the 1000 Islands Privateers in Alexandria Bay, New York, and moved to Watertown two years later. Notable events in franchise history: In 2013, owner Nicole Kirnan, a member of the 1996 U.S. Junior National women’s team and former NCAA Division III women’s coach, stepped into a vacancy behind the bench and thereby became the first female head coach of any pro hockey team in the U.S. In 2015, under their new name, the Watertown Wolves were FHL champs. They topped the league again in 2018.

The Wild are a junior A team in Wenatchee, Washington. They debuted in the NAHL in 2008. In 2013, they were approved for transfer into the BCHL, but instead moved to Hidalgo, Texas to become the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees. In a quick switcheroo, the city of Wenatchee brought the erstwhile Fresno Monsters to town to serve as the new Wild, like Ridley Scott swapping Christopher Plummer in for the disgraced Kevin Spacey at the eleventh hour.

The Youngstown SteelHounds were Youngstown, Ohio’s CHL team from 2005 through 2008, when they were booted from the league for non-payment of dues. The team owner was track and field legend, and Major League Baseball’s first/only exclusive baserunning specialist Herb Washington.

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