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Ranking the best minor league mascots: Part 1

By Ryan Williamson, SportsEngine, 01/16/21, 10:30AM MST


Hub exclusive: With most teams resuming activities this season, we took an extensive look at mascots that make minor league hockey so much fun.

The Toronto Marlies are an American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and have used this name since 2005.

From the NHL to youth leagues, hockey is finally underway again as we continue to inch towards normalcy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of the leagues finding ways to get back on the ice are the minor leagues that take place across North America.

There are several minor leagues that host teams. Though they don't often garner the same attention from fans as the NHL, they showcase talented hockey players and have fun doing it.

Whether it's fun promotions or wacky uniforms, minor league hockey sets itself apart with its fun approach to the game. One way teams show off their creativity is with their choice of mascot. Like other minor league sports, such as baseball, teams end up with nicknames that are often unique and entertaining. 

With dozens of these teams hitting the ice across North America, we decided to choose the top five minor league mascots. But with so many to choose from, we had to break it into two parts.

Here is part one of our top five mascots in minor league hockey. These teams play in either the American Hockey League (AHL), the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) or the Federal Prospects Hockey League (FPHL).

Be sure to check out part two next week where we'll examine the United States Hockey League (USHL) and North American Hockey League's (NAHL) top mascots. And have your voice heard by voting in our poll at the bottom of this page to choose your favorite.

5. Huntsville Havoc

Despite being based in a state (Alabama) where hockey has never garnered top billing, Huntsville's residents continue to be ardent supporters of the sport. That's true with the local Division I college hockey program and with the Huntsville Havoc of the SPHL.

This squad began playing in the 2004-05 season and won the 2019 league championship. The team does not have any significance behind this name besides the alliteration. However, the fun name that rolls off the tongue comes with a logo that also adds some intrigue and aggression. They've taken something similar to a wolf and made the name more interesting. Stick tap to this southern hockey town.

4. Macon Mayhem

This is another SPHL franchise that has found success with a fun nickname. This franchise was previously the Augusta RiverHawks until being relocated to Macon, taking the ice for the first time in 2015. The team has since transitioned into the Macon Mayhem and has been such a good fit in Georgia the franchise signed a five-year lease extension last winter to stay in Macon.

This logo is a fun look that seems like a perfect fit for minor league hockey, with a Viking causing mayhem with the puck. Though promoting mayhem seems like a generally bad idea, mayhem on the ice might not be the worst thing, especially for this fanbase. 

3. Wheeling Nailers

This ECHL club has been through different names and mascots, but the franchise as a whole is the oldest surviving minor league club below the American Hockey League level.

It started in 1981 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Since then, the franchise has moved to Wheeling, West Virginia, and become the Nailers.

This Pittsburgh Penguins' affiliate has some history with this nickname as it was chosen to align with the town's reputation for being a nail manufacturer.

Sports teams often get nicknames based on their town's industrial production (see the Green Bay Packers). However, this one seems particularly clever. The logo makes it look especially tough. Plus, it is one of the most unique names out there.

2. Toronto Marlies

Toronto is one of the most historic hockey markets in all of North America. The Maple Leafs remain one of the most recognizable hockey franchises anywhere. As for its AHL affiliate, it's a little more topsy-turvy. 

This franchise originally began as the New Brunswick Hawks back in 1978, and was a joint operation between the Maple Leafs and the Chicago Black Hawks (the updated spelling to Blackhawks didn't come until 1986). Over the years, the partnership with Chicago was dissolved, the franchise moved, and there were rebrands up until 2005, when when the Toronto Marlies were born.

This mascot deserves this high praise due to the history of the name. The nickname is an abbreviation of the Toronto Marlboros, a junior hockey squad that played in the city from 1904-89 as part of the Maple Leafs family.

To pay homage to that franchise, the name became the Marlies. It was shortened to avoid any legal battle with Marlboro, a famous cigarette company that holds a similar name to the original Toronto junior team.

This mascot is something unique and hard to find anywhere else in minor league hockey. Plus, it comes in a hockey-heavy market always looking for more action on the ice.

1. San Diego Gulls

The Gull isn't the most unique mascot on the list. But you may be surprised at the amount of history that surrounds minor league hockey in a city such as San Diego. 

This is the fifth time a minor league hockey team based out of San Diego has been nicknamed the Gulls, with this iteration starting in 2015.

The city previously had teams such as the San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League in the 1960s and '70s, the Gulls of the International Hockey League in the '90s, and the Gulls that spent time in the West Coast Hockey League (1995-2003) and the ECHL (2003-06). The name is obviously fitting for a city that's alongside the Pacific Ocean.

The Anaheim Ducks adopted the nickname for their AHL affiliate in 2015 after purchasing the Norfolk Admirals of Virginia and moving them west to help form the AHL's new Pacific Division. The decision excited fans in the area, with the team averaging more than 8,500 fans per game in attendance.

The club continues to be a hit in this non-traditional hockey market, though the team has been temporarily relocated to Irvine, California, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and is honoring its past with the Gulls nickname.

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