Yesterday I decided to start quantifying the history of hockey logos — seeing as a number of ancient cultures have predicted Friday to be the end of days. We began with the Top 10 logos in the NHL. We continue today with North America's top minor league — the AHL.
Minor league logos are tricky. Some teams just copy their big league affiliate. Many more just employ an angry animal wielding a hockey stick. These teams come and go as do their logos. So instead of a Top 10, I'll give you my Top 5 (along with some honorable mentions) as well as my Bottom 5.
Top 5: The Best Logos
1. Rochester Americans
The Amerks. A true minor hockey classic. In a league where tradition takes a backseat to filling arenas, it's comforting to know that some things don't change. The Rochester Americans were founded in 1956. Their current logo has been in use since 1972 — decades longer than any of their AHL brethren — and the shield itself has been around since 1959. It's no coincidence that the oldest logo is No. 1 on my list nor is it a coincidence that this mark has been around so many years.
2. Chicago Wolves
In my mind, this is the quintessential minor league hockey logo, and yet it's not obnoxious. We have a crazy-eyed wild animal alongside a hockey stick and a puck — just to make sure you know what sport this is. And yet I just want to wear a Chicago Wolves jersey. The logo was created in 1994 when the team joined the International Hockey League. They were saved in 2001 when the IHL merged with the AHL.
3. Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights
This is where I'll probably lose some of you. This may very well be a logo you have never seen. So how could I place it among my Top 5? Well, just look at it. The Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights debuted in 2005 as the Calgary Flames' top AHL affiliate. That fact is clear when you look at the back of the knight's head. It's the fire from the flaming C logo beautifully incorporated into a logo that that has nothing to do with fire. I also like that while "Ak-Sar-Ben" gives the team an enigmatic vibe, it's really just Nebraska spelled backwards. The Knights existed just two seasons before being moved to Illinois. They currently exist as the Abbotsford Heat.
4. Manitoba Moose
Also in 2005 came this gem when the Manitoba Moose got all new logos and uniforms. Angry animals with text are the standard flavor in the minors, so it's really about finding the ones that stand out. This moose just looks like a badass you don't want to cross. It was a sad day when the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, forcing the Moose to the east coast where they became the St. John's IceCaps.
5. Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Rounding out this group are the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. This logo has undergone some color changes over the years, but it's been one of my favorites ever since this team joined the AHL in 2001. The lines are perfect and the tiger is scary. It's a sharp design in a style we don't see very often. In fact, it's almost too good for the minors.
Doing a Top 5 means a lot of good logos don't get a mention, so I've opted for some honorable mentions. The Peoria Rivermen logo is a minor hockey classic that's been around for years. It's existed as three separate franchises in three different leagues with the earliest dating back to the IHL in 1984. Each iteration of the Rivermen has utilized the same riverboat captain chewing on a puck though the palette always included red until the team joined the AHL in 2005. The question is, is this logo great because it has survived or has it survived because it is great?
The Milwaukee Admirals have been around for decades — at least since the 1970s. They went pro in 1977 when they joined the IHL but always had lame logos — until the skinless admiral appeared in 2006. And finally, there's the Hartford Wolf Pack. Again we have an angry animal showing its teeth, but that doesn't mean we don't have a solid logo. It has been sorely missed since the team was rebranded as the Connecticut Whale. Speaking of which...
Bottom 5: The Worst Logos
1. Connecticut Whale
Yeah, it's no secret around these parts that I have nothing but hate for this logo. Howard Baldwin promised a return of the whale. I didn't think he meant that would be the team's actual name. And I didn't think the logo would be so pathetic. It's everything that's bad about minor hockey logo design. It was so bad it spawned a new word. When the logo was unveiled, Icethetics reader Connor Hanley famously called it "horr-awful." And he was right.
2. Rockford IceHogs
The second-worst logo in AHL history was actually born in the now-defunct United Hockey League in 1999. It ticked all the terrible boxes: A ridiculous name with "ice" tacked onto it, a silly mascot biting a hockey stick, and a pathetic font. There's nothing to like about this logo and there's no reason to name a hockey team after swine. The IceHogs joined the AHL in 2007 after winning the last UHL championship and didn't bother to update their name or logo.
3. Albany River Rats
It would be easy to just keep cherry-picking logos that feature angry animals wielding hockey sticks, but the offenders on this list are the worst of the worst. The Albany River Rats logo debuted in 1993 after the Capital District Islanders were sold and rebranded by their new owner. McKinley Griffen was the design firm hired to give the River Rats their new look. It was their first ever sports logo, and they now take credit for setting an industry trend (angry animal with a hockey stick isn't something I'd be proud of) along with "multiple awards." It also led to them getting more sports logo design jobs.
4. Kentucky Thoroughblades
You want someone to blame for these logos? We have the name. McKinley Griffen. A couple years after "setting a trend," that firm brought us this monstrosity. Lexington, Kentucky got its first pro hockey team in the form of the Thoroughblades when the AHL expanded in 1996. Today, the team is known as the Worcester Sharks — and it has much, much better logos.
5. Abbotsford Heat
We finish this list with the AHL's westernmost franchise. I'll be honest, this is technically bad design. It's just lazy. Their NHL affiliate is the Flames. They're called the Heat. But I don't get any feeling of heat from this logo. Just a FoxTrax puck flying around. It's as bad as the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder. You can do better, Abbotsford. Just look at who you used to be in Omaha.
That wasn't too painful. Any glaring errors on this list? I got taken to task here and on Twitter for leaving out the Maple Leafs and Red Wings from my NHL Top 10. Did I leave out any critical AHL logos?
The ECHL is next up tomorrow in the same format. Then Thursday we get the Top 10 worst NHL logos. If we're all still here Friday, geez, I don't know what I'll do.