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Name Game: Ranking the Canucks’ ten prospective names for Abbotsford AHL team

When it comes to the Canucks’ new American Hockey League affiliate coming to Abbotsford for the 2021-22 season, the potential roster and front office aren’t the parts of franchise building on everyone’s mind. It’s what the new team’s name and jerseys will look like.

After spending eight seasons in New York sending prospects to the spectacularly named Utica Comets, Canucks Sports and Entertainment has a rare opportunity with their minor league franchise’s move to BC; a clean slate in the branding department. And last Tuesday the Canucks sent out a list of prospective names for their new AHL affiliate to season ticket holders, with ten options ranging from flying people to flying animals.

According to Canucks Army’s Chris Faber, the list has already since been narrowed to down to three finalists: Golden Eagles, Aviators and Canucks. And while each of these three nicknames have their own pros and cons, did the Canucks leave better options on the table from their top ten?

I decided to go through each of the ten potential names and rank them based on creativity, local tie-in, widescale appeal and potential when it comes to logos, jerseys and mascots. If you have a favourite choice and/or disagree with my final, 100% correct rankings, feel free to yell at me for it in the comments below.

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10. Golden Eagles

This is easily the worst option for a lot of reasons.

First off, there’s already an AHL team called the Eagles in Colorado and a club with an ore-themed name in the Henderson Silver Knights, both of which will play in Abbotsford’s division next season. But more importantly, the name is meant to tie in with Golden Eagle Farms, a berry farming business owned by the Aquilini family.

If that company sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because of an expose published in 2019 which highlighted allegedly poor working conditions and treatment of migrant workers. The negative connections to that name alone should disqualify Golden Eagles as a potential nickname right out of the gate.

9. Falcons

You might be thinking I’m just anti-bird at this point, but the problem with this name is that it’s more befitting of a high school mascot than a pro hockey team. It’s like having an entire animal kingdom to choose from and going with “Wildcats”; it’s a cop-out.

Not to mention there was a Falcons team in the AHL as recently as 2017-18. Show me something new!

8. Aces

Anyone else noticing a weird Vegas slant in these early names?

The name ‘Aces’ already has a history at the AHL level, with a Cornwall, Ontario team in the mid-90s. There’s also an Aces club in the Women’s National Basketball Association appropriately based out of Las Vegas.

The name ‘Aces’ simply doesn’t have a solid connection with the Abbotsford area or have the makings for a popular local brand. While in this case ‘Aces’ is clearly meant to invoke thoughts of airplanes and pilots rather than gambling, there are arguably better options on this list for a flying theme.

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7. Millionaires

The ‘Millionaires’ name has a real mystique to it in the Lower Mainland. The Vancouver Millionaires remain the only hockey club in the city’s history to capture a Stanley Cup, and their unique maroon and cream uniforms are a popular part of local sports lore. The Canucks have also owned all the trademarks for the ‘Millionaires’ name, logos and uniforms since 2010, and would undoubtedly love to put them to proper use.

But once you step back and take the historical context out of the equation, calling an AHL team “the Millionaires” is kinda weird. The idea of an Abbotsford Arena filled with largely blue-collar season ticket holders chanting “Go Millionaires!”, at a team made up of players each making five figures a season, makes for a very strange irony.

However, one thing worth noting about the Millionaires branding is that the nickname itself is nowhere to be found on their old logos, meaning those marks could easily be used to outfit a club with a completely different name. When flipped upside down, the popular ‘Victory V’ symbol could absolutely pass for an ‘Abbotsford A’.

What a redone Abbotsford version of the Millionaires’ logo could look like.

6. Aeros

The Aeros are not only another nickname with an existing AHL history – I don’t know if you can tell, but minor-pro hockey has a lot of city/brand turnover – but also served as the name for Houston’s franchise in the old World Hockey Association. While ‘Aeros’ is undoubtedly a cool choice, with Houston regularly flirting as a potential relocation spot for struggling NHL franchises, that name should probably remain unclaimed for now.

5. Canucks

Here we have another cop-out name choice, albeit for a different reason than ‘Falcons’.

Obviously, people will get behind a team called the Canucks in this market. Using the same name as the big club gives you the opportunity to use old team logos and colours and build a new brand that still evokes nostalgia in longtime fans.

It’s also a boring choice. Like with the ‘Millionaires’ moniker, you can still do all of the above while picking a completely new name to go with it. For example, the beloved ‘Flying Skate’ would go really well with a lot of other names on this list, including a few in my final four.

4. Pilots

Finally, we get to the good stuff.

‘Pilots’ is the first option on this list that doesn’t have some semblance of previous use in major hockey circles (although it was the name of Seattle’s disastrous first foray into pro baseball). And Abbotsford has a long history with flight, including hosting Canada’s largest airshow since 1962.

The only downside to this name is the lack of a solid mascot to come with it. AHL teams often market themselves to families that can’t always afford the insane prices of NHL tickets for four or more, so the need for a more kid friendly brand is important. With ‘Pilots’ you’d have to think out of the box for a good mascot. Maybe that BC Ferries seagull is interested in a career change?

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3. Sockeyes

When the Seattle’s new NHL franchise was still narrowing down their name choices, I was all aboard the ‘Sockeyes’ bandwagon. But since they ended up choosing the far superior ‘Kraken’ nickname, that leaves the salmon free for the taking!

The ‘Sockeyes’ nickname works on multiple levels; it’s unique in pro hockey, provides a slam dunk in the mascot department, and could be seen as both a reference to the fish and the rougher aspects of hockey.

As for uniforms, it could not only provide a chance to break out the old navy/red/silver colours of the 2000s, but also an opportunity to bring on a First Nations artist to draw a proper tie-in for the big club’s existing Orca logo. Out of all the names on the shortlist, this is the one with the most potential.

2. Aviators

This name is rumored to be one of the three finalists in contention, and it truly deserves to be.

‘Aviators’ improves on the flight theme left over from ‘Pilots’ and just plain rolls off the tongue. You may still get stuck with the mascot problem from before, but this name’s ability to invoke a more vintage era of flying could make it easier for marketing and promotion.

Canucks logo concept by John Slabyk

In fact, a perfect logo for the ‘Aviators’ already exists, in the form of a 2007 Canucks concept by designer John Slabyk. The full concept has been lost to time, but Slabyk’s iconic “Captain Johnny Canuck” style logo still makes the rounds on social media whenever Vancouver’s logos are being discussed. Maybe now there’s a proper home for it.

That leaves us with one final name.

1. Avengers

You might laugh or consider this option as “piggybacking off a fad” – and if so, hi person over 40 – but this is the CLEAR winner.

Thanks to the worldwide success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the ‘Avengers’ name comes with a built in marketing bonanza and plenty of uniform and mascot options. Comic books have never been bigger in popular culture, and what better way to get onboard than by building an AHL team based on superheroes?

Not to mention the wide variety of colours in the comic world feels right at home with the Canucks’ half century of identity changes. Anyone else notice how the Flying Skate has the same colour wheel as Iron Man?

In reality, this name faces very long odds of getting chosen. The ‘Avengers’ name is trademarked by Marvel and Disney, meaning the Canucks would require a licensing agreement to use the marks with a media company famous for its’ copyright protection. But Disney does have historical precedent for allowing sports clubs to use their trademarks, so maybe it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the “Abbotsford Avengers” assemble on the ice this fall.

Make it happen, Canucks.

Thanks for reading!

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