Saturday, 6 August 2016

Connecticut Whale: When Branding Goes Wrong

Oh boy! If you remember when the Hartford Wolfpack left the AHL in 2010, many people were excited with the possibility of a Whalers like identity returning. While I quite like the Wolfpack identity now, in 2010, I was totally ready for the return of the Whalers. The rumours began swirling about the return of the Whalers name, and while the Hartford Whalers name was already understood not to be an option, people clued in on the Connecticut Whalers name, then a logo was unveiled that looked quite good. It was not to be however due to naming rights....and the is where the story goes very hilariously wrong.

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The colours were little too bright for my taste, but the script and logo itself looked good. Thankfully the NWHL used something similar and made it better by replacing the fluke with a cartoony simple whale and a much wider and vintage looking C. However, the nameless New York Rangers AHL franchise later unveiled a new logo and identity in September 2010. One that gave a lot of hockey fans, logo fans and designers a pretty good laugh. It wasn't the worst thing to come out, but I will warn you, this isn't the worst thing to come out for the Whale.

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The C is squished and is such an off font that makes the 80s font of the Whalers look more in date. The colours are really nice I won't lie, but the big blue whale with the hockey stick is just plain silly. I'm all for silly minor league logos, but this logo doesn't work well on a jersey. It was not a professional logo to say the least. I feels more like it fits on a New England breakfast cereal box or a kid's peewee team rather than the level directly under the top professional hockey league in the world. But hey many teams have had crappy logos but are saved by at least a decent jersey. Maybe we'd see the return of the Whalers striping from the 80s or even the 90s. In the late 90s & early 2000s, many hockey teams began replacing their classic logos with angry mascots holding hockey sticks angrily while angrily posing against something. Look at the Brandon Wheat Kings' attempt, New York's classic failure, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many AHL teams, and more I'm missing and not even counting ones where the stick is being eaten or modern attempts. The point is this trend was dated by 2004, and to see a logo in 2001 to attempt this, a crappy attempt at was a miss to say the least.

Another issue arrises with the lack of S at the end, something rare in sports. Things like Avalanche, Wild, Lighting, Thunder, Rush, Beast, Chill, Reign, Pride, Storm, Blizzard, Walleye, Heat, Express, Moose, Ice, Wolfpack make sense because the names are either too vague or plurality is implied in the name. Is the team just one whale? Most team names are plural as each player is a member of that plural; A Habs player is sometimes called a Hab, a Leafs player a Leaf, a Rangers player a Ranger etc. Now it would make sense with names like Barracuda where the name would sound weird in plural, Whales sounds fine. Perhaps Whalers would have made things easier but none the less this has always bothered me since the first time I saw the name.

The jersey were not stereotypical hockey jerseys. We didn't see striping ripped off from hockey's classic teams like Toronto, Montréal or Chicago, we didn't even see a copy of the Rangers or a recoloured version of the Wolfpack's jerseys...nope, we got something much worse.

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Another trend the Whale bought into was double blue without double blue being a part of the colour scheme. Columbus & Florida did the same thing that season, but the Whale really were the worst example double blue for double blue sake. The logo has green in it; a secondary colour to use with the darker blue chosen, it would look great. But no, the Whale wanted to go for a water theme on the jersey, opting for waves instead of stripes. I'd be fine with this, the recently unveiled NWHL Whale design proves waves can work on a jersey...but these look like they were design in KidsPix or Paint. The shoulder patch is a block H with 35 written on it, 35 years since the Whalers were in Hartford  Civic Centre, which had the same colour layout as the logo with Green being the main colour and made it stand out even move on a greenless jersey. On top of that having a white collar on a white jersey is never a good design choice, leaving just a thin sliver of darker blue on the top of the collar. Like the Buff-a-slug, the Whale attempted to appeal to nostalgia by wearing a New England Whalers warm up throwback jersey (not even in game or as an alternate) on Howe Family Night, March 26 th 2011. The Whale also introduced a green alternate which looked slightly better, and in the 2011-12 season, the Whale would wear this jersey as their full time road jersey, and swap the light blue for green on white jersey.

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This was an improvement, and the green jerseys are STILL available on the online AHL shop (I'll be in XXL which is what I call Hip Hop Music Video sized). They still had the same issues with the wave striping and primary logo, at least the team finally started using green. The H35 patch was scrapped with this change, which was a shame since the H looked great

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The white jersey suffered a colour balancing issue on with regards to not swapping the blue and green in the striping. It made blue the dominating colour on the jersey aside from white. I get it's supposed to look like water and water isn't supposed to be green outside of Shrek's swamp, but it throws the jersey off at least to a jersey snob like myself. When you're talking Hartford, the more green the better, and anything to forget the 90s.

After two seasons in these garish uniforms, the Wolfpack announced their return, and retired the Whale jerseys forever (or at least until Throwback to 2010 night in 2020). The Wolfpack stuck to their pre-2010 edge jerseys before switching to a Rangers Stadium Series for the 2016-17 season (including a sharp red jersey). The 'Pack have used the same logo since 1997, and an update might do the team some good. However this is a good lesson for those who crave nostalgic designs "old for old sake". Of course having the Hartford Whalers in the AHL would be amazing, and few people would disagree, but with the NHL owning the license to the name, it'd take negotiation magic to get that to happen. Similarly to the Manitoba Moose, Hartford got a new identity, one to make their own. Sure the Moose have a better logo, but that's beside the point, hockey is hockey. Imagine the Manitoba Jet coming out in 2010 to replace the Moose....Oh....No...don't imagine that. None the less, if you can't have Whalers, settle for Wolfpack, don't meet in the middle with Whale. 

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