Inside the NHL: Bon Voyage, Captain Gorton

By Nicholas Hirshon
Published November 7, 2006
The Hockey News

The Buffalo Sabres took a lot of flak in the off-season for their new jersey and logo, mockingly dubbed the ‘Buffaslug.’ Despite that, the sweater has been the No. 1 seller on Did fans come around to the uniform, or has the team’s success made the difference? One team who may have some insight on the issue is the New York Islanders.

Next spring marks the 10th anniversary of the last time the Islanders wore their infamous “fisherman” logo, during a 6-2 loss to Washington at USAir Arena on April 12, 1997. And no one’s expecting any ceremonies to recall a design that many list among the worst in NHL history.

“Everyone knew if the team succeeded, everyone would buy into the new logo,” said Pat Calabria, who headed the Islanders’ communications department at the time. “But if the team didn’t succeed, it would be a lightning rod for all the team’s failures.”

And when the Isles started the 1995-96 season at 4-14-4, criticism started pouring in. Team legend Clark Gillies told the New York Times the change was “a blow to me and every other guy who wore that (original Isles) jersey for so many years.” Many fans cancelled their season tickets. Perhaps most famously, the design drew comparisons to the Gorton’s fisherman, the mascot for a brand of frozen seafood. Rangers and Devils fans started chanting “We want fish sticks!” at games.

Management put a final nail in the coffin in March of 1998, when fans were invited to bring caps and shirts with the fisherman logo to Nassau Coliseum in exchange for a shirt with the original logo. The clothing was donated to the American Red Cross of Gloucester, Mass. – home of Gorton’s frozen fish.

Lance Elder, Nassau Coliseum’s general manager at the time, was among the many happy people when the original design returned. His staff was often summoned to pick up fish sticks that fans threw onto the ice.