What’s in a nickname? Fans everywhere identify with their teams, so would you rather be a Puffin or a Wild Blueberry?

This week, the ECHL franchise that will begin play in Portland next year announced the five finalists for the team’s nickname. Fans can vote online for their favorite. The finalists are Mariners, Lumberjacks, Watchmen, Puffins, and Wild Blueberries.

Yep. Wild Blueberries.

Goofy nicknames have become a minor league tradition. Long ago, minor league teams routinely took on the name of their parent club. I grew up going to Adirondack Red Wings games, watching the next generation of Detroit stars. There were a few exceptions, obviously. The Toledo Mud Hens come immediately to mind.

We already have Sea Dogs and Red Claws. For a few years in the 90s, we had Blue Ox in Bangor. Lewiston’s entry in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was the Maineiacs, a name too punny for its own good. When it comes to naming minor league teams, it’s less about what rolls off the tongue and more about what looks good on t-shirts, caps, and pint glasses.

The Sea Dogs play in a league that has Rumble Ponies, Yard Goats, Rubber Ducks, Flying Squirrels, and Fisher Cats. Whatever Portland’s ECHL team is called, it will compete against Swamp Rabbits, Everblades, and Solar Bears.

As long as the Portland hockey team doesn’t make its mascot a lion wearing a crown. The ECHL already has two teams, the Manchester Monarchs and Reading Royals, that use a lion wearing a crown. A third lion in a crown is too much.

Let’s look at the five Portland hockey finalists.

Mariners. Meh, it’s been done, by Portlad’s original AHL team. Choosing Mariners is an overly-sentimental nod to nostalgia. No points for originality. Mariners is the comfort food of nicknames. You’re familiar with Mariners. It’s safe. It’s dull, but it’s a warm blanket on a cold night.

Lumberjacks. Again, it’s been done. There was a professional basketball team known as the Lumberjacks that called Bangor home a generation ago, as well as an independent league baseball team that played in Bangor for a couple seasons. Plus, this hockey team is based in Portland, a city not known for its ties to the timber industry. That said, a logo of a lumberjack gripping a hockey stick instead of an ax would look pretty cool.

Watchmen. When I think of Watchmen, I don’t think of lighthouses. I think of the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. That Watchmen turned the superhero genre on its ear and is one of the most important pieces of literature in my life. Ignore the lousy film adaptation that came out in 2009. A lighthouse keeper mascot could turn out to be a success.

Puffins. What’s not to love about puffins? They’re cute. They’re found along the Maine coast. Slap a cartoon puffin wearing goalie pads on a jersey and you’re practically printing money. For what it’s worth, the ECHL currently has only one team with a bird nickname, the Quad City Mallards. There’s also the alliteration factor to consider. Portland Puffins. Sounds good.

Wild Blueberries. This choice is so out of the box, it’s perfect. Wild Blueberries has the perfect ratio of regional relevancy to minor league goofy charm. Blueberries are good for you, all chock full of antioxidants. If Syracuse University can have an orange for a mascot, surely Maine hockey fans can embrace a blueberry. Imagine the crowd at Cross Insurance Arena cheering when a Wild Blueberry makes a perfect body check, dropping an opponent to the ice. “HE WAS PANCAKED!” lights up the video board, and the crowd goes wild. A blueberry, his helmet askew and flashing a grin that’s missing a few teeth, would look great on a hockey sweater.

The Maine Wild Blueberries. Let’s go with that.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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