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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

The fun world of minor league nicknames

The best part of writing this blog are the rabbit holes that I can be led down by doing simple research on a player. For this week, while researching the career of Dirk Graham, I came across the best minor league team nickname I have seen in quite a while - the Toledo Goaldiggers. Throwing aside traditional names based on animals or natural phenomenon, the Goaldiggers went all in with a pun-based name combining hockey and a pejorative term for people who marry for money instead of love. The team played in the IHL from1974 to 1986 before becoming the Kansas City Blades.

In honour of the Goaldiggers, let's look at some other unique franchise nicknames from the AHL and IHL (there are a ton of great names from lower minor pro leagues, but those will be saved for another post):

  • Des Moines Oak Leafs, maybe going for a localized version of the Maple Leafs? They played in the IHL from 1963 to 1972.

  • Port Huron Flags, a franchise that won three Turner Cups between 1962 to 1971 and 1974 to 1981. For three years in the early 70s they were an affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings and went with the more traditional nickname, Wings.

  • Dayton Gems, an IHL franchise who took its nickname from Dayton's moniker as the Gem City. They played from 1964 to 1977 and 1979-80 in the IHL.

  • Peoria Prancers, a franchise that while alliterative doesn't strike fear into the hearts of opponents. They played from two seasons (1982 to 1984) before becoming the Rivermen.

  • Quebec Rafales, an IHL franchise from 1996 to 1998 that boasted a Yeti-like creature for a logo and whose nickname perhaps suffered from a translation issue. In French a rafale is a strong gust of wind, but in English just sounds like some dude who lives down the street.

  • Binghamton Dusters, an AHL franchise from 1977 to 1980. The Dusters logo was designed by cartoonist Johnny Hart, famous for the newspaper cartoon B.C.

  • The Beast of New Haven, following the late 1990s trend of non-traditionally formatted names. The Beast had two seasons as an AHL affiliate with Florida and Carolina before folding in 1999.

  • Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the New York Islanders AHL affiliate. Tigers is by no means a unique nickname, but the addition of 'Sound', in honour of the parent franchise's location on the Long Island Sound, is odd given the team plays in Connecticut. For the 2021-22 season the franchise adopted the more traditional Islanders nickname.

Card 266 - Martin Gelinas

A left winger, Gelinas was drafted seventh overall by Los Angeles in 1988, but never suited up for the Kings, as he was traded less than two months later to Edmonton in the deal that brought Wayne Gretzky to LA. He would play one final season of junior hockey in Hull before turning pro late in the 1988-89 season, playing six games with Edmonton.

The following season, Gelinas played in 46 games, scoring 17 goals, adding two more goals in the playoffs as the Oilers won their fifth Stanley Cup in seven years. In his next three seasons with Edmonton Gelinas scored 20+ goals each season, but his production waned in the early 1990s with back-to-back 11 goal seasons. In June 1993 he was traded to Quebec for Scott Pearson, playing 31 games with the Nordiques before being claimed off waivers by Vancouver in January 1994.

With the Canucks Gelinas made his second Stanley Cup Finals appearance, scoring five goals and nine points in 24 games as Vancouver fell short to the New York Rangers. In his third full season in Vancouver, Gelinas scored career-highs in goals (35) and points (68), including a four-goal game against Phoenix in February 1997.

Part way through the 1997-98 season Gelinas was traded to Carolina in a five-player swap. He spent five seasons with the Hurricanes, the longest tenure with one team during his career. This included a third trip to the Cup Finals in 2002, with Gelinas scoring the overtime winner in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to send Carolina to their first ever Cup Finals appearance.

In 2002 he signed with Calgary, scoring 21 goals in his debut season, the fifth and final time he cracked that barrier. In 2004 the Flames made the Cup Finals, with Gelinas recording a fourth Cup Finals appearance, all with different teams. He was a key contributor to the Flames’ Cinderella run, scoring eight goals and 15 points, including the series winners in overtime of both Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against Vancouver and Game 6 of the Semi-Finals against Detroit.

Following the 2004-05 lockout Gelinas played two seasons in Florida and one in Nashville before a final season in Switzerland, retiring after the 2008-09 season. In 19 NHL seasons he played in 1273 games, scoring 309 goals and 660 points. From 2011-12 he was Nashville’s director of player development and since 2012 he has been an assistant coach in Calgary.

YouTube clip: all three of his series-clinching overtime goals, the most in NHL history.

Card 267 - Alexander Mogilny

First, how awesome is the picture on the back of this card? Mogilny rocking the blue golf shirt and maroon pants while staring down a putt like Tiger Woods. For people who thought Alex Ovechkin was the first Russian player to take up golf, here is the proof that Mogilny was at the head of the trend.

A right winger drafted 89th overall by Buffalo in 1988, Mogilny played three years of pro hockey in the Soviet Union before becoming the first Soviet player to defect to play in the NHL. In his rookie season of 1989-90, he scored 15 goals and 43 points in 65 games.

Over the four following seasons Mogilny scored between 30-40 goals each season, except during the 1993-94 season when he exploded for 76 goals, leading the league with the fifth highest single season goal total of all-time. He also recorded a career high 127 points, led the league with 11 game winners and scored seven hat tricks. Naturally he was named to the second all-star, but less known was that he was the Sabres captain that season.

The lockout shortened 1994-95 season was his last with Buffalo, as he was traded to Vancouver in the off-season for Michael Peca, Mike Wilson and a 1st round pick. In his first season with the Canucks he was partnered with countrymen Pavel Bure and scored 55 goals and 107 points, earning another second team all-star nod and finishing fourth in Byng voting.

Mogilny struggled to follow up his debut season, and over the next four seasons his totals dwindled, capped with a career low 14 goals in 59 games during the 1998-99 season. In March 2000 he was traded to New Jersey for Brendan Morrison and Denis Pederson. In his first season with the Devils, Mogilny advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career, winning the Stanley Cup while contributing four goals and seven points. As was becoming a pattern with Mogilny, he exploded offensively in one season for the Devils, scoring 43 goals and 83 points in 2000-01 as New Jersey lost to Colorado in the Cup Finals.

In 2001 Mogilny signed with Toronto, scoring 24 and then 33 goals in his first two seasons and won the Byng Trophy in 2003. 2003-04 would be his final season in Toronto, playing 37 games. After the 2004-05 lockout he signed back with New Jersey, playing 34 games with the Devils and a handful of games with Albany in the AHL before retiring at the conclusion of the 2005-06 season.

In 16 NHL seasons, the dynamic but injury plagued goal scorer played in 990 games, scoring 473 goals and 1032 points. Mogilny played in four all-star games (1992-94 & 1996) and was a trailblazer for Russian and non-North American NHLers; he was the first non-North American team captain in NHL history and the second Russian to ever score 1000 career points. In retirement he has been president of two separate KHL teams, Admiral Vladivostok from 2013-2015 and Amur Khabarovsk from 2015 to present day.

YouTube clip: a Sportsnet package of Mogilny's career highlights.

Card 268 - Adam Graves

Graves was drafted 22nd overall by Detroit in 1986. The left winger played two additional seasons with Windsor in the OHL before crossing the Detroit River to turn pro with the Red Wings. Between 1987 and 1989 Graves played 65 games with Detroit before a trade early in the 1989-90 season to Edmonton that saw the Wings get hometown boy Jimmy Carson from the Oilers.

Graves won a Stanley Cup with Edmonton in 1990, contributing five goals and 11 points in 22 playoff games. Following an underwhelming 1990-91, he signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent, scoring 26 goals and 59 points in his first season on Broadway, finishing fifth in Selke Trophy voting. Graves continued his scoring ascent the following season with 36, to be topped in the 1993-94 season with a career-high 52 goals and 79 points. His goal total was good for fifth in the NHL that season, earning him a second team all-star nod and the Clancy Trophy. Graves’ regular season to remember was capped by winning his second Stanley Cup, scoring 10 goals and 17 points during the playoff run.

Graves played seven more seasons with the Rangers, scoring 20+ goals five times and 30+ goals twice. In his final season with the team (2000-01) he won the Masterton Trophy for dedication and perseverance. In June 2001 he was traded to San Jose for Mikael Samuelsson and a prospect; Graves played two seasons with the Sharks before retiring in 2004.

In a 16 season NHL career, Graves played in 1152 games, scoring 329 goals and 616 points. He was an assistant captain with the Rangers from 1992 - 2001 and has his #9 retired in 2009. Graves was a remarkably durable player as well, playing in over 80 games in a season nine times, including the final three seasons of his career.

From 2009-2017 he was part owner of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals and since 2018 has been a development coach with the Rangers.

YouTube clip: scoring in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals against Vancouver. His goal put the Rangers up 2-0 in the game.

Card 269 - Anatoli Semenov

Forward Semenov was drafted 120th overall by Edmonton in 1989. He was 27 years old when drafted, and had played pro hockey for Dynamo Moscow in his native Soviet Union since the age of 17.

Semenov made his NHL debut in the 1990 Stanley Cup playoffs, appearing in two games, which was good enough to get his name on the Cup that year. In his first regular season with Edmonton he played 57 games, scoring 15 goals and 31 points. The following season Semenov scored 20 goals, a career-high.

He was selected by Tampa Bay in the 1992 expansion draft, playing 13 games with the Lightning before a trade to Vancouver. In a combined 75 games between the two teams Semenov scored 12 goals and a career-high 49 points.

1993 saw Semenov selected again in the expansion draft, this time by Anaheim. He played parts of two seasons with the Mighty Ducks before a trade to Philadelphia. After 70 games with the Flyers and only four goals, Semenov was traded back to Anaheim in March 1996. He played the final 25 games of his NHL career with Buffalo in 1996-97 before retiring.

In seven NHL seasons Semenov played in 362 games, scoring 68 goals and 194 points. In his international hockey career he won bronze at the 1981 World Juniors, silver at the 1987 Worlds and Olympic gold in 1988. From 2010 to 2017 he coached at various levels of Russian pro hockey, and since 2017 Semenov has worked as a pro scout with Chicago.

YouTube clip: scoring against Chicago in Tampa Bay’s first regular season game in franchise history.

Card 270 - Dave Taylor

A right winger, Taylor was drafted 210th overall by Los Angeles in the 1975 amateur draft. This was the second time Taylor was drafted, as he was selected the previous year in the WHA draft. He played four full seasons at Clarkson, turning pro at the age of 22 in the 1977-78 season, scoring 22 goals and 43 points in his rookie season.

Taylor, alongside Marcel Dionne and Charlie Simmer, would form the Triple Crown line, and from 1978 to 1982 the line dominated stats sheets across the league. Taylor scored 30+ goals and 90+ points each season, scoring career-high 47 goals and 112 points in 1980-81, earning a second team all-star selection. In 1982 he was part of the famous Miracle on Manchester game, where the Kings rallied from a five goal deficit to defeat the Edmonton Oilers 6-5 in overtime and eventually knock off the Gretzky-led Oilers in the first round. Taylor scored 10 points in 10 games, which was his first taste of playoff success, and the last for a while.

From 1982 to 1984 Taylor missed a significant number of games, returning to his old form in 1984-85, scoring 41 goals and 92 points. Throughout the mid 80s to late 90s he would continue to score, but at a slightly less prolific rate, eclipsing 20+ goals four times. In 1991 Taylor was honoured with both the Clancy and Masterton Trophies and in 1992-93, after 16 seasons in NHL, he made his first Stanley Cup Finals appearance. The Kings would fall short to the Habs, with Taylor scoring three goals (two shorthanded) and eight points during the playoffs.

Taylor’s final season came in 1993-94, playing in 33 games before retiring. In 17 NHL seasons, all with Los Angeles, he played in 1111 games, scoring 431 goals and 1069 points. Taylor played in four all-star games (1981, 82, 86 and 94) and was Kings' captain from 1985 to 1990. At the time of his retirement Taylor was the franchise leader in games played (he now sits third), and is currently third in franchise goals and points.

Unsurprisingly, upon retiring Taylor became assistant general manager and director of player development with the Kings, being promoted to GM and vice-president of hockey operations in 1997, a position he held until 2006. He has since worked in senior front office positions with Dallas and mostly recently St. Louis, where in 2021 he became a senior advisor.

YouTube clip: knocking down future teammate Wayne Gretzky in a scrum during a Kings-Oilers game.

Card 271 - Dirk Graham

A winger, Graham was drafted 89th overall by Vancouver in 1979. He played four seasons with Regina in WHL, turning pro in 1979 with Dallas in the CHL. Throughout the early 80s Graham played in the IHL with the Toledo Goal Diggers (one of the best minor pro names ever) and Salt Lake City; with Toledo he recorded back-to-back 100+ point seasons, and scored 70 goals in 1982-83.

Following his 70 goal season, Graham signed as a free agent with Minnesota. Between 1983 and 1985 he played 42 games with the North Stars before making the team full-time in the 1985-86 at the age of 26. Graham scored 20+ goals in his first three full NHL seasons, but in this time was traded to Chicago for Curt Fraser. In his first full season in Chicago, Graham scored a career-high 33 goals and 78 points. Two seasons later, Graham would be recognized for his defensive prowess, winning the 1991 Selke Trophy. The following season the Blackhawks would make their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 19 seasons, dropping the Finals to Pittsburgh with Graham contributing seven goals and 12 points in 18 games. He would retire following the lockout shortened 1994-95 season.

In 12 NHL seasons Graham played 772 games, scoring 219 goals and 489 points. Best remembered as a defensive specialist, it's worth noting that he did score 20+ goals seven times in his career and ranks ninth all-time in NHL history with 35 career shorthanded goals.

After retiring Graham became an assistant coach with the Blackhawks, being elevated to interim head coach during the 1998-99 season after the firing of Lorne Molleken. After a two-year stint as head coach of Springfield in the AHL, Graham has been with the San Jose Sharks franchise since 2008, first as a pro scout, and since 2014 with the added role of development coach with the Sharks’ AHL affiliates.

YouTube clip: scoring his third goal of the game in Game 4 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals.

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