The American Hockey League will expand to 32 teams with the addition of AHL Palm Springs come the 2022-23 season.
Now, just a year from the club’s debut, we have the team’s nickname narrowed down to four contenders.
A BRIEF HISTORY
We’re closing in on two years now that the Seattle Kraken’s Oak View Group (OVG) ownership were officially given the league’s blessing to place their AHL affiliate in Palm Springs, California. After calling an arena construction audible amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, OVG pivoted from a downtown Palm Springs arena to building one just north of nearby Palm Desert.
The first round of trademarks had the Palm Springs Eagles, Hawks, Sun, Dragons, Falcons, and Firebirds floating around as potential monikers for the soon-to-be sixth California-based AHL squad. The last nickname was rejected by the US Patent Office in November 2019 for being too similar to the OHL’s Flint Firebirds. However, the decision was rescinded after OVG gained permission from Flint to use the nickname.
THE FINAL FOUR
With the Firebirds nickname clearing a major legal hurdle a year and a half ago, it appears that OVG is switching up yet another aspect of the Kraken’s AHL franchise — the first part of their team’s name.
Initially reported by Clark Rasmussen of DetroitHockey.net, the Oak View Group filed four new trademarks on August 31, all with Coachella Valley as the team’s location instead of Palm Springs. With the arena’s shift 15 miles east of Palm Springs proper, the change to a broader valley location makes sense. The Coachella Valley Falcons, Eagles, Dragons, and yes, Firebirds are all active patents currently on the US Patent and Trademark Office website.
Let’s take a look at all four patents filed, and why they may (or may not) be a good fit for the newest AHL team next season.
COACHELLA VALLEY FALCONS
First up, the Falcons nickname. It harkens back to the Fresno Falcons, who began play in the Pacific Coast Hockey League in 1946 (and many other minor leagues after that) before landing in the WCHL (1995-2003) and ECHL (2003-09) before folding mid-season. The California minor league tie-in is definitely there (albeit 340 miles away). Plus, the only other AHL club in recent memory to utilize the nickname — the Springfield Falcons — moved to Tucson to become the Roadrunners in 2016. Ticking those boxes, I’m pretty sure the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and the NCAA’s Air Force Falcons wouldn’t mind a minor league hockey team of the same name, either.
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COACHELLA VALLEY EAGLES
Let’s get the major obstacle out of the way first — the AHL’s Colorado Eagles. While minor league hockey does have instances of the same nickname across leagues (AHL’s Milwaukee and ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals) and even in the same league (ECHL’s Stockton/Adirondack and Wichita Thunder), one league having two teams with the same nickname is a rare occurrence. When Milwaukee joined the AHL in 2001, the league approved both them and Norfolk to share the Admirals moniker. Same goes for Stockton/Adirondack and Wichita, who were given the ECHL’s blessing to both be the Thunder after Wichita joined from the collapsing Central Hockey League (CHL) in 2014.
Even still, different divisions in the former and conferences in the latter helped at least create a barrier between two similarly-named teams. Coachella Valley and Colorado would not have that benefit, at least if the divisional alignments stayed true and the Co. Eagles didn’t jump to the Central in 2022-23. I think the Eagles is a fine nickname, but the safest bet of the four possible Coachella Valley airborne mascots may simply be a decoy in the water.
COACHELLA VALLEY DRAGONS
Now we’re starting to venture into the mythical creature territory. When your parent club is nicknamed the Kraken, there has to be some tie-in with another beast of legends foretold for your AHL team. The Dragons definitely embody that organizational mystique.
Remember the San Antonio Dragons of the IHL? Not many do. The Texas-based team only played two seasons from 1996 to 1998 before folding. That’s the only other modern hockey team I can think of that uses/used the nickname Dragons. And, with the XFL’s Seattle Dragons on pause until 2023, there wouldn’t even be another pro sports team on the west coast with the nickname, either.
COACHELLA VALLEY FIREBIRDS
Last and certainly not least, the favorite of the bunch.
Encyclopedia.com defines a firebird as, “a magical bird with golden feathers and crystal eyes that appears in many Russian folk stories.” So, mythical nickname? Check. Aside from Flint, you had the Philadelphia (then Syracuse) Firebirds in the AHL from 1977 to 1980 as hockey teams with the nickname. Throw in the recently renamed Carthage College mascot, plus a defunct arena football league franchise hailing from New York and then Indiana, and you don’t have much of a footprint for the nickname in pro sports. Unique nickname? Check.
You can’t imagine that OVG would have gone to such lengths to contest the US Patent Office’s rejection of the Firebirds nickname in May 2020 if they weren’t invested in it. And, as Rasmussen pointed out in his most recent article, the domain name for coachellavalleyfirebirds.com was registered in July, while the other three nicknames had their domains registered on September 3.
Lastly, as an esteemed colleague once told me, why would you pass up an opportunity for a “car rivalry” with San Jose? Get it…Pontiac Firebird? Plymouth Barracuda? Yeah, it’s a stretch…but I’m here for it.
You can probably rule out Eagles right off the bat. There’s no way in hell that CEO Martin Lind and the Co. Eagles will sign off on another western team sharing their nickname. Falcons is a solid choice, but is kind of generic. Dragons is a pretty cool nickname (as is the chance to market some badass merchandise if the logo & color scheme is equally as badass), but Firebirds seems to be the front runner. I’d be good with either of the last two, but I’d fully expect the Coachella Valley Firebirds to take the ice in Palm Desert come the 2022-23 AHL season.