NLL team names

Recently, a Rush fan named Rob King tweeted an article suggestion:

Challenge accepted. There isn’t much of a story behind a few of them, but others are very interesting. I had a lot of fun researching this one, and I hope you enjoy these stories. I threw in a couple of “Did you knows” as I came across them.

Buffalo BanditsBuffalo Bandits

The Bandits were created during the tenure of the MILL (Major Indoor Lacrosse League), which predated the NLL. The MILL was a little different in that all of the teams were owned by the league itself, so when the Buffalo team was created, the league chose the name. The team staff themselves had no say in the matter.

In 1997, the MILL was reworked into a league with individual team ownership and renamed the National Lacrosse League.

Calgary RoughnecksCalgary Roughnecks

The name Roughnecks was chosen by the team. A roughneck refers to someone who works on an oil rig. Alberta is Canada’s most oil-rich province and so there are many roughnecks (also known as “riggers”) who live and work there. An oil rig is also called a “derrick”, which led to the original mascot’s name.

Colorado MammothColorado Mammoth

After moving from Washington, the Colorado franchise went through a few name possibilities. Initially, there was a possible Dairy Queen sponsorship deal, so the team was almost called the Blizzard. After that deal fell through, another deal was struck with Frontier Airlines, who remained a sponsor of the team for years. That led to potential names like the Cougars or Grizzlies before they almost decided on the Colorado Frontier. However the airline then decided that the possible negative headlines (eg. “Frontier crash and burn against the Bandits”) outweighed any positive ones (“Frontier flying high after win over the Rock”) and nixed that idea.

Then in the summer of 2002, around the time that the decision was being made, the skeleton of a mammoth was discovered in Stonegate, a small town south of Denver. The remains were moved to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The discovery that mammoths used to live in the area was big news in Colorado – a new school being built near the excavation site was named Mammoth Heights elementary school. The team capitalized on the story and also went with the name Mammoth.

Did you know: This might be obvious to others but I never noticed. The Mammoth logo is not just an M for Mammoth in the shape of mammoth tusks, but the left-hand tusk is in the shape of a C for Colorado.

Minnesota SwarmGeorgia Swarm (formerly Minnesota)

The Minnesota Swarm were initially owned by Minnesota Sports and Entertainment (MSE), the same company that owns the NHL’s Minnesota Wild. There wasn’t an official “name-the-team” contest, but MSE management took suggestions from the public and eventually narrowed the choices down to Swarm, Thrill, Rush (!), and Bullheads. MSE eventually decided on the Swarm, to “build a connection to Minnesota sports fans by tapping into the adrenaline-fueled nature of this high-scoring sport” and “incorporating the idea of coming together in an ultra-energetic way”.

In 2008, when former Nashville Predators owner Craig Leopold bought MSE, he sold the Swarm to John Arlotta, who still owns the team today. The Swarm moved to Georgia before the 2016 season.

New England Black WolvesNew England Black Wolves

The Mohegan are a Native American tribe based in Connecticut. The tribe owns the Mohegan Sun casino, home of the Black Wolves, and is a part-owner of the Black Wolves franchise itself. The name Mohegan literally translates as “People of the Wolf”. Obviously wolves are a very important part of their culture and heritage, though I was unable to find out why they chose Black Wolves in particular.

Did you know: The first chief (known as the “sachem”) of the Mohegan people back in the mid-1600’s was a man named Uncas, after whom the town of Uncasville, CT (the location of Mohegan Sun) was named.

Philadelphia WingsPhiladelphia Wings

Of course, one of the original NLL teams was the Philadelphia Wings. The Wings won six Championships between 1989 and 2001 before moving to New England to become the Black Wolves in 2015. This entry is about the “new” Wings, the team that will debut in the 2018-2019 season. The team held a naming contest in which fans could write in their own name. From the 5000+ entries received, the team announced the top three: Fire, Founders, and Wings. Once again, fans were consulted and asked to choose between these finalists. Unsurprisingly, Wings was the overwhelming favourite and on November 29, 2017, Philadelphia officially got its Wings back.

Rochester KnighthawksRochester Knighthawks

Similar to the Bandits, the Knighthawks franchise was created while the league was the MILL, and the name was chosen by the league.

San Diego SealsSan Diego Seals

The Seals were named by owner Joe Tsai. According to team president Steve Govett, the name was chosen to acknowledge “the marine mammals that live along our coastline, and it pays tribute to the brave men and women who help keep us safe and protect our freedom”. The latter is a reference to the numerous military bases in or near San Diego, which include Navy SEALs.

Did you know: SEAL (as in Navy SEAL) is short for SEa, Air, and Land.

Edmonton RushSaskatchewan Rush (formerly Edmonton)

In 2005, Bruce Urban bought the former Ottawa Rebel franchise (which had folded two years prior) and moved it to Edmonton. A naming contest was held, which resulted in three finalists: Rush, Speed, and Xtreme. In June 2005, the name Rush was chosen, and that name was kept when the team moved to Saskatoon after the 2015 season.

Toronto RockToronto Rock

After the 1998 season, the league sold the Ontario Raiders franchise to a large ownership group led by Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM Bill Watters. The group included GM Johnny Mouradian, marketing executive Jim Calder, local artist Rob MacDougall (who designed the logo) and various local sports celebrities including Tie Domi, Don Cherry, and Bobby Orr. A number of names for the team had been tossed about: Terriers and Tornado were two that didn’t gain much traction. Toronto Traffic was an interesting idea, but considering that those two words are usually followed by “sucks”, it’s probably good that they didn’t go with that one.

One of the early partners of the new franchise was Q107, Toronto’s most popular rock radio station, and it had already been decided that loud music would be a big part of the game experience. One fine sunny day, Mouradian was driving down the Don Valley Parkway, listening to Q107, and spotted the CN Tower off in the distance. That’s when it hit him: St. Louis Blues, Utah Jazz, … Toronto Rock. He called Bill Watters and told him the name. Watters immediately replied “That’s a terrible name! We will never be the Toronto Rock!” but Mouradian knew he had it. Within minutes, Watters was all “well, now that I think about it, it’s not bad…”

Did you know: Back before MTV or MuchMusic, music video shows were all the rage. NBC had one called Friday Night Videos, and CBC had two: an afternoon one called Video Hits and one called Good Rockin’ Tonite that aired late on Friday nights. In the mid 1980’s, Toronto station CITY TV created their own such show called Toronto Rocks. I used to watch all of these shows, and particularly remember watching Toronto Rocks after coming home from school to catch the latest Dire Straits, Van Halen, or Def Leppard videos. When I first heard the name of Toronto’s lacrosse team fifteen years later, that show was the first thing I thought of.

San Jose StealthVancouver Stealth (formerly San Jose)

The Albany Attack announced that they were moving to San Jose shortly after the 2003 season ended. In June, a name-the-team contest was held. After over 2000 submissions, the name Stealth was announced in September. The franchise kept the Stealth name when they moved to Washington in 2010 and again when they moved to Vancouver in 2014.

Did you know: the original plane commonly known as the Stealth fighter is actually called the F-117 Nighthawk (not Knighthawk).


Many thanks to the following individuals for their help during my research:  Nicole from the Roughnecks, Budd Bailey, Dan Carey, Dean French, Jody Gage, Jen Hildebrand, Doug Locker, Scott Loffler, Rob MacDougall, Johnny Mouradian, Craig Rybczynski, Evan Schemenauer, Alec Schimke, Brian Shanahan, Brandon Urban, Denise Watkins, and Bruce Wawrzyniak.



One thought on “NLL team names

  1. I honestly had no idea the league made a number of team names. That is insane.

    Also thank you for including the greatest sports logo of all time. I absolutely love that Ninja. I saw someone wearing the jersey in a recent Vancouver game. I appreciate that guy so much!


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