Inside the NHL
Well, I have some bad news to report. Seattle’s team has already had a name going on close to 20 years now. And if you’ve read the series of 23 “Shooting Star’’ fiction novels written by Swedish hockey writer Gunnar Nordstrom from 2001 to 2009, you’d know the “Seattle Wonders’’ and goaltender main character Adam Wallgren have even won a Stanley Cup.
Nordstrom had covered the NHL since the 1980s and couldn’t decide on an existing league city as a setting for the books, written for young readers ages 8 to 14, so he went with a plot surrounding a Seattle expansion squad. The books focus mainly on goalie Wallgren journeying overseas from Sweden to live in a Belltown apartment and play for the Wonders at the downtown “Seattle Arena’’ against real-life stars such as Jonathan Toews, Jarome Iginla, Peter Forsberg, Ryan Getzlaf and Nicklas Lidstrom.
“I had some relatives in Seattle – cousins and second cousins – so I thought ‘Wow, maybe Seattle,’ ’’ Nordstrom, 66, told me by phone from Los Angeles, where he’s covered hockey as a U.S. correspondent for Sweden’s national Expressen newspaper since 1995. “I needed a big city that didn’t already have a team, so yeah, I thought, that will do nicely.’’
Nordstrom grew up in Ornskoldvisk, a Swedish town of 25,000 where current and former NHL stars such as Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Forsberg, Markus Naslund, Anders Hedberg and Victor Hedman all hail from as well. He’s had a number of Swedish NHL players mention they grew up reading his novels, while former Buffalo Sabres backup goalie Jhonas Enroth, now in the Kontinental Hockey League, even told him “I’m the real Adam Wallgren” based on his similar trials and tribulations as those of the books’ central figure.
On picking “Wonders’’ as the team’s name, Nordstrom said: “I thought about different names, but I wanted it to be something different than the usual. It was a new team in the league and they were going to quickly have success. It was going to be a wonder, really a ‘wonder’ story that they came into the league, took players from the expansion draft and some free agents and they would gel together and be off and running quickly.’’
It’s kind of a shame nobody has started a groundswell lobby to use “Wonders’’ as Seattle’s incoming team’s name the way they have for Sockeyes, Steelheads, Totems, Metropolitans and – groan – Kraken. After all, what better naming symmetry than “Wonders” for a team with a minority owner married to the actress that once played Wonder Woman? But I digress.
Nordstrom was in Seattle a couple of weekends ago to see a photography exhibit at the Nordic Museum by his former colleague, Swedish photographer Hasse Persson. He picked up a copy of The Seattle Times and read about the NHL Seattle web portal seeking names for the new team, though he doesn’t have much of an opinion on that.
“I heard that when they first announced the team, some people on social media had read my books and were saying it should be ‘Wonders’,’’ Nordstrom said with a laugh. “But it isn’t going to be that.’’
No, it isn’t.
Not to stomp on anyone’s stick blade here, but there’s probably less fiction in one of Nordstrom’s novels than the idea that any locals fans are going to determine a name NHL Seattle hasn’t already approved or rejected on its own.
After all, the group’s web portal suggests the team will likely be named by this fall. That means, the way branding companies typically work, the group will need to supply a shortlist of only three or four names to the folks designing team logos months before picking the final one.
At best, the portal could serve as a trial balloon on a very general scale that pushes NHL Seattle in a direction it may have already been leaning. For example, a poll inside the portal asks fans the “type of team names’’ they’d like, giving them four category choices between mythical creatures, sea animals, historical references and anything that eats Canucks.
Notice how it doesn’t ask for specific name choices, though there is a comments section.
Odds are as high as a Wallgren save percentage that NHL Seattle already has a finalist name picked from each of those categories and is gauging which of the four might resonate most. That doesn’t mean they’ll automatically be choosing “Kraken” if some online ballot-stuffing for the “mythical sea creatures’’ category occurs, but it might deter them from picking, say, “Sockeyes’’ if “sea animals’’ scores very low.
Then again, perhaps NHL Seattle majority owner David Bonderman read the “Shooting Star’’ novels and likes “Wonders’’ as the name? If so, Nordstrom never actually trademarked the name rights and Bonderman is the guy cutting the checks – which usually trumps all else at deciding these naming things no matter what gets said for public consumption.
Still, Bonderman, 76, would probably have had to be a lot younger and fluent in Swedish, Finnish or Norwegian for that to be the case — though he studied Russian as a University of Washington undergrad, so you never know — because Nordstrom’s youth-focused books have yet to be translated into English. They’ve sold more than 500,000 copies in Sweden, and all 23 books have also been published in Finland and the first six in Norway and can still be ordered online in e-book and audio formats.
Nordstrom is looking into having the books translated for U.S. and Canadian markets within a year or two. “Ideally, it would be before the Seattle team starts playing,’’ he said.
By then, the NHL Seattle squad will have its new name and this city a second hockey team — at least, for his fiction novel purposes — that the Wonders could play against if Nordstrom ever resurrects the series.
But in the real world, for now, it’s one NHL team and one name. And you can bet that team won’t be called “Wonders’’ unless NHL Seattle’s web portal poll starts including a fifth naming category titled “anything related to female superheroes or a brand of fluffy sandwich bread.’’