As new NHL team labors over identity, Tips recollect process

‘In terms of level of difficulty, that was probably a 10,’ COO Zoran Rajcic said of the daunting task.

The Silvertips went through 60-70 iterations of the bear logo before settling on the final design. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Silvertips went through 60-70 iterations of the bear logo before settling on the final design. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Sometime between now and Christmas the NHL Seattle expansion franchise is expected to get its identity.

It’s widely suspected that the NHL Seattle group has targeted the fall for the reveal of the team’s mascot, logo and colors. Up to now there’s been no shortage of speculation on what the team’s nickname will be, with everything from Totems to Sockeyes to Kraken being tossed around like an octopus at a Detroit Red Wings playoff game. No doubt those who are a part of the decision-making process find themselves waist deep in focus-group data, artist’s renderings and color wheels.

And if there’s anyone who knows what the NHL Seattle executives are going through — as well as the importance of this decision — it’s Zoran Rajcic.

Rajcic, the chief operating officer of CSH International, Inc., the corporation that owns the Everett Silvertips, has been with the Tips since before they began play in 2003. He came on board while the team was still in the midst of determining its mascot, colors and logo, so he knows first-hand the enormity of the task the NHL Seattle group is currently undertaking.

With the Tips less than two weeks away from the open of training camp, Rajcic was generous enough to take a moment in the calm before the storm to sit down with me and reminisce about the process of creating a hockey team’s identity from scratch.

“In terms of level of difficulty, that was probably a 10,” Rajcic said. “Out of all the things we had to do and all the work that needed to get done, that was right up there.”

The Seattle NHL team isn’t scheduled to begin play until the 2021-22 season, but anticipation of the nickname is already turned up to 11, much like it was in Everett in the fall of 2002 when the expansion Everett WHL team concluded six months of work to unveil the Silvertips nickname.

“From the beginning thought to a final thing we were ready to release, that was an unbelievable experience as an organization,” Rajcic recalled. “It’s the build up, the creation of something from a flat to three-dimensional to now the face of your organization. When you think about it, there’s a lot more to it than saying, ‘I just kind of like that.’”

Indeed, there were countless steps in the process. The first and most important was choosing a nickname. Everett owner Bill Yuill was insistent on the mascot being unique. The late Keith Flynn came up with mock-ups of the finalists. The choice came down between a bear-themed mascot, which Yuill liked from the beginning, and a nautical theme that paid homage to Naval Station Everett. Ultimately the decision was made to go the bear route, given the fact that military bases aren’t necessarily permanent. Research conducted by the team produced “Silvertip,” an alternate name for the grizzly bear that’s native to the region. That gave the team a name both relevant to the area and unique in the sports world.

Then there was the primary color. Everett’s forest green was chosen when a team intern, whose name has been lost to history, was spotted by Yuill in the office wearing a jacket of that color. The problem was equipment manufacturer CCM didn’t have that shade of green as one of its options, instead suggesting the Tips use the shade of green used by teams like the NHL’s Minnesota Wild or Dallas Stars. Everett held out for its own version of green and won out.

Finally there was the logo. Once the mascot was determined, the team went through 60-70 iterations of the bear logo, trying to find the right balance between being too cartoonish on one end of the spectrum and being too fierce on the other end. The logo went from having just three colors in it to having six, adding red to the bear’s mouth and yellow to the hockey stick, giving the logo additional depth.

There was apprehension when the entire look was pulled together and presented to the public, but with 17 seasons in the books it’s still cherished by Everett’s fans.

“You only get one chance, and if people didn’t like it it wasn’t going to take long to rip the organization apart,” Rajcic said about the importance of finding the right identity. “That was before players, wins and losses, anything like that. So it was very critical, in my opinion and the organization’s opinion, that we needed to get it right. We were very fortunate to get it right from the get-go.”

Will the NHL Seattle group be equally fortunate? While Everett joined a regional league with 19 other teams, the Seattle NHL team is jumping into a pool with 31 other established franchises. In addition, the team will have to differentiate itself from the other major sports teams in Seattle, such as the NFL’s Seahawks, MLB’s Mariners, MLS’s Sounders and even the University of Washington Huskies.

“There’s probably a lot of pressure because you want it to be unique,” Rajcic said. “We were only concerned with being special from north Seattle to Bellingham. I think their scope is totally different, with the leagues they’re up against. I think there’s a lot of pressure on them to get it right.”

Rajcic said he has no inside information on what direction the NHL Seattle group is leaning with regards to its nickname or look, or when an announcement may be made. However, he has some theories.

“They’ll probably come up with something that’s unique and fits the region, and the color scheme has to be something that’s a sellable product,” Rajcic said. “Of all the names that have come forward, I don’t think it’ll be something that’s been made public, I think they’ll come up with something totally on their own.

“If I was a betting man, if they’re ready to go, I’d say (the reveal) is going to be somewhere between now and Black Friday because of the fact you now have the Christmas sale season, you have some things that can go with it, and it can ramp up some revenues for the organization,” Rajcic added.

But whatever the mascot, logo and colors the franchise ends up choosing, Rajcic believes the NHL Seattle group will get it right.

“Everything they’ve done they’ve done unbelievably well, and I think when it comes down to it this is going to be no different,” Rajcic said. “How they do it is going to be the interesting thing.”

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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