The Michigan Gray Wolves have not generally been known for their creative promotions. When they bother to hold a giveaway, it’s typically a scarf, a knit hat, a T-shirt, or maybe a rally towel… nothing out of the ordinary. This week, however, the Wolves held a children’s promotion that was truly unique — and reportedly developed by their mascot.
On Sunday, the first 5,000 children through the gates received a storybook that contained a retelling of a couple of classic fairy tales. The cover stated that the book was written by the team’s mascot, Wally Wolf. According to Michigan’s marketing department, Wally was inspired to write it in order to combat “rampant anti-wolf propaganda” found in many children’s stories.
“Honestly, Wally has a point,” said Wolves D Fritz Kronstein. “Think about all the fairy tales that include the Big Bad Wolf. What makes him so bad all the time? I definitely think it’s time to hear the other side of the story.”
In Wally’s take on the classic stories, the “Big Good Wolf” was cast as the hero. In the villain’s role were other animals — ones that bore a striking resemblance to the mascots of Michigan’s rival teams.
The first story in the book was a rewrite of “The Three Little Pigs.” In this version, the pigs built hockey rinks out of straw, sticks, and bricks. This time, they were visited by the “Big Bad Bear,” a giant earmuff-wearing polar bear that looks strikingly like Petey, the Anchorage Igloos‘ mascot. After the Big Bad Bear blows away the straw- and stick-built rinks, the Big Good Wolf arrives and chases off the villainous bear with a hockey stick, then teaches the pigs the finer points of the slapshot.
The second story is a fresh take on “Little Red Riding Hood.” Retitled “Little Blue Riding Hood” (because the heroine is dressed in Wolves’ colors), the story tells the tale of a young girl bringing Wolves tickets to her ailing grandmother. But before our heroine can get there, Grandma is kidnapped by the “Dirty Dog,” a brown dog in a sailor costume who resembles Salty Sam, the Portland Bluebacks‘ mascot. When Little Blue Riding Hood showed up at Grandma’s house, she noticed that something was amiss. “What long ears you have, Grandma!” she says. “What big jowls you have!” Just before the Dirty Dog can spring up and snatch our heroine, the Big Good Wolf shows up, chases the villainous dog away, puts Grandma and Little Blue Riding Hood on the back of his motorcycle, and races them over to the Wolves game just in time.
“Finally, it’s a fairy tale where wolves get a fair shake,” said Wolves GM Tim Carrier. “I’m glad that Wally decided to share his stories with our young fans.”
Wally’s book was a hit with the fans, but not everyone was so delighted. The Igloos, for instance, weren’t pleased when they heard about the portrayal of the Big Bad Bear. “I thought that Petey and Wally had buried the hatchet years ago,” said Igloos C Jake Frost. “But if the wolf wants to get things started again, I’m sure that Petey is willing to go back to war. And we’ll all have his back.”
The Bluebacks were likewise unamused about the “Dirty Dog” portrayal, and expressed their displeasure. “This is gross character assassination toward Salty Sam,” said RW Vince Mango. “We all know that Sam is 100% pro-grandma, and he would never kidnap anyone or try to traumatize little girls. And most importantly, he would certainly never try to steal Wolves tickets.”
Informed of the Igloos’ and Bluebacks’ objections, Carrier was unapologetic. “Wally calls them like he sees them,” the GM said. “Like most authors, Wally’s stories are informed by his life experience.”
As the SHL was planning for its fourth annual All-Star game, commissioner Perry Mitchell wanted to do something to make the event special. “Obviously, the game itself is a lot of fun,” said the commissioner. “But we thought we’d like to add something new and different to make it a little extra-special.”
The league considered adding a skills competition similar to the NHL’s, or perhaps some sort of celebrity game. But adding a skills competition would make it a multi-day event, which the SHL wanted to avoid. And identifying participants for a celebrity hockey game was a challenge, due to the need to find celebrities who can skate and are comfortable doing so in front of a live audience.
Eventually, they hit upon a truly unique idea. It was dreamed up during a brainstorming session, when they were thinking about other events that arenas host. One league staffer mentioned monster-truck rallies, and suggested that the teams’ mascots each get to drive one.
“We all laughed,” said Commissioner Mitchell, “but then we thought: Hey, that’s actually a cool idea!”
But how could they bring monster trucks on the ice? They couldn’t, but they did the next best thing: having the mascots mount kids’ ride-on trucks. Each truck was painted in the team’s colors, complete with logos affixed to the doors.
“We knew that we wanted to get the mascots involved, and what better way than having them ride toy trucks?” said Mitchell.
For the initial heats, the mascots were divided up by division. The first heat had them compete in groups of three. The winners of the first-round matches then faced off for the division crown, before the Western and Eastern winners faced off in a championship match. Each heat was conducted over an obstacle course that circumnavigated the ice.
The first race matched up three Eastern competitors:
The race quickly turned into a two-way battle between the Canadian clubs, as Scratch lost control on the opening straightaway and smashed into the boards, damaging his truck beyond repair. Le Tigre took an early lead, as he navigated his way through the traffic-cone chicane expertly and surged ahead. But when he reached the first series of ramps, he tumbled off the side and overturned, allowing his Hamiltonian rival to gain ground.
The Quebec mascot’s hopes of winning were ultimately dashed when he veered off course going into the final turn and wound up in a “water hazard” fashioned from a kid’s wading pool. Le Tigre’s misfortune allowed Crosscheck to sail down the homestretch to an easy win.
The second heat pitted a trio of Western mascots against one another:
Naturally, Shockers owner Heinz Doofenshmirtz couldn’t resist tinkering with Sparky’s truck, attaching what he called the “Mascot-Race-inator,” which deployed a pair of giant skis that turned the truck into something more like a snowmobile. This worked well initially, allowing Sparky to zoom ahead of his competitors. Alas, it made the truck impossible to steer, causing the Saskatchewan mascot to miss the traffic-cone chicane entirely and skid down the Zamboni tunnel, ending his hopes of victory.
With Sparky out of the race, Petey and Salty Sam settled in for a one-on-one duel. Befitting a team whose name references a locally famous submarine, the Blueback mascot had fitted his truck with “missiles” (actually a couple of giant Nerf guns). About halfway through the race, Salty Sam opened fire on his northern rival. The barrage cause Petey to lose control and tip over, and the Portland mascot took the lead. But Petey righted himself and continued on. Eventually, the Igloos mascot caught up to his foe, and then unleashed a hidden spray gun that shot vegetable oil out of the side. Salty Sam spun out, while Petey raced to the line and secured the victory.
The third heat matched up the remaining Eastern mascots:
Cool Cat, the dapper and sophisticated black feline representing the New York Night
Unlike the first two heats, none of these three competitors crashed out early, and the battle was close from beginning to end. Rocketman was the first to the traffic-cone chicane and took the early lead. But Nibs, who was drafting right behind him, cut to the inside on the following turn and hopped ahead. Cool Cat sat back a bit at first, but dialed it up after the first quarter of the race. When Nibs and Rocketman both slid a bit in the back straightaway, Cool Cat split the gap between them and was the first one over the bridge at center ice.
Cool Cat held a narrow but steady lead as the race entered its final stage. Then Rockman turned on his (previously unseen) rocket booster and soared past his competitors to an apparent win. Unfortunately for him, the use of the rocket booster led him to be disqualified, and second-place finisher Cool Cat advanced to the division final.
The final heat of the preliminary round matched up the last three from the West:
The race started off well for the KC fans and their mascot, as DJ Crushmore and Wally found that their trucks were chained together. While they worked feverishly to get unbound, Pete sailed off to a huge lead. He was almost a third of the way through the course before the other two even got started. The crowd roared as their hero navigated the course’s challenges with ease, seemingly on a glide path.
Ultimately, the gigantic lead proved to be Pete’s undoing. Feeling secure in victory, the Kansas City mascot felt it safe to stop in mid-race to tend to his smoker, which was parked in one of the tunnels just off the ice. Pete pulled some beautifully-cooked burnt ends off of the grate and handed them out to a grateful crowd. But while Pete fed his fans, Wally and DJ Crushmore had caught and passed his abandoned truck. By the time the Smoke mascot returned to his vehicle, it was too late. The other mascots crossed the finish line in an apparent dead heat. The decision went to a photo finish, which showed that Wally’s prominent snout crossed the line first. The Wolves mascot won by a nose – literally.
The Eastern final pitted a pair of bitter rivals against one another, Hamilton’s Crosscheck vs. New York’s Cool Cat. Their two teams have battled fiercely in every game they’ve played over the last couple of seasons. And when Crosscheck debuted earlier this season, Night coach Nick Foster mocked the mascot mercilessly, calling it a “freaky inbred Teletubby” and claimed that Crosscheck’s “family tree is a straight line.” The Pistols rallied to the defense of their mascot, and both teams were eager for a victory in this contest.
Cool Cat got off to an early lead in a somewhat controversial fashion, as he appeared to cut off Crosscheck going into the first turn. But the fuzzy orange creature refused to be shaken, and remained close behind his competitor. In the latter half of the race, Crossheck unveiled a secret weapon; a laser pointer, which it pointed at the side boards just off the track. Sure enough, Cool Cat abandoned his truck and began chasing the red dot around. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Crosscheck surged into the lead. Once Cool Cat realized that he had been tricked, he remounted his truck and launched back into the race, but it was too late.
Meanwhile, the West final pitted a pair of longtime frenemies in Anchorage’s Petey the Polar Bear and Michigan’s Wally Wolf. The two mascots had a rivalry that dates back to the SHL’s earliest days. Petey and Wally seemed to settle their feud at the end of the league’s inaugural season, although there have been occasional flare-ups since then.
Right at the start of the race, Wally ensured himself the early edge by swatting Petey with a giant stuffed fish, an apparent reference to a 2018 incident when Michigan’s radio announcer claimed that the city of Anchorage “smells like rotting fish.” While Petey reeled from the unexpected attack, Wally took the early lead.
But Petey got some help from a friend. As Wally roared down the back straightaway, a figure in a walrus costume emerged from the bench area and tackled Wally. As the Wolves mascot struggled to get free, the walrus character whipped off its head to reveal Igloos LW Jerry Koons. “Don’t you mess with Petey!” Koons hollered as the Anchorage mascot raced by. Wally shook free from Koons and got back on track. But Petey managed to hold off his rival down the stretch and won by a couple truck lengths.
This set up a final matchup between the mascots from last year’s Finals contenders: Crosscheck of the Pistols vs. Petey of the Igloos. This team, both mascots were joined on the ice by the All-Stars from their teams. Some players tried to thwart their opponent; Anchorage’s Ty Worthington whacked Crosscheck with a Nerf bat, while Hamilton’s Hercules Mulligan body-checked Petey into the water hazard. Other players chose a more positive approach, like the Igloos’ Tom Hoffman helping Petey up out of the pool.
It was a tightly pitched battle from beginning to end. But in the end, it was a wet but undaunted Petey who won it for the Igloos, beating Crosscheck to the finish line by a couple feet.
“Petey has always been a top-notch competitor, and he overcame a lot of adversity out there today,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor. “This definitely doesn’t make up for losing the Vandy, but it is a nice little bit of revenge. Petey forever!”
Looks like the declaration of peace was a bit premature. When the Igloos and Wolves clashed on Friday at Arctic Circle Arena, Petey’s official Twitter account was hacked. Upon investigation, the hack was discovered to be the work of Michigan’s mascot. Not only is the Petey-Wally rivalry back, it has entered a new frontier.
Wally traveled with the Wolves for Friday’s much-anticipated showdown. It’s unusual for a mascot to join a team for road games, but the Wolves said that they had brought him as “a good-luck charm” and “to give him a chance to catch up with his friend Petey.” The two mascots met for tea on Friday afternoon at an Anchorage cafe; video of the rendezvous appeared on both teams’ websites. All seemed normal.
But during Friday’s game, a series of unusual tweets appeared on the @IgloosPetey account. Typically, the Anchorage mascot doesn’t tweet much during games, apart from a few pro-Igloos messages and the occasional selfie with fans. During this game, though, Petey was atypically active. In addition, the content of his messages was far different than his standard fare.
“My butt itches,” @IgloosPetey tweeted about six minutes into the games. From there, he issued a series of tweets predicting that the Igloos would lose the game, adding insults directed at several Anchorage players and even the city itself. After C Jake Frost pushed a slapshot wide late in the first period, a tweet reading “Frost is overrated” appeared on the account. Later, @IgloosPetey issued the following slam: “Anchorage is a two-bit town that smells like rotten fish… ugh!”
Igloos officials became aware of the situations when fans began tweeting complaints to the account. At first, they thought the culprit was a disgruntled employee, but they later realized that the account had been hacked. The team quickly took steps to regain control of the account, and by the end of the game (a 3-2 Igloos win in overtime) the offending tweets had been deleted.
When the front office discovered that the account’s password had been changed to “W@llyRuleS!”, they were able to identify the culprit. Apparently, during the seemingly friendly lunch, Wally got hold of Petey’s phone and was able to change the password to his Twitter account.
Anchorage GM Will Thorndike took umbrage to the hack. “I am deeply disturbed that Wally Wolf would resort to cyber warfare,” Thorndike told reporters. “And to take advantage of a friendly get-together to launch his nefarious plan… that’s so low, I have no words. But if that’s the way he and the Wolves want to play it, we can do that. The mascot war is back on!”
Replied Michigan GM Tim Carrier, “I am disappointed to hear these accusations against Wally on the basis of very flimsy evidence. But if the mascot war is back on, so be it. Oh, and in case the Igloos intend to try something when they come to town: Wally’s Twitter account has two-factor authentication.”
The matchup for the Vandenburg Trophy Finals is now set, as the Anchorage Igloos claimed the Western Division and will meet the Washington Galaxy for the championship. The Igloos came into the last week of the season with the best record in the league, but with only a 6-point edge on the second-place Michigan Gray Wolves. The two teams have battled it out all season, with Michigan’s heavy physical style pitted against Anchorage’s faster, skill-based play.
At the start of the week, Igloos RW Nicklas Ericsson fired a shot across the bow by saying, “There’s a lot riding on this title. I know a lot of people are rooting for talent to win out over thuggishness.” Gray Wolves LW Vladimir Beruschko shot back, “The win will come down to heart, who is the biggest warrior. We do not mean to make it easy.”
The teams faced off head-to-head on Saturday in Anchorage, with the Igloos winning 3-1 to put the Wolves behind the 8-ball. “No more room for errors,” said Michigan coach Martin Delorme after the game. “All there is now is winning.”
The Gray Wolves got a break in their next game; they shut out Dakota 2-0, while Anchorage blew a lead late and suffered a stunning 3-2 loss to Saskatchewan. “We can’t take our foot off the gas yet,” Igloos coach Sam Castor admonished his team after the game. “The lack of effort we showed in the third was appalling. Michigan’s too good for us to take this for granted.”
The Igloos and Gray Wolves then faced off again, this time at Cadillac Place. Between periods, the team’s mascots, Anchorage’s Petey the Polar Bear and Michigan’s Wally Wolf, engaged in a sumo-style wrestling match at center ice. The mascots have been feudingall season, and both teams felt it was time to settle things.
Petey the Polar Bear
Each mascot won one fall; just as they were preparing to line up for the deciding third fall, Wally stuck out his hand to offer peace. Petey shook, and they left the ice arm-in-arm. “If Petey and Wally can make peace, there’s hope for the world,” said a visibly moved Igloos C Nile Bernard. The Gray Wolves won the actual game, 2-1, to remain alive.
The battle lasted until the second-to-last game of the season, when the Igloos routed Saskatchewan 6-2 to clinch both the division and the Congress Trophy for winning the league points title. The team engaged in a fairly low-key celebration; Castor led a locker-room toast and the players exchanged high-fives and hugs, but there wasn’t any loud music or over-the-top shouting and hollering.
“I think we’re all focused on the [championship trophy],” said C Jake Frost. “We won’t really feel like the season is complete unless we win the whole thing.”
Castor predicted glory for his team, saying, “We’ve fought long and hard to get to this point. We’ve been a strong team from the start, and we’re getting stronger. I think it’s going to be very tough to beat us.”