Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to We Want Fish Sticks: The Bizarre and Infamous Rebranding of the New York Islanders by Nicholas Hirshon.
About the Book:
The NHL’s New York Islanders were struggling. After winning four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s, the Islanders had suffered an embarrassing sweep by their geographic rivals, the New York Rangers, in the first round of the 1994 playoffs. Hoping for a new start, the Islanders swapped out their distinctive logo, which featured the letters NY and a map of Long Island, for a cartoon fisherman wearing a rain slicker and gripping a hockey stick. The new logo immediately drew comparisons to the mascot for Gorton’s frozen seafood, and opposing fans taunted the team with chants of “We want fish sticks!”
During a rebranding process that lasted three torturous seasons, the Islanders unveiled a new mascot, new uniforms, new players, a new coach, and a new owner that were supposed to signal a return to championship glory. Instead, the team and its fans endured a twenty-eight-month span more humiliating than what most franchises witness over twenty-eight years. The Islanders thought they had traded for a star player to inaugurate the fisherman era, but he initially refused to report and sulked until the general manager banished him. Fans beat up the new mascot in the stands. The new coach shoved and spit at players. The Islanders were sold to a supposed billionaire who promised to buy elite players; he turned out to be a con artist and was sent to prison. We Want Fish Sticks examines this era through period sources and interviews with the people who lived it.
“Has a sports book ever had a more unusual title than ‘We Want Fish Sticks’? Probably not. The inspiration for it is the mocking chant that opposing fans once used to taunt the NHL’s New York Islanders… This is the story of the three desperate years in the 1990s when the club tried to redefine itself under an owner who wound up in prison for bank and wire fraud.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“We Want Fish Sticks tells the story of the New York Islanders’ infamous rebranding efforts—and subsequent failures—in the mid-1990s, complete with more than 50 first-hand accounts of those who experienced the madness personally…Hirshon, a lifelong Islanders fan, said that one of the most challenging parts in constructing the book’s narrative was in remaining compassionate throughout. While the story itself is one of a franchise’s wacky misfortunes over the course of a multi-year period, Hirshon acknowledged the people whose lives were changed forever during that time.”—The Duquesne Duke
On the Blog:
- Reading List: Books for the NHL season
- Publicist Picks: Hockey, A Game of Clue, and other December Books
- From the Desk of Nicholas Hirshon: NHL Mascots and Fan Criticism
On Twitter and Instagram:
A Word from the Author:
A year after the release of We Want Fish Sticks in December 2018, I am most grateful for the warm responses from fellow fans of the New York Islanders. Strangers asked me to appear on their podcasts. Others recognized me in the stands at Nassau Coliseum and pulled me aside to talk hockey. One even snail-mailed a letter to thank me for writing the book.
I never expected fans would be so curious about Nyisles, the short-lived mascot who appears on the cover. A quarter century ago, Nyisles was a scapegoat for the team’s poor performance, and some fans even beat him up as he roamed the arena. Today, many seem to have grown nostalgic for him. I wish the Islanders would bring back Nyisles for a Nineties Night promotion, or start selling merchandise with his red-bearded face.
No interaction stunned me more than when Scott Mayfield, a current Islanders defenseman, bought We Want Fish Sticks at a Barnes & Noble last year and mentioned me in a tweet. We exchanged some messages, and a few months ago we got together at the same bookstore to discuss the wacky adventures of those mid-1990s teams. I asked Scott to sign a printout of his tweet, which I’ve framed and displayed in my home office.
Since the book’s release, Scott’s Islanders have gone on a remarkable run unlike anything I’ve witnessed in my two-plus decades of fandom. After researching the worst stretch in franchise history, and living through so many disappointing seasons since, I know all too well the abuse that Islanders fans have experienced. They deserve a winner, and it’s wonderful to see general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz lead an overdue resurgence.
I’m also glad the Islanders have begun to embrace the fisherman logo again. The team started selling fisherman hoodies while I was researching the book in 2014, and just this month they released a new line of hats and knit caps. It’s only a matter of time till the players wear the logo again during a game. Sign me up for a jersey, with Scott Mayfield’s No. 24 on the back.