It had piercing red eyes, grotesque ears, and a ghastly grin that revealed a mouthful of fangs. It was the Beast of New Haven and it was one of the most unique hockey logos to ever hit the ice. From 1997 to 1999, the Beast were the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate for both the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. When the Hartford Whalers relocated to North Carolina in 1997, they originally played out of the Greensboro Coliseum while they waited for their arena in Raleigh to be completed. With the Hurricanes playing out of Greensboro, this displaced the AHL's Monarchs, who had been playing at the Coliseum for a couple years and had been supplying talent to the Panthers.
Sensing an opportunity to build a franchise and bring professional hockey back to Connecticut, Dave Gregory and Paragon Sports leased the Monarchs and moved the team to New Haven. Gregory, who had previously been the general manager of the Syracuse Crunch, took the reins as the president and general manager of the the new squad. With Connecticut still mourning the loss of the Whalers, New Haven seemed like an ideal location for Gregory to unleash the Beast. New Haven had a rich hockey history that dated back to 1926 when the Eagles were one of the founding clubs of the Canadian-American Hockey League, the precursor to the AHL. After the franchise folded in 1951, New Haven was left without an AHL team until 1972 when the Nighthawks landed in town. For the next two decades, the Nighthawks represented New Haven at the AHL level until the team was rebranded as the Senators for a season, before departing for Prince Edward Island in 1993. With the New Haven Coliseum empty, it seemed like the perfect fit for the Beast.
"New Haven was without a team for a while and there was some real interest from the local city and the state of Connecticut to continue pro sports in their communities," recalled Gregory, who is now the senior manager of the NHL's central scouting department.
With New Haven hockey-starved, Gregory knew there was an immense opportunity and they wanted to make an immediate impact. Before the team unveiled its name and logo on Aug. 21, 1997, there was speculation about what it would be called. Some wanted to see a return to the Nighthawks, but Gregory and his group had something else in mind. Although the Hartford Courant thought the new team would be christened as either the New Haven Beast or the New Haven Beasts, the team was announced as the Beast of New Haven. While the name was unusual, it was the logo that caught everybody's attention.
Inspired by the gargoyles that sat atop New Haven's buildings, particularly the walls of Yale University, where the team opened its inaugural training camp in 1997, the Beast was meant to strike fear into the hearts of its opponents. The centuries-old practice of placing gargoyles on the top of buildings was believed to ward off evil spirits and protect the people. Although the Beast's imagery was rooted in the tradition of New Haven's Gothic architecture, it was anything but traditional.
The purple gargoyle, with jagged claws and winged-ears, sitting on a perch in front of a fluorescent moon, gave the New Haven team an unquestionably distinctive look. According to the Hartford Courant, it was the brainchild of Gregory's wife, Delores, and Ronald J. Heath of Crawford Advertising—a Syracuse-based firm that Gregory had also worked with during his time with the Crunch. Although the newspaper noted that Delores had a hand in the logo's development, Gregory acknowledged that, while his wife played a part, she doesn't like to take credit for it.
"She's an artist, but that's not the kind of art she does," he said. Regardless of who dreamed up the creature, there was no doubt that the Beast captured the imagination of many. When asked about it 20 years later, David Heuschkel, who wrote for the Hartford Courant at the time, jokingly told VICE Sports that it still gives him nightmares. "I don't think the gargoyles in New Haven were quite as scary as the logo," he added.
It looked even better on the ice. Not only was the size of the crest unusually large, but the dark blue and garish lime green combination that made up the Beast's uniforms truly made it a one of a kind. "When you combine the fluorescent moon with the gargoyle and the old New Haven coliseum, it was almost like you were going to see a midnight horror movie. It almost had that feel like you were going to a fright show," Heuschkel recollected. But not all of the players were a fan of the colour scheme.
Shane Willis, who won the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL's top rookie with the Beast in 1999 and is now the manager of youth and amateur hockey for the Carolina Hurricanes, remembers that plenty of players were really turned off by it. "A lot of guys didn't like the lime green effect that was involved in the logo," he said.
It also caused problems for the team's play-by-play announcers. According to Willis, when the jerseys first came out, the players' name bars were in neon, but they ended up having to switch them because the radio callers couldn't read the names correctly due to the lime green colour. The team ended up taming the Beast’s colour combinations, but the lime green remained a hallmark of the jerseys.
The logo may have been more unusual than what New Haven hockey fans were used to, but they quickly embraced it, with merchandise sales through the roof, according to Gregory.
"We sold a ton of stuff, I know that. Certainly among younger people, they really liked it. The merchandise sales were one of the better parts that went on for the first two years," he recalled.
Jeff Daniels, who captained the Beast in its inaugural season and is now an assistant coach with the Hurricanes, remembers the buzz that surrounded the team and its new logo. "Pro hockey was coming back to New Haven. People were excited, so they wanted to make a statement with something that stood out. It was a neat looking logo that I think everyone embraced," he told VICE Sports.
For the players, it was certainly the most unique sweater they had ever put on. "It was different. Right away. I thought the colours, there was a dark blue and a lime-ish green colour, they just kind of popped out. It was different than what you'd normally see on a jersey," Daniels said.
Ryan Johnson, who played in New Haven for two seasons before playing more than a decade in the NHL, remembered the colours the most. "You can't miss them. There was purple, fluorescent green, dark blue. I think the eyes were red. There was a lot going on, that's for sure," he said.
While some of the players may have been taken aback by it, everyone rallied behind it on the ice. "I'm sure there were a few chuckles at first, but after a while you take pride in your jersey and that's what we played for," recalled Daniels. Johnson, meanwhile, said it was the most unique jersey he's ever worn.
On the ice, the Beast were just as fearsome. In their inaugural season, Kevin Brown led the team in scoring with 72 points in 67 games, while fan favourite Peter Worrell pummelled the competition, racking up 309 penalty minutes in 50 games. New Haven finished the campaign with 38 wins to finish third in the New England Division and bring playoff hockey back to the Coliseum for the first time since 1992. In the postseason, they encountered state rival the Hartford Wolf Pack, but bowed out in a three-game sweep, unable to halt the brilliant play of rookie Marc Savard. The following year, the Beast continued to be a popular draw among New Haven's die-hard hockey fans, but attendance proved to be an issue for the team. After failing to qualify for the playoffs in 1999, things were looking grim.
The nail in the coffin came after the Hurricanes moved out of Greensboro and into its permanent home at Raleigh Sports & Entertainment Arena (now PNC Arena) in 1999. Rather than relocating the franchise to Greensboro, the affiliation agreement between the Beast and the Hurricanes and Panthers ended. As a result, the Beast ceased operations. Instead, the East Coast Hockey League took up residency in the Greensboro Coliseum with the Generals, a nod to the first professional hockey team from North Carolina that played in the area from 1959-77. With the Beast caged, Paragon Sports did not pursue another franchise and New Haven was left without an AHL team yet again. Although the league returned to nearby Bridgeport in 2001, the demolition of the Coliseum in 2006 all but ensured that professional hockey in New Haven died with the Beast.
Although it has been nearly two decades since the Beast last took the ice, the team is still remembered fondly by the players. Daniels and Johnson both still have their jerseys as a reminder of their time in New Haven. "I'm not a guy who has all his jerseys hanging up in his house. I just have all mine in a closet and it's something that gives me a small chuckle every time I see it because it is so boisterous," said Johnson.
While Daniels' favourite jersey is ultimately his Penguins sweater, the team he made his NHL debut for, he still has a soft spot for the Beast. "It was a unique one. It was different at the time and I think it would still be unique today," he told VICE Sports.
Though the Beast's time in New Haven was fleeting, its logo left a lasting impression on the fans and players. Now a relic, much like the gargoyle sculptures that still haunt the buildings around New Haven, its legacy continues as one of the most unique emblems in hockey history. Johnson, who is now at the helm for the Utica Comets of the AHL, laments that more players did not have the chance to wear the sweater. "It's unfortunate that the team didn't last longer around there and it's too bad that that jersey still wasn't being put on by players today," he told VICE Sports.
Today, the spirit of the Beast lives on in those lucky fans and players who held onto their jerseys and souvenirs for all these years. They are among the few who can attest to the haunting logo that once patrolled the ice for New Haven.