When I saw the headline, I almost spit out my morning coffee. A new poll from Play Canada released last month inexplicably ranked the longest-serving mascot in NHL history as second-worst in the entire league. How does this happen? Who voted in this poll? Who are these people who don’t know the proud history of the Calgary Flames‘ cartoonish canine companion?
There is an entire generation of Flames fans who have grown up with Harvey the Hound and simply assume the playful pooch has always been entertaining hockey fans at the Scotiabank Saddledome. But like every great hero, he does have an epic origin story. This particular “tail” tells us how a simple, fuzzy-faced dog with a jaunty red hat sparked a trend that spread across an entire professional sports league.
Harvey Is a Trailbllrazer Who’d Become the NHL’s First-Ever Mascot
The Flames didn’t even have a mascot when they dropped the puck at the first NHL game played in Calgary on Oct. 9, 1980. In fact, no NHL team had one. However, all of that changed when a man named Grant Kelba knocked on the Flames management’s door and sold them on the idea of a one-game audition on Feb. 16, 1984, for the hefty fee of $50. Fast forward 37 years later, and Harvey is still howling at the ‘Dome. Kelba told the Hockey News in 2014 he was surprised by how quickly the fans took to him and by how much the Flames players actually watched what he was doing.
“I remember Mike Vernon giving me suggestions on different signs to hold up and different acts to do. There was a time when I came back to my dressing room after the game and (Doug) Gilmour, (Joe) Nieuwendyk and a few other guys were trying on the costume to see what it was like inside the head.”Grant Kelba, Harvey the Hound creator
Harvey was such a hit with Flames fans that other NHL teams started contacting Kelba about making mascots for their own teams, and a new era of in-arena entertainment was born. Thanks to Harvey blazing a new trail, every NHL team (with the exception of the New York Rangers and the Detroit Red Wings) now has a costumed creature roaming the rink, interacting with fans and taunting the opposing team. And while we’re talking about taunting, there is one particular incident that got tongues wagging all over the sports world and made Harvey the Hound a household name.
Harvey Gets “Tongue Tied Up” With Oilers Head Coach Craig MacTavish
The Battle of Alberta is a tradition that spans decades. It’s always a hostile environment, serving up plenty of animosity whenever the Flames and Oilers square off. However, on Jan. 20, 2003, that famous rivalry became a literal dogfight when Oilers’ bench boss Craig MacTavish boldly ripped Harvey’s signature red tongue right out of his mouth and tossed it into the crowd. Why would he do such a thing? It turns out, a certain Hound wearing bright red pants had been… well… HOUNDING him from behind the Edmonton bench.
Down 4-0 before Harvey’s infamous tongue-lashing, the Oilers gained some serious momentum immediately after the coach/mascot confrontation, scoring three quick goals. While Edmonton ultimately fell short of completing the comeback, MacTavish did talk about the incident during the post-game interview, telling reporters, “Once we got the tongue out of his mouth, we started to turn things around a little bit. If we scored that last goal to tie it, I was looking for Harvey the Hound.”
The surreal conflict caught on video went viral in the days after the game, making headlines throughout North America and even catching the attention of the Jay Leno Show. They contacted the Flames to bring the Hound on the program to re-stitch his tongue live on air, but they declined the invitation. Harvey also received the support and solidarity of many other NHL mascots, who arrived at the 2003 All-Star Game with long red tongues hanging out. This was the moment Harvey the Hound became truly legendary, which makes the result of this recent poll so confusing and downright disappointing.
There’s Something Fishy About the Poll That Tarnished Harvey’s Good Name
According to the poll’s methodology, it surveyed more than 2,000 NHL fans across Canada and the U.S. to ask them to rate every mascot on a scale of 1-5. However, if you look at how all of this played out, it actually looks like they simply polled 2,000 Leafs fans, as there’s no way these respondents were spread out across North America.
How does Toronto’s bland, nondescript polar bear get the number one spot, while the mascots from the Leaf’s biggest Canadian rivals coincidently languish at the bottom? Something smells here. How does Carlton the Bear beat out media darling Gritty or the legendary Youppi? I’ll tell you how — it was a rigged poll, and the NHL’s original mascot deserved a much better fate!
|Toronto Maple Leafs||Carlton the Bear||3.81||1st|
|Arizona Coyotes||Howler the Coyote||3.73||3rd|
|St. Louis Blues||Louie||3.67||4th|
|Los Angeles Kings||Bailey||3.66||6th|
|Anaheim Ducks||Wild Wing||3.59||7th|
|Chicago Blackhawks||Tommy Hawk||3.52||11th|
|Boston Bruins||Blades the Bruin||3.49||12th|
|Detroit Red Wings||Al the Octopus||3.48||14th|
|New York Islanders||Sparky the Dragon||3.46||15th|
|San Jose Sharks||S.J. Sharkie||3.41||16th|
|Winnipeg Jets||Mick E. Moose||3.40||17th|
|Colorado Avalanche||Bernie the St. Bernard||3.37||18th|
|Dallas Stars||Victor E. Green||3.36||19th|
|Vegas Golden Knights||Chance||3.33||22nd|
|New Jersey Devils||N.J. Devil||3.32||23rd|
|Florida Panthers||Stanley C. Panther||3.27||24th|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||Thunderbug||3.20||25th|
|Vancouver Canucks||Fin the Whale||3.12||26th|
|Calgary Flames||Harvey the Hound||2.94||29th|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||Stinger||2.83||30th|
Did you know that when the Flames played the San Jose Sharks in Japan in 1998, the NHL also sent Harvey the Hound to whip up the crowd and promote the sport? He was doing just fine before he was called a bad dog after he climbed to the top of a 10-metre diving board in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Sports Arena (much to the displeasure of local authorities). Despite his history of minor misbehaving, the league has also invited Harvey to multiple NHL All-Star games, where he never fails to represent his team and his city in the best possible light.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that we don’t need a stupid poll to tell us what we already know. Harvey the Hound is an icon around these parts, and if they ever let NHL mascots into the Hockey Hall of Fame, you can certainly pencil in a certain furry-faced pooch from Calgary as the very first inductee. Harvey is, and always will be, a good boy.
Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.