We Want Fish Sticks explores franchise’s dysfunction

Adam Lindner / Sports Editor | Copies of We Want Fish Sticks, as well as complimentary pins, were available at the SPJ’s event.
Adam Lindner / Sports Editor | Copies of We Want Fish Sticks, as well as complimentary pins, were available at the SPJ’s event.

Adam Lindner | Sports Editor

Feb. 21, 2019

On Feb. 18, the Duquesne chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) hosted a promotional book talk for We Want Fish Sticks, authored by Nick Hirshon.

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.

The book’s foreword, written by former Islanders goalie Éric Fichaud, explains that times weren’t all bad during a time of severe dysfunction for the Isles’ franchise. While turbulent, they were memorable.

“I know we didn’t play well, and I understand if people remember us as a terrible team engulfed in chaos. But from my perspective as a player, it wasn’t all bad,” Fichaud writes. “When I look at the fisherman jersey today, I think about the start of my NHL career and my relationships with teammates, trainers, and fans.”

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.

“There were a lot of things that were difficult,” Hirshon said. “One of the things early on for me was — you know, it’s a fun story, it’s colorful, but there were people who were involved here whose lives were really negatively affected by what went on. I want to be responsible and respectful of that.”

The rebranding effort originated following a 1994 playoff matchup that saw the Islanders’ geographical rival, the New York Rangers, sweep the series. Hirshon said that Islanders ownership began to fear being left behind in the Rangers’ footsteps after the Rangers went on to win the Stanley Cup that same postseason.

In an effort to remain prominent, the Islanders decided to rebrand their image, following the path set forth by the league’s Los Angeles Kings, who had also recently redesigned their team’s imagery following the acquisition of star player Wayne Gretzky.

What came out of New York’s attempt was Nyisles, a laughable fisherman who eerily resembled the Gorton’s frozen seafood mascot. Nyisles was accompanied by poorly-received jerseys and negative backlash from the media. Soon, in reference to Gorton’s, opposing crowds mockingly chanted, “We want fish sticks!”

Fraudulent businessman John Spano agreed to buy the team in 1996, only to later be found to have insufficient funds, adding insult to injury for the floundering franchise. The 1995 hiring of controversial coach Mike Milbury hadn’t helped matters, but in a matter of months, Milbury was awarded general manager duties, too.

In the end, the Islanders reverted to their old logos and color scheme in 1998, in turn making things right with the team’s fans.

Nonetheless, one thing’s for sure: The Spano-era Isles will never be forgotten. In part, that’s now thanks to Hirshon’s documentation.

Editors Hallie Lauer & Ollie Gratzinger are active within SPJ. Their positions on The Duke did not affect the content of this review.