All good things must come to an end, and in the 2015-16 season the Bakersfield Condors will be no more.
The ECHL franchise is slated to become an AHL team next season as part of the NHL affiliate’s relocation and subsequent addition to the new five-team Pacific Division. As such, they’ll be dropping the at times infamous Condors handle and will be looking to select a new name, logo, and look for the squad.
Saying goodbye to the Condors isn’t easy, though. Over the years, the team has gained notoriety as one of the most creative organizations in sports, staying relevant with hilarious promotions and some amazing moments. These are the five most notable memories in Condors history:
5) Condors offer singer Justin Bieber a contract
There are a lot of stunts the team has pulled in the past, but none are maybe as ridiculous when it comes to the on-ice product as the Condors offering a then-18-year-old Bieber an amateur contract.
Bakersfield’s coach at the time, Matt O’Dette, told the Condors’ website that rarely does one see the pairing of “skill and toughness” that Bieber has.
“We share a common Canadian heritage since we both hail from Ontario,” O’Dette added. “I’ve scouted some video of him online skating with my hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and I think he could provide some elusive speed up front for us. Plus, he’s a right-handed shot, which we’ve been looking to add. I think if we paired him on a line with (Robby) Dee and (Peter) Boyd we’d be tough to beat.”
4) Bakersfield celebrates the “King of Pop”
Michael Jackson passed away in the summer of 2009, so it left the Condors with the idea to honor the hit-maker with a themed jersey. While themed nights usually begin and end with the jersey, the Condors went a bit further.
For the game during the 2009-10 season, each player’s right glove, sticking with the Jackson motif, was white, a style which the pop star made a trademark throughout his career. The team’s jerseys were designed to look like Jackson’s famous red jacket and they skated out in the new duds on Oct. 30, just in time for Halloween.
3) Charlie Sheen gives the Condors fuel
If you hadn’t heard of the Condors before now, chances are you’re beginning to realize the worst thing to do is give the team’s marketing department something to work with. If it’s there, they’ll use it, and that’s exactly what they did when Charlie Sheen started to get headlines for his wild antics.
Sheen’s actions were used to put the night into motion. Riffing off of Sheen’s assertion that he had “tiger blood,” the Condors offered “Tiger Blood Margaritas.” In addition, if anyone could pay $2 million, the Two And A Half Men actor’s reported salary at the time, they would own the team outright, and, with calls for the actor to enter rehab, fans that provided a clean drug test were given free admission.
The entire spectacle garnered the team mainstream attention, adding to the Condors marketing legacy.
2) Seinfeld night/“Puffy Shirt” jersey
Though they began as the Bakersfield Fog in the West Coast Hockey League, the name was changed to Condors in 1998 and became an ECHL team in 2003. Which is to say that 11 years after becoming an ECHL team, in their final season in the league, Bakersfield had one of their best promotions in the team’s history.
To honor the 25th anniversary of Seinfeld’s debut, the Condors had a Seinfeld themed night, complete with the infamous puffy shirt. Bakersfield also went all the way into the sitcom’s lore with jerseys bearing the names of characters like Dr. Tim Whatley and Babu Bhatt. To add to the festivities, fictional companies from the show, including George Costanza’s creation, Vandelay Industries, and Elaine Benes’ one-time employer, Pendant Publishing, sponsored each jersey.
Capping off what was one of the most complete theme nights minor league hockey will likely ever see, Wendel Meldrum, who played the infamous “Low Talker,” Kramer’s girlfriend who convinces Jerry to wear the puffy shirt, was on hand to interview players post-game. There was also a marble rye shootout, chuck-a-puck to win a Festivus pole, and Elaine-style dance off. Giddy up.
1) Condor escapes handler, flies into bench
In a scene that is straight out of a hockey comedy, an actual condor was brought onto the ice with a handler, escaped the handler, and began to move around the ice. It’s one of the greatest minor league moments in hockey history.
With the NHL only a short jump away, Bakersfield’s AHL team won't hold anything near the same type of promotions, and you can be sure much of the silly stuff will slow down in 2015-16. But it sure was a fun run while it lasted.
And, hey, maybe if the Winnipeg Jets could still be named the Jets, the AHL could still have the Condors, if only in name.