Interview with Author of “We Want Fish Sticks”: Nick Hirshon

From 1995 to 1997, the Islanders played under the ridiculous fishermen logo. The mid-90s were hard for the Islanders as they were continuously one of the worst teams in the league and they were even mocked by opposing team’s fans for their logo. Nick Hirshon, author of “We Want Fish Sticks”, examined this turbulent time period for the Islanders and what went wrong. The Islanders fanbase has taken to “We Want Fish Sticks” and for good reason. The Battle of New York was fortunate to be able to speak with Mr. Hirshon about his book and the fishermen-era. 

What inspired you to write “We Want Fish Sticks”?

“I was in my Ph.D. program at Ohio University and we needed to pick a topic for our doctoral dissertation. It had to be something you were really passionate about, something you’d want to spend a few months or a few years studying. I thought about the fact that I was a big Islanders fan and I had always wondered about the story of the fisherman logo. How come the players aren’t wearing it on the ice, but I see fans wearing it in the stands? I just wanted to know the full story behind it. It’s such a hated logo, there were so many whispers for reasons for why the made it and then went away from it. I wanted to put some context into that story. I wanted to learn about the designing of the logo, the players who had to wear it and how they felt, the fan experience, etc.”

What was the most fascinating thing you learned when you began to write “We Want Fish Sticks”?

 “There were a few things that came up during this research that were really interesting to me. One is that the Islanders changed their logo without much research. It was mostly a few people and a boardroom banding about a few logos. They did hire a very good designing firm to do this, but they didn’t have an interview or focus group or survey or any other public polling process. I think that doomed them in the end. It’s kind of insane to think that this was not that long ago, only in 1995. Yet, they were treating this as a very unsophisticated and informal kind of a process. Another thing that strikes me is when the Islanders signed Mike Milbury as their coach in 1995 and how he was able to take control of the franchise. He, of course, became the coach and then GM when Don Maloney is fired. It’s incredible that even though he’s doing a lot of wacky things on and off the ice with the players, saying crazy things to the media. You still see him rising to become this main figure with the Islanders and then he stuck around for more than a decade. It’s wild to see how far the franchise has come now since they’re a first-place team, they have a great coach in Barry Trotz, a great general manager. It’s just wild to think that the way they were back in 1995.”

What is your reaction towards all of the positive feedback towards your book?

“It’s been great. I’m really glad to see all of the Islander fans are so responsive to the book. I wrote it as a fan, I had a lot of that passion for the team in mind as I was slaving away at the microphone reader, interviewing and transcribing all of the interviews. It was a lot of work towards a project like this. It’s very rewarding to see the fans respond to it. I’ve seen fans come up to me and say, “I remember those games, but I didn’t know the full story. I can’t believe you got to interview so-and-so.” I’ll now even have these people run into me at the Coliseum and say a few kind words about the book or comment about some of the findings I’ve held. Of course, it’s really meaningful, you do a lot of work for a project, you wanna make sure a lot of people are reading it. The Islanders fans have been so great about it. There has just been so many positive remarks, so many nice messages and I really appreciate it. It’s all been worth it.”

Are you surprised that the fans are now starting to appreciate the fisherman logo?

“I guess it’s like with a lot of things where with time, people will change their opinion on something and the real reason why the logo failed was that the team was terrible in that period. They unveil a new logo and they immediately have two-last place seasons and they trade so many of their great players. Mike Milbury is making a laughing stock of the Islanders and John Spano buys the team; he’s a con artist and ends up in jail. I think that that association with all those negative events and people doomed the logo. When you separate that out and we’re more than twenty years removed from that time period, Mike Milbury isn’t associated with the team, John Spano isn’t associated with the team, and Kirk Muller isn’t associated with the team. You just look at the actual logo. Besides the fact that it looks the Gorton’s fishermen, a lot of people still have an affinity for it. It reminds young fans of when they were growing up and following the team in the 90s. If you’re a really young fan and we weren’t watching the team in the 90s because you weren’t born yet, then you don’t have that negative association at all. It’s just another Islanders logo. The Islanders have only really ever had one logo and to see them have this fisherman and remind us of so many other teams with jerseys that have five or six different logos, we’ve really only had that one. To go back and remember oh yeah we did have a fisherman logo and the lighthouse on the shoulder was pretty cool. I think it shows it was a soundly designed logo, even though they should have done more research or surrounded it with better players and coaches. The actual logo was designed by a top-notch firm. I’m glad to see that Islander fans are turning around and acknowledging it as a part of our history that we should cherish.”

Are you planning on writing any other hockey books?

“I don’t know. A lot of people have asked me that question, I’m an Islanders fan and a Mets fan so I’ve been thinking those two teams and their history. There have been so many books written about the Mets already and with the Islanders, I just don’t know if there are any other parts of their history that have been unexplored that would be interesting. Obviously, there was the Stanley Cup dynasty, but a few books have been written about that already. Besides, I wasn’t born then so I don’t really have that kind of connection. I feel that other authors could do a better job of that. I keep thinking about what else is out there. If I did a non-Islanders book, I don’t know if it would hold my interest enough. The Isles are my team. Even though I’m a general hockey fan and I’ll go to other games, the Islanders are the only team that really excites me. I’d have to find something else with them that’s really worth doing. The fishermen logo was so unique with all the craziness that was going on with the team at the time. I don’t know if I could do anything else that would get that reaction or make me passionate.”

Do you think the fishermen logo looks more like Stan Fischler or Gorton’s Fish sticks?

“I think it looks more to me like Gorton’s fishermen. I know that Stan Fischler revels in the fact that he has a similar look and there’s definitely something there. I’ve even heard people say Jiggs McDonald who used to be an Islanders broadcaster not that long ago. For me, it has that side-by-side look of the Gorton’s fishermen logo. There are so many similarities, not just the beard or the outfit, but the position of his hands on the ship’s wheel is very similar to the position of the Islanders fishermen hands on the hockey stick. There are just so many things there that make it look like Gorton’s fishermen.”

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