By Graham Neysmith[This article by Carleton University journalism student Graham Neysmith originally appeared at https://capitalcurrent.ca/]
The man who branded Ottawa’s professional hockey team doesn’t consider himself a hockey fan and has never even laced up a pair of skates.
Tony Milchard designed the logo used by the Ottawa Senators when they debuted in the National Hockey League in 1992 – the profile of a Roman centurion figure.
But Milchard would sooner cheer on Manchester United than root for the team whose identity he helped create.
The 57-year-old moved to Canada in his teens from Aldershot, a town just southwest of London, England. He studied design at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont., and after graduating in 1985, worked with real estate firm Terrace Investments, putting together floor plans and promotional material.
The president of Terrace Investments was Bruce Firestone, who was the figurehead behind a campaign trying to bring professional hockey back to Ottawa in the late 1980s.
“When they put the bid proposal together for the hockey team, I helped them out,” said Milchard. “I did some volunteer work contributing some design services.”
Once the movement was awarded a franchise by the NHL in December 1990, they brought Milchard aboard full-time in the marketing department.
The team was slated to take the ice in the fall of 1992, and with puck drop fast approaching, Milchard was tasked with designing a small logo that would appear on the shoulders of the Senators jerseys. But the British artist had other plans.
“As I started looking into it, I realized our logo wasn’t really a strong one,” said Milchard from his home on Vancouver Island.
Firestone and his group were using a basic logo that featured the word “Ottawa” with a silhouette of the Parliament Buildings embedded in it.
“It was similar to the Washington Capitals,” said Milchard. “I said ‘let’s try a different approach.’ That was met with a bit of opposition because they had already established that as their identity. They used it for their marketing campaigns and sold quite a bit of merchandise with that logo.”
At the time, expansion teams were coming into the league with exciting and creative branding. The San Jose Sharks logo was a cartoon shark biting a hockey stick with bold, teal colouring.
“With a hockey team, it’s not the city that is the focus. It’s the name of the team,” said Milchard.
According to Firestone, everyone in the organization agreed the branding would be based on the ancient Roman Senate, but he gave Milchard free reign to get creative with his design.
“Tony was a very independent artist,” said Firestone, who is still active in the Ottawa business scene. “Independence is important to good art. I don’t imagine if we went back in time we could have been overly directive with Michelangelo as he was painting the Sistine Chapel.”
Milchard set to work designing a logo, picking a colour scheme and fashioning a jersey, although his primary focus remained marketing and promotional material.
“I worked on it in my downtime,” said Milchard. “I used the Chicago Blackhawks as my inspiration. I know it’s controversial these days, but back then that was a very striking jersey that looked visually good on the ice.”
The software at the time was primitive compared to what is available today – colour monitors had just entered the market. Milchard sketched his ideas on scrap pieces of paper, and the design he finally picked with first drawn on a napkin.
When the franchise released the design – a profile of a centurion figure with red, white and gold colouring – it was met with some scepticism from fans and media alike.
“People said it looked like American Express,” said Milchard.
“There’s a condom that has something kind of similar,” Firestone said with a chuckle. “Over the years I think people have come around. I still like it.”
“I remember someone said it looked like a circular saw,” said Chris Stevenson, who was the original Senators’ beat reporter for the Ottawa Sun. “It was maybe because the mindset was still attached to the iconic logos of the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens.”
The rough reception did not faze Milchard or anyone in the Senators organization.
“That’s typical with any kind of branding program,” said Milchard of the early feedback. “It always takes a bit of getting used to. It got a lot of favourable response once the initial shock of the change was over.”
The Senators used Milchard’s logo until it was retired in 2007. However, after another re-brand this season, the old “2D” logo is still popular with Sens fans.
“It’s interesting hearing that some of the new fans who weren’t around when the Senators were first founded are pushing to have the 2D logo brought back,” said Stevenson, who now covers the team for The Athletic. “Everybody embraces a bit of the nostalgia now and then.”
His design lasted significantly longer than Milchard did with the team. He left the Senators after two seasons to seek a “new challenge.” He remained in Ottawa and was hired to create a logo for the Ottawa Rough Riders when Firestone purchased the football team in 1994.
Milchard now lives in Courtenay, B.C., having moved cross-country in 2003. He still dabbles in graphic design work, but also does marketing and branding on a freelance basis for small businesses.
He has lost track of most of his Senators material – the original sketches of his logo have been stolen or misplaced. However, Milchard does have what he believes to be the first ever Ottawa Senators jersey – a prototype of his design put together by a Montreal-based company.
Although he is now over 20 years removed from his time with the hockey franchise, Milchard looks back on it with fond memories.
“It was the best job I ever had. It was great camaraderie with the staff. It was exciting; a franchise was coming to Ottawa and it was the big news of the day. It was a lot of fun.”
Image (attached to Ross Inception and CU Learn)
TD Place Arena (formerly the Ottawa Civic Centre), the original home of the Ottawa Senators. (Photo: Graham Neysmith).
A photograph of one of the Senators uniforms from the 1990s (which Milchard designed) could also be added.
An audio clip of Tony Milchard talking about the inspiration behind his Ottawa Senators logo design.
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