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Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks hockey legends Guy Lafleur, Bobby Hull and Yvan Cournoyer , left to right, share a laugh prior to a ceremony Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson (Paul Chiasson)
Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks hockey legends Guy Lafleur, Bobby Hull and Yvan Cournoyer , left to right, share a laugh prior to a ceremony Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2008 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson (Paul Chiasson)

NHL Weekend

Hockey's nickname game Add to ...

He declines to speak on the matter, it being a personal and rather sensitive issue.

But Ron Hainsey, fine stay-at-home defenceman with the Atlanta Thrashers, has a problem with today's NHL - he can't get a nickname.

He cannot because, under current hockey nickname protocol, he already comes with one, there being no known diminutive for Hainsey and the tacking on of the de rigueur "y" or "ie" on Hainsey sounding, well, just a bit goofy.

And so, Hainsey must live with the fact that he alone is nickname-less on a team that boasts a "Stewie" (Anthony Stewart), a "Laddy" (Andrew Ladd), a "Burmy" (Alexander Burmistrov), an "Eags" (Ben Eager), a "Kaner" (Evander Kane), a "Sopes" (Brent Sopel), a "Litts" (Bryan Little), a "Bolts" (Eric Boulton) and so on and so on down through the roster.

In modern hockey, if you know the last name, you can guess the nickname.

"There's no creativity," moans Steve (Stumpy) Thomas, one of the last of the truly great hockey nicknames.

Thomas, now 47, works as a player development consultant with the Tampa Bay Lightning following a shining 20-year NHL career that included stints with a half-dozen teams including the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs. He retired from the Detroit Red Wings in 2004.

Thomas got his famous moniker when the Leafs called him up from the St. Catharines Saints during the 1984-85 season. He made the mistake of walking through the Leafs dressing room in his undershorts and veteran Bill Derlago took one look at the short, stocky Thomas and announced to the rest of the team that the new rookie "looks just like a stump."

"I have never been able to shake it," Thomas says with a laugh. He immediately began answering to Stumpy fully aware that if he fought it, "they'd just come up with something more dastardly."

Thomas now works for a team where one of the game's most exciting new stars, Steven Stamkos, answers to "Stammer" and sometimes to "Hammer." The Lightning's other star, Martin St. Louis, is - prepare for it - "Louie."

The lack of creativity Thomas mentions is endemic to hockey circles. Sidney Crosby remains "Sid the Kid" even as he enters veteran status. Alexander Ovechkin is "Ovie." Patrick Kane is "Kaner."

Here, the modern Ottawa Senators are "Alfie" and "Spez" and "Kovie," a far, far cry from the Sens of old: "One-Eyed" Frank McGee, Frank (The Pembroke Peach) Nighbor, "Fearless" Frank Finnigan (also known as "The Shawville Express"), Fred (Cyclone) Taylor, Reginald (Hooley) Smith. …

Goaltender Percy LeSueur of the old Senators was dubbed "Peerless Percy" by Malcolm Brice, the sports editor of the old Ottawa Free Press, and it seems most of the great nicknames came about that way; the gift, desired or not, from the local sports press.

The great Montreal tradition of nicknames - Maurice (Rocket) Richard, Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, Jean (Le Gros Bill) Beliveau - all came from reporters. The last brilliant Montreal moniker came courtesy of Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber, who was working for the Montreal Gazette when he happened to cover a game between the Habs and Leafs in Toronto. Goaltender André Racicot let in a goal on the first shot, the third shot and then a long shot, all early. Farber tabbed him "Red Light" and the name stuck.

Reporters weren't always particularly original - any player with native heritage became "Chief," all Campbells became "Soupy" - but they were far superior to most of what passes today for clever.

Those old-time nicknames now seem so out of sync with today, no matter what the sport. Ted (The Splendid Splinter) Williams would today be "Willsy." Reggie (Mr. October) Jackson would be "Jacks," as would "Shoeless Joe." There would likely be no "Magic," no "Refrigerator," no "Golden Bear."

Hockey had such a rich history of nicknames that it is hard to believe it was only a few years back that fans cheered or booed "Terrible" Ted Lindsay, "Fats" (Alex Delvecchio), "Moose" (Elmer Vasko), "The Entertainer" (Eddie Shack), "Shaky" (Mike Walton), "The Golden Jet" (Bobby Hull), "The Big M" and "Little M" (Frank and Peter Mahovlich), "The Roadrunner" (Yvan Cournoyer), "Suitcase" (Gary Smith), "The Hammer" (Dave Schultz), "Battleship" (Bob Kelly), "Knuckles" (Chris Nilan), "The Grim Reaper" (Stu Grimson), "The Rat" (Ken Linseman), "Cowboy" (Bill Flett), "The Flower" (Guy Lafleur), "King Richard" Brodeur, "Killer" (Doug Gilmour), "Cementhead" (Dave Semenko), "Wild Thing" (Al Iafrate), "Charlie" (Dave Manson), and on and on and on.

There was a time when even the coaches had brilliant tags: George (Punch) Imlach, Clarence (Hap) Day, Hector (Toe) Blake, Fred (The Fog) Shero.

There are precious few left - Teemu (The Finnish Flash) Selanne is 40. but still playing for the Anaheim Ducks, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is at times still "The Bulin Wall" for the Edmonton Oilers - but none ever again to compare to Frank (Ulcers) McCool or Lionel (Big Train) Conacher.

In part, microphones are to blame. While the print media might have tried to keep Wayne Gretzky as "The Great One," an ever increasing broadcast stream of interviews from dressing rooms and postgame interviews showing players and even media referring to him as "Gretz" gradually took over, as did "Mess" for Mark Messier. In a short time, the diminutive had won out over the inspired.

There is hope, though, however faint.

Christian, the son of "Stumpy" Thomas, is playing for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, pegged to one day follow his father into the NHL.

That would be Christian (Stumpy) Thomas.

"He's got it now," the original says with a smile.

 

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