CHICAGO – The best names in the NHL are the ones that never make the roster.
Or get used by Mom.
Tazer. Little Ball of Hate. The Great One. Sid the Kid. Looch (who also goes by Gino). The Bulin Wall. Kells.
“There’s always someone, or a few guys, that want to call you different things,” said Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad, dubbed “The ManChild” by his teammates. “I guess it’s just part of the camaraderie of the sport and the guys being close. I’m not really sure of the exact science.”
Anyone who ever has played a sport knows that nicknames are part of the game, a byproduct of both competition and camaraderie. But hockey players have taken it to an art form.
From the littlest mite to the NHL’s biggest stars, everyone’s got a moniker – and usually more than one. Most are simplistic, involving the addition or subtraction of a letter or two. Shorten a last name, tack on an ‘s’ or a ‘y’ (‘ie’ also works) and, voila! Instant nickname. Patrice Bergeron becomes “Bergy.” Brent Seabrook is “Seabs” or “Seabsy.”
If a player’s last name only has one syllable, just add an ‘r’ or a ‘y’ (the ‘ie’ rule applies here, as well). Patrick Kane now forever is known as “Kaner,” while Patrick Sharp, his occasional partner on Chicago’s second line, is “Sharpie.”
And anyone whose last name is Campbell is automatically “Soup” or “Soupy.”
“Pretty boring,” said Boston Bruins center Chris Kelly, who is known as, you guessed it, “Kells.” “I wish we came up with cooler nicknames.”
But the beauty of the simplicity is in its versatility. It can be applied to almost any name, regardless of nationality.
Jaromir Jagr? Jags. Alex Ovechkin? Ovie. Marty Turco? Turks.
It even works with Bruins left wing Kaspars Daugavins.
“We call him Doggie,” Kelly said.
But just as there are exceptions to every grammatical rule, there are some names that defy the conventions of hockey nicknamification. Or lend themselves to some added creativity.
Blackhawks right wing Jamal Mayers is “Jammer” – not to be confused with Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who is “Hammer.” Edmonton goalie Nikolai Khabibulin is “The Bulin Wall.” Henrik Lundqvist, he of the 2012 Vezina Trophy, seven consecutive 30-win seasons and Olympic gold medal in 2006, is, simply, King Henrik.
Other monikers come about because of something a player does on the ice.
Hall of Famer Max Bentley was known as the “Dipsy Doodle Dandy from Delisle” because of his silky-smooth style of evading opponents. Steve Yzerman thought Johan Franzen looked like “a mule” whizzing around the ice as a rookie back in 2005. The nickname stuck. Phoenix enforcer Paul Bissonnette is “BizNasty.”
And some nicknames just happen.
Boston forward Brad Marchand is now called the “Little Ball of Hate,” thanks to President Barack Obama. But the nickname originally belonged to Pat Verbeek of the New York Rangers. He got it because teammate Glenn Healy already had dubbed Ray Ferraro the “Big Ball of Hate.”
“It’s just a bunch of guys probably acting a little bit younger than they should and goofing around,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, known as “Tazer” or “Captain Serious.”
But it’s also a nod to hockey’s roots, a reminder that no matter how big the NHL becomes, it’s not that far removed from its quaint history of small towns and backyard ponds.
“It goes back to the fact that hockey, more than baseball, for example, was a Canadian frontier game ... and the large majority of players came from small areas,” said Stan Fischler, the MSG hockey analyst and leading NHL historian.
“(The NHL) is a multibillion-dollar industry. But at the same time, it does have a folksy, family feel about it,” Fischler said.
Indeed, not only does everyone have a nickname, but everyone uses them, too.
Imagine LeBron James’ teammates calling him “Jamesy” or “Headband.” Or Gregg Popovich referring to Tim Duncan as “Duncs.”
It would never happen.
Yet Chicago coach Joel Quenneville routinely refers to his players by their nicknames, and sometimes is the one who comes up with them. The next Blackhawk to call Kane Patrick will be the first.
“That’s part of the beauty part of hockey,” Fischler said. “Apart from the intensity on the ice, it’s a very friendly sport.”
AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this report.