Top-10 NHL Nicknames

Most nicknames in hockey are pretty basic; teammates call Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller “Millsy,” while the boys in Chicago refer to Patrick Kane as “Kaner.” But over the years, hockey has given us a lot of memorable alternate (and more elaborate) monikers for some of our favorite players, from Maurice “The Rocket” Richard to Alexei “The Ukraine Train” Ponikarovsky. Here’s a list of some of the best nicknames in the NHL.

#10 – Ed Belfour – Eddie the Eagle

Eagles personify majesty and grace, and the play of goaltender Ed Belfour certainly earned him this clever nickname. A staple for years with Chicago, Dallas and Toronto, Eddie the Eagle finished his NHL career with 484 wins and 24,750 saves. Belfour also has the hardware to back it up; he is a four time William M. Jennings Trophy winner (awarded to goaltenders who have played 25+ games for the team with the fewest goals scored against), a two-time Vezina Trophy winner (awarded to the best goaltender in the NHL), first in 1991 and again in 1993, and the 1991 Calder Memorial Trophy winner (rookie of the year). He also nabbed the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1998, putting on an epic 53 save-performance (not to mention triple over-time game) in Game 6 against the Buffalo Sabres and his former Chi-town back-up, Dominik Hasek.

#9 – Derek Boogaard – The Boogie Man

Currently with the New York Rangers, Derek Boogaard earned his handle with the Minnesota Wild by being… well, frightening. He is considered one of the most intimidating players in the NHL (even in NHL player polls) and his hits can be devastating (anyone remember the Boogaard-Fedoruk tussle?). This guy is so into his job as a heavy weight that he, along with his brother Aaron, has his own camp for fighting- The Derek and Aaron Boogaard Fighting Camp for children ages 12-18. The 6’8” winger is an enforcer to say the least, and he plays his part well: the Boogie Man has racked up an impressive 544 penalty minutes in five NHL seasons. Just scary.

#8 – Francis Bouillon – Frank the Tank

Playing for most of his career with the Montreal Canadiens, defenseman Francis Bouillon earned his somewhat ironic nickname by playing with intensity. Standing 5’8”, Montreal fans have also referred to him as “le petit guerrier” which is French for “the little warrior.” Regarded as one of the strongest players in the NHL, Frank the Tank plays physical hockey, which can lead to penalty trouble (421 minutes in his NHL career). He still manages to produce points (113) and more often than not, you can find him blasting howitzer-type shots from the point. Those poor opposing goalies…

#7 – Pavel Bure – The Russian Rocket

Not to be confused with “The Russian Bottle Rocket” (Maxim Afinogenov), Pavel Bure earned his nickname from his blazing fast speed, similar to that of a rocket. The Moscow native spent 12 seasons in the NHL, tallying goals for Vancouver, Florida and the New York Rangers. A former Central Red Army forward, the Russian Rocket took home the Calder Trophy in 1992 and is a two-time winner of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (awarded to the player finishing the regular season as the leading goal scorer). He finished his NHL career with 779 points (437g+342a) in 702 games, combining speed and skill to dazzle opposing defenses.

#6 – Alexei Kovalev – AK-27

This is a pretty clever nickname, almost as good as the Little White Russian line in Atlanta, which consists of Bryan Little, Todd White and Salva Kozlov. Kovalev derives his nickname from three things: his initials, his number, and the word-play on the Russian assault rifle (AK-47). His quick puck release has been attributed to that of a bullet, and he often stuns opposing goalies with a barrage of shots. He has 412 goals and 578 assists to date, and a Stanley Cup title (Rangers) under his belt. More often than not, you can find him at the point acting like a one-man firing squad.

Niklas Lidstrom (Maureen Flanders/Flickr)

#5 – Nicklas Lidstrom – Saint Nicklas

Nicklas Lidstrom is the gift that keeps on giving. All 17 of his NHL seasons have been spent in Detroit, and he is the current captain of the Red Wings. He has a Conn Smythe Trophy, is a six-time James Norris Trophy winner (awarded to the leagues best defenseman) and has four Stanley Cup wins. He’s a frequent sight on NHL All-Star game rosters (10 times) and continuously gives Detroit fans exactly what they want: a playoff run. 237 goals, 809 assists… what else would you want for Christmas?

#4 – Dominik Hasek – The Dominator

Dominate [verb]: 1.) to control, govern, or rule by superior authority or power, 2.) To exert a supreme, guiding influence on or over, 3.) To enjoy a commanding, controlling position in. I’d say this last definition suits Dominik Hasek and the role he played in the crease best. Being a Sabres fan, I can remember going to games as a youngster and being terrified, thinking “No way… he’s upside down for God’s sake! He couldn’t possibly stop that shot!” But he did stop that shot, and 20,219 others, and he did it well for 16 NHL seasons. He paved the way for European netminders, winning an impressive SIX Vezina Trophies, three William M. Jennings Trophies, two Lester B. Pearson Trophies, and two Hart Trophies, a rare feat for a netminder. He also has two Stanley Cup wins and brought Gold to the Czech Republic at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games, the country’s first ever Gold medal. 389 wins and 223 losses prove that “The Dominator” earned his alternate name (and continues to with Spartak Moscow of the KHL), and then some.

#3 – Gordie Howe – Mr. Hockey

Gordie Howe has got a lot of nicknames. “Mr. All-Star”, “The Great Gordie”, “The King of Hockey”, “Mr. Elbows” (we’ll get to that in just a minute) and “Mr. Hockey”. All of these names are fitting, but “Mr. Hockey” seems to suit Howe the best. For 25 seasons, Howe laced up with the Detroit Red Wings, and another additional season with the Hartford Whalers, tallying 801 goals and 1,049 assists. He is a six-time Art Ross Trophy winner and a six-time Hart Trophy winner. He has four Stanley Cup titles and possibly the coolest statistical category named after him. “Mr. Elbows” is also the name-sake of “The Gordie Howe hat trick”, which is when a player scores a goal, records an assist, and gets in a fight in one game (Brendan Shanahan is the current “GH hat trick leader” with 17). Howe was also (in a bigger way than I can explain here) responsible for the World Hockey Association, which gave us teams like the Winnipeg Jets and the Quebec Nordiques.

#2 – Wayne Gretzky – The Great One

'The Great One' Wayne Gretzky in his prime with the Edmonton Oilers (Phil: Flickr)

Just how great do you have to be to have a nickname like “The Great One”? In Gretzky’s case, pretty damn great.  He capped off his 20 year NHL playing-career with 894 goals (1st overall), 1,963 assists (1st) and had a +/- of 518 (4th). “The Great One” also has 73 regular season short-handed goals, and 382 playoff points, good enough for first overall in each category. He is a nine-time Hart Trophy winner (awarded to the played voted most valuable to his team), a 10-time Art Ross Trophy winner (awarded to the player that leadsthe league in scoring at the end of the regular season), a two-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner (awarded to the playoff MVP), a five-time Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner (awarded to the player that exhibited the best sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct), and a five-time Lester B. Pearson Trophy winner (awarded to the NHL’s outstanding player, judged by members of the NHL Player’s Association). He won multiple medals in international play (Canada Cup, WJC) and has four Stanley Cup titles with the Edmonton Oilers. He remains the only player to ever be inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame immediately after retiring and he also played the role of head coach for four seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes. A nickname well earned if you ask me.

#1 – Nikolai Khabibulin – The Bulin Wall

In my opinion, this is the greatest hockey nickname ever, and I’ll explain why. The NHL has been around for a very long time, 93 years to be exact. A lot has happened in that timeframe, including war and conflicts with other countries, and that comes over to the world of hockey as well. The point I’m trying to make is: do you really think a nickname like “The Bulin Wall,” donned on a RUSSIAN player would have passed in the 1980’s? What about the 1950’s, during the era of McCarthyism and the intense US hatred of Russians? Not likely, and that’s another good reason the Cold War is over. Players from Russia and the Soviet territories could finally come to North America and the NHL now had better relations with the Eastern European market. Nikolai Khabibulin’s nickname both reflects his play (yeah, he’s wall-like with his goaltending abilities, ha-ha-ha), but the fact that it plays on where he comes from, and that fact that it never would have flown in the world of old-time hockey, makes it that much better.

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17 Comments

  1. Great idea for a top ten, but not a great list. Some of the comments here are right on the mark. My own contribution – “Red Light” Racicot.

  2. Jonathan Halpern says:

    I’m curious how the Russian Rocket made the list, but not the original Rocket. And how about “Boom Boom”?

  3. Excellent article, Mike!

  4. Mike Moore says:

    Since you rated “Mr. Hockey” so high, I’m surprised you omitted “Mr. Goalie” (Glenn Hall)

    The best and most significant nickname ever was Bobby Hull’s “The Golden Jet.” A whole franchise was nicknamed after him. When Hull signed his whopping WHA contract in 1972, Winnipeg called its team the Jets as a tribute to Bobby Hull. The nic’s legacy continued when Bobby’s son Brett was nicknamed “The Golden Brett”

  5. Mike Kamrowski says:

    Also, thank you Evan for the heads up about Hasek’s two Cup wins- I don’t know why the ’08 one slipped my mind

  6. Mike Kamrowski says:

    Man, I really pushed some buttons with this article! I don’t know, I’m sure I could have added a lot more and changed it up (Super Mario, which I’m surprised no one mentioned) but after looking at all the various Top-10 NHL Nickname lists on the web, I decided to change it up. Plus, I’m relatively young, so I figured I’d stick with the ones I know and love.

    I’m glad everyone seemed to like it though, or at least had a comment

  7. Pretty lame list. I would rather the names selected were: a) original, and b) not modifications of their names.

    That would leave out everyone on the above list save for Mr. Hockey. (You could make the case for “The Great One”. This was developed, yes, because of the stature of the player; However, it was also because of the similarity of the word “great” and the name “Gretzky”. )

    The “Russian Rocket” was obviously an homage to an even greater hockey nickname, while AK-27 is merely a guy’s initials matched with his sweater number. Tres originale.

    Where, as the first commenter asked, is “The Roadrunner”? How about the “Chicoutimi Cucumber”? Emile “the Cat” Francis? “The Golden Jet”? “Toe” Blake? Dave “The Hammer” Schultz? “Boom Boom” Geoffrion? Hey, I know … how about “Rocket”? So what if these are names of a bygone era? They should be remembered so as to remind sportswriters (Hockey Writers) that at one point originality in nicknames helped build legends.

    There many be other nicknames not be as well known, but probably at least as good, if not better, than most of that list. One that comes to mind is Stephane “Sandbox” Yelle (becaue he’s ‘all grit’). Jamie McLennan was known as “Noodles”. Great name for a goofy goalie.

    C’mon guy. Put some thought in a list like this.

  8. Really? I think you missed a couple classic enforcer names.
    Dave “Cement Head” Semenko.
    Tie “The Albanian Assasin” Domi.
    Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson
    and my all time favorite, though a short lived career “The Missing Link” Gaetz.

  9. “[D]o you really think a nickname like “The Bulin Wall,” donned on a RUSSIAN player would have passed in… the 1950’s, during the era of McCarthyism and the intense US hatred of Russians? ”

    Er, no – since the Berlin Wall wasn’t built until 1961.

    And I’m pretty sure Belfour was named after this guy:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_%22The_Eagle%22_Edwards

  10. Hasek has two cups on his resume. 2002, and 2008 with Detroit.

  11. I remember hearing “The Bulin Wall” being coined during Winnipeg’s final playoff run in ’96 vs. Detroit, and watching him post 51 saves (if my memory doesn’t fail me) in one of the Jets’ victories over the Wings in that series….good times.

    The nickname I’m partial to is “The Little Ball of Hate”, aka Pat Verbeek.

  12. Favorite player growning up was Ed “JovoCop” Jovanovski. I know he’s still playing, but his early days run to the Cup with Florida was awesome. Him going toe to toe with Eric Lindros in the Flyers series is one of my favorite hockey memories (mostly because the Panthers haven’t really provided too many others).

  13. Favorite player growning up was Ed “JovoCop” Jovanovski. I know he’s still playing, but his early days run to the Cup with Florida was awesome. Him going toe to toe with Eric Lindros in the Flyers series is one of my favorite hockey memories (mostly because the Panthers haven’t really provided too many others).

  14. I’m partial to The Roadrunner myself…for those too young to know – lookup Yvon Cournoyer, terrific player, fast as crazy and a real gentleman.

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