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.
#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
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.