Nicknames in hockey are as much a part of the game as galvanized rubber and the Stanley Cup. As soon as you become a hockey player, the first thing that changes is the name people refer to you by. Most of the time the nickname that is given is some sort of variation of the actual name itself. For example, if your name is Doug Stewart, you might be called “Stewy”. If your name is Lawrence Ramsey, you might become “Rammer”. Adding a “Y” or an “ER” at the end of the name is standard operating procedure for deriving nicknames in hockey.
Other times, nicknames will have some form of a meaning or might describe a situation or attribute associated with the player. For example, I played with a guy, Mike Grenzy, who we used to call “Putters”. Grenzy was a big defenseman out of Buffalo, NY who was a Chicago Blackhawks pick. Grenzy had a specific attribute that spawned the nickname “Putters”. He had extremely skinny legs with virtually no calves. It literally looked like there were two golf putters hanging out of the bottom of his shorts. One of the guys barked out one day while pointing at his legs, “Hey Grenz, isn’t it illegal to carry two putters in the bag?” We all erupted in laughter and from that day on, Mike Grenzy became “Putters”.
Over the years there have been some famous nicknames that carry a meaning. In boxing it’s extremely common. There is “Iron” Mike Tyson, Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield, and “Sugar” Ray Robinson. In basketball there is “Dr. J” Julius Irving and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and in baseball we have seen Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson, Herman “Babe” Ruth, and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
Hockey, has also had its fair share of publicized nicknames. There is “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe and a slew of others including some unique ones like Doug “Killer” Gilmour. Now looking at Gilmour’s stature, you may think this is an odd nickname for such a diminutive player. As revealed by Theo Fleury in his book “Playing with Fire”, the nickname “Killer” was given to Gilmour by a teammate who stated, “Dougie looks like that killer, Charlie Manson.” So ever since then, Gilmour’s nickname was “Killer” and it eventually became a publicly used nickname.
Other nicknames that I’ve encountered in hockey over the years include playful monikers such as “Boobs” which was a nickname we gave a teammate due to the fact that he liked girls that had big boobs. Another nickname we came up with for a teammate was “Creep” due to the fact that when we’d go to a bar and have a few pops, the more he drank the droopier his eyes would get and he’d start moving in to talk to girls, appearing to have a creepy look about him.
In junior we had a kid on our team that used to get absolutely nailed every game. We’re talking massive open ice hits. We ended up calling him “Bump” which was a short form for “Speed Bump” because one guy said, “He get’s run over more times than a speed bump at the mall on boxing day.” In college I played with a guy named Jeff Genovy who was a highly regarded prospect and top pick by Columbus. Genovy had red hair and resembled the character named “Animal” from kids show, “The Muppets”. So Jeff soon became “Animal”.
Nicknames aren’t always given to teammates. One year when I played in Augusta, we drew the South Carolina Stingrays, an affiliate of the Washington Capitals, in the first round of the playoffs. To prepare for the series, our coach Bob Ferguson posted their entire lineup on a large whiteboard, complete with each player’s tendencies and our keys to success. For example, it might have said:
“Travis Morin, Centre. Morin is highly skilled and will quietly slip in and out of open scoring areas. Make sure to be aware of where he is in our end at all times and finish every check on him hard.”
As the series went on, guys would go up to the board and alter player’s names and the descriptions. The aforementioned example of Morin might now read:
“Travis MORON, Pussy. MORON is extremely soft and likes to quietly slip in and out of women’s clothes in the middle of the night when nobody is watching. Make sure not to break the eggs in his pockets when you play against him.”
In that series we gave one guy the nickname “Tomato Head”, due to the fact that he was clearly on steroids and would turn beat red when you’d chirp him or try and get under his skin. Giving the opposing players nicknames was a way to add to the chirping that constantly flows on the ice. It’s just another way to try and get under the opponent’s skin and gain any bit of competitive edge that you can.
Nicknames are just another slice of the hockey culture. It’s a way to foster camaraderie and to make personal connections with your teammates. When you’re part of a team, you’re part of a family. A nickname is just a way for your family to make you their own.