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Where are those Maple Leaf nicknames? When classic nicknames added color to the game

I admit I have a penchant for thinking a lot (too much, maybe) about hockey’s old days. But hey, at my time in life, I guess that’s OK.

The past couple of days I’ve been thinking about modern-era hockey nicknames, and where the Maple Leafs, and other NHL teams, fit in that picture.  Other than shortening a guy’s name, I’m not sure how many of the current Leafs have much in the way of a nicknames that stands out as interesting or distinctive.

Of the guys who have been around at least a bit—Bozak, Phaneuf, Kulemin, Beauchemin, Komisarek, etc.— I may be missing the obvious but I’m not calling to mind anything out of the ordinary.

Giguerre is Jiggy or Giggy, I guess, but again, that’s just shortening the name, like “Kabby” with Tomas Kaberle.  No real ingenuity there, right?

Nowadays, with thirty teams, there may be some interesting names out there, but if there are I’m largely unaware of most of them.  As are, I suspect, quite a number of those who don’t follow all thirty teams as closely as we could when there were a lot less teams.

When I was a kid growing up in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the game had way fewer players (with six and then twelve teams after 1967) and naturally, we knew them all—even before the days of 24-hour sports talk radio and the internet.  Some were natural characters who earned a certain reputation, some carried a “second name” around with them from the time they were a kid.  Others just picked up a nickname along the way that stuck.
Who was the man who led the Maple Leafs to those four Stanley Cups in the ‘60s?  Not George Imlach—it was good old “Punch” (see photo at left).  Punch became an icon in Toronto, as he built the Leafs from the also-rans they had been in the mid-‘50s to Cup champions a few years later.  Not liked by all his players, to be sure, he nonetheless helped brings championships to Toronto, just like another Leaf legend and coach, “Hap” Day, before him.

Imlach coached Johnny Bower, the “The China Wall”.  George Armstrong was “The Chief”.  Allan Stanley was “Snowshoes”.  Bobby Baun was “Boomer”.  If I’m not mistaken (old fans can help me out here!) Billy Harris was “Slinky”, or something along those lines.
Elsewhere, Montreal of course had Maurice “Rocket” Richard, and his younger brother, Henri Richard.  Henri was often simply called “The Pocket Rocket”— even during a game by broadcasters like the legendary Danny Gallivan.  Montreal captain Emile Bouchard was much better known to 1950s hockey fans as “Butch”.  Bernie Geoffrion (pictured at right), the rugged Hab winger who is often credited with “inventing” the slapshot, was an all-time great, only the second man in history to score 50 goals in a single season.  More often than not, he was known simply as “Boom-Boom” Geoffrion.

New York had a tiny but slippery forward named Camille “The Eel” Henry.  Chicago’s record-setting Bobby Hull was “The Golden Jet”, with his blond hair, blazing shot and blazing speed.  (The best we could do in later years with his talented scoring son  was “The Golden Brett”…c’mon).  Detroit’s Hall-of-Famer Alex Delvecchio, not exactly a modern-day triathlete in terms of his physical conditioning, was always “Fats” to his teammates in those golden days.  Teammate Ted Lindsay, the man of a thousand stitches, was “Scarface” or “Terrible Ted”.
Few knew Ranger goaltender “Gump” Worsley’s name was actually Lorne, unless you had one of his trading cards (see photo at left). He later helped Montreal win four Stanley Cups in the 1960s, but he was always “Gump”.  Going way back, goalie Frankie Brimsek was “Mr. Zero” in the 1940s.  And look up “Dit” Clapper of the 1930s/’40s Boston Bruins.  That surely wasn’t the name his parents gave him.

Even into the 1970s, Boston’s edgy Derek Sanderson was widely known as “Turk”.  Even coaches and executives, like Emile Francis in New York (known as “The Cat”— dating back to his goaltending days) had nicknames that helped identify them.  Just as, if you said “Punch” in and around the hockey world, people knew who you were talking about. 

And did anyone ever call Montreal’s all-time Hall-of-Fame great player and coach Hector Blake?  It was always “Toe” (Blake, a one-time linemate of Rocket Richard, is pictured at right).

 I know Wayne Gretzky was called “The Great One”, but that never really did it for me, and in truth it was more a designation (like Gordie Howe being called “Mr. Hockey” in later life) than a true nick-name used by teammates, media, and fans alike.

It’s just one of those things I miss.  The old names brought color to the game.  Long-time Red Wing defensemen (and later Maple Leaf Cup winner and coach) "Red" Kelly was almost never referred to as Leonard, which was his given name.  Maybe we just don’t need that kind colorful stuff in the game nowadays. “Sid the Kid” is OK as names go.  But while I have no doubt today’s player—all superbly conditioned, and incredibly well-compensated—love the game as much as the guys in the olds days, it was just different back then.  We all understand that hockey is a huge business these days, as are all sports— even at the college level.

But I suppose that’s why guys like me, every once in a while, like to step back and just remember the simpler days in sports.

If an old time sports figure like, say, baseball great George Herman Ruth were here, he’d probably understand.

I mean “the Babe”.


  1. We are the fans and being such does that not allow us to nick name them based on how we fans perceive them. I mean we don't have to use the names they pick, it not the way it works.

  2. Thanks for the comment. The post was intended to bring up some great old nicknames of the past and that we don't seem to have as much of that in the modern era. I should have included "Turk" Broda, Brian "Spinner" Spencer, "Cowboy" Bill Flett, Dave "Tiger" Williams and others with famous nicnames who played for the Leafs. You are absolutely right, it's not the fans that generally create these names. Most often a teammate, family, etc.