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The Great Nickname Debate

I don’t always agree with what Brian Burke has to say. However, on this we agree: “Hockey players do everything that other professional sports have to do, and they do it with skates on”. Burke nailed it on that one, weighing in on which sport was more difficult to play and excel at.

Just the other night, against the Montreal Canadiens, Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks scored what is known now as a Michigan goal. If you don’t know what that is, it involved cradling the puck with your stick in mid-air below the shoulder threshold for high sticking and putting the puck in the top of the net.

Earlier this season, the same Trevor Zegras stood in Wayne Gretzky’s old office behind the net and flipped the puck directly over the net and one of his teammates batted the puck out of mid-air past the goalie while not high sticking the puck.

Who could forget Alexander Ovechkin’s goal from his back while beating both defensemen against the then Phoenix Coyotes?

Every team, including the Ottawa Senators, has a highlight reel of top 10 goals scored that required not only great skill but great imagination at the highest speeds.

The question then begs asking. Why do these players which such great skills and imaginations have exactly ZERO imagination when it comes to assigning nicknames to their teammates?

Whenever players are referring to their comrades during interviews between periods and in post games scrums, it’s always the same old derivative of someone’s last name. Of course, no name ever got more use/abuse than our beloved Daniel Alfredsson. I am a card-carrying member of the Church of Alfie and proud to say it. I am proud to say I wrote an article campaigning to get him into the Hall of Fame. I am also proud to say that I have never referred to him by that name in a text, Facebook post or Tweet. Maybe that makes me a prude, but I also have never used LOL, ROFL, LMAO etc. in any email or text message. It feels lazy and that’s the way I feel about today’s nicknames in the NHL. I feel like the players, media and even the fans have gotten lazy in assigning nicknames.

Does this matter in terms of winning and losing hockey games? Of course, it doesn’t. However, in terms of marketing players to the fans, perhaps I am the only person that sees a huge opportunity for sponsorships and merchandise. Every player should want a nickname and one that could follow them from team to team and become a calling card that their agents could use to market their clients.

Ever since the Syracuse Bulldogs lineup was announced in the championship game of the movie Slapshot, there hasn’t been a decent nickname since that has been used with any regularity in the NHL vernacular. In Ottawa, the closest thing that comes to mind is the Big Rig referring to Chris Phillips. Did you ever hear a player refer to him by that name in the media or a play-by-play announcer call him by that name? Nor did I and he had a chain of restaurants by that name.

Andrew Hammond was the Hamburglar when he was on his run in 2015. However, when his play dropped off, he quickly became Andrew Hammond the following season.

Even during his August 8, 1988 press conference after being traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles, Wayne Gretzky wiped a tear from his eye and said “I promised Mess I wouldn’t do this”. Of course, he was referring Mark Messier. I have even heard that Mark Messier had the nickname Moose which, to me, is a fantastic name that had alliteration going for it and fit perfectly to its subject.

I finally hit the wall when I watched Austin Watson giving an intermission interview naked from the waist up, littered in tattoos, missing 4 teeth from his front upper bridge referring to Dylan Gambrell as Gamby! All right, that cuts it right there. No one looking so imposing and menacing should be all right with such a Scooby Doo reference to his teammate. For that matter, Gambrell shouldn’t be comfortable with that name either.

My theory as to why it has deteriorated into this is likely for political correctness reasons. The Syracuse Bulldogs lineup had colourful nicknames to be sure. In a couple of cases, a little too much colour. That said, if you use a derivative of the person’s last name when referring to them, it does seem to be the only safe way to not offend anyone.

I understand this sentiment with professional sports team names now being called into question for crossing racial boundaries. The Washington Football team, Cleveland Guardians and Edmonton Elks have recently abandoned long held team nicknames under public pressure and scrutiny. One can only wonder when the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Blackhawks will follow suit.

That said, I think we can find a middle ground to avoid stepping in political doo-doo whilst not nauseating sports purists.

Let’s take a shot at a few names on the Senators' roster and see how we do. Keep in mind, I don’t know any of these guys. Surely with what they know about one another they could do better than this.

Let’s also keep in mind that making it less obvious who players are referring to on the ice might potentially confuse the opposition. When a teammate would yell, “Alfie!” to let him know he's open, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know who you’re referring to. The opposition could also use that nickname to get someone on the Senators to make a blind pass on faith thinking one of his own team is talking to him. Voices sound very similar with a mouthguard in place.

Drake Batherson – I don’t know what they call him, but it better not be “Bathy”. Though he is a dual citizen, he was raised in Nova Scotia, so why not SCHOONER or DONAIR? Nova Scotia is famous for those two products.

Nick Paul – Paulie isn’t awful but in reference to the Sopranos character and because he looks like he could have some Italian in him, perhaps WALNUTS?

Alex Formenton – Given the way he skates, FLASH FORMENTON or FLASH for short seems to make sense.

Tyler Ennis – We already traded him at the deadline once and we likely will again. If he isn’t nicknamed DEADLINE already, then he is now 😊

Austin Watson – He has no front teeth, multiple tattoos and apparently a small head. FANG, CHOPPER, OZZY or MELON. Take your pick. I like OZZY for the play on his name, the tattoos and Ozzy Osbourne myself.

Chris Tierney – He looks like a cross between the two hockey players on Letterkenny when he doesn’t have a beard. LETTERKENNY or JONESY?

Nick Holden – He is from St. Albert, AB. How about ALBERT or CHEESE?

Erik Brannstrom – Swedish born players can always go by their currency. How about JOFFREY? Without a beard, he looks like the evil King from Game of Thrones.

Adam Gaudette – He won the Hobey Baker award. HOBEY it is. Not rocket science.

Dylan Gambrell – In Edmonton, when Austin Watson’s helmet didn’t fit Josh Norris, it was Gambrell’s helmet that saved the day and Norris scored the game winning goal on the power play. Henceforth, he will be known as BUCKET.

Victor Mete – He is from Woodbridge, Ontario. How about WOODY?

Josh Brown – After his impressive bout with former Senator Buddy Robinson against Anaheim, and with respect to former enforcer Chris Nilan, I like the name KNUCKLES. He only has 16 penalty minutes this season. I think we all expected a little more pugilism from him.

Matt Murray – He is of Scottish heritage. How about WALLACE?

Filip Gustavsson – Gus the Bus has gained a lot of traction but I like KING – heir to the goaltending throne.

I don’t see any reason for anyone, players, media and fans alike, to take offense to those nicknames and Sens Nation could have some fun with this. Point being, this would help build a bond between fans and players and players and themselves. I had nicknames growing up. Never "Mags".

Let’s see the Sens up their game on and off the ice.

By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey


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