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Where Have All The Nicknames Gone?

by Staff Writer / Vancouver Canucks


Nicknames are like bad habits: everybody has a few.

Josh Green is named after a well-known comedian. Willie Mitchell has one of his long-standing nicknames printed on his sticks. Ryan Kesler earned his handle two years ago after throwing a hit in practice.

Hockey locker rooms have always been fertile ground for the name slinging and the Canucks' is no different.

Just like bad habits, players are reluctant to air their nicknames in a public forum, and the really good ones almost never get beyond the locker room door.

Back in the early days nicknames were the norm and NHL rosters were fleshed out with players like 'Toots,' 'Mush,' and 'Taffy'. Nowadays they're more of a secret language between teammates - like a membership badge to an exclusive club.

"A lot of them are kind of on the inside," explains Norm Jewison, Canucks alumni liaison and the team's unofficial nickname etymologist.

He's been with the team since the 70's and has heard them all - 'Bones', 'Strangler, and 'Hooter,' to name a few. Jewison says the really popular names - like 'The Russian Rocket' and 'The Steamer' - were never used by the players themselves.

"It's like everybody is trying to look for a name of the line for the three Swedes," he explains, "a lot of those names are media created."

That's not to say all the good names stay inside the rink. Big Jim Sandlak had a moniker with legs. Every kid with fistful of hockey cards in the late 80's knew 'The House'.

"That was created when he was here," says Jewison. "He was a huge guy and he used to eat more food than anyone had ever seen."

"I remember one time at the Pacific Coliseum we did a Christmas practice and all the players were given vouchers for free hot dogs from the vendors upstairs. I remember giving Jim Sandlak six vouchers and he used them all. That's how he came to be known as House."

Though those names are more the exception than the rule.

"It was the same with Garth Butcher who was known as 'Strangler', because of the way he used to fight. He used to sort of grope people and win a fight by strangling rather than punching."

The current crop of Canucks has their own nicknames, and like their predecessors, they don't spread them around much. You're either on the inside, or you have to do some serious spadework to pry one out into the open. Sure, there are the generic ones like Kessy and Nazzy, but those don't count. The good one's have roots in the good-humoured banter that happens in hotel lobbies and inside team charters.

"If you give a nickname it's got to be something all the guys are going to laugh at," explains defenceman Kevin Bieksa, "otherwise you're just embarrassing yourself. If somebody gives a guy a bad name, they're going to hear about it."

Take Tyler Bouck for example. Bieksa has a special name for his former Manitoba Moose teammate.

"He's 'Cement Head'," says Bieksa, "at least that's what I call him. But he calls me that too"

According to Moose alumni Josh Green, the 'Cement Head' nickname is a popular one.

"We all call them both Cement Head," says Green, still peeling shoulder pads off after a mid-morning practice. "It's because they've got these really big square heads and there's not much in there."

Though calling Bieksa 'Cement Head' is like calling bald guy 'Curly', the former Bowling Green graduate was an All-Academic Honorable Mention back in his college (he had a 3.42 GPA in finance).

Green's immune from the 'Cement Head' tag because he's got a better one: the guys call him 'Anchorman.'

"It's because he looks like Will Farrell," says Bieksa.

And while 'Anchorman' isn't a bad name, Green insists it's far from the best handle in the room. Those only come around so often and they're the one's that stick for a season or two.

"Those ones roll off the tongue pretty easily and they have to have a good story behind them," explains Green.

Take Mitchell's name for instance: 'Bill Pickle'.

"I got that in Minnesota," says Mitchell. "Andrew Brunette can take credit for that one."

As the story goes, Nick Schultz, Mitchell's former teammate in Minnesota, would call him Bill (short for William).

"He'd say what's up Bill? And Andrew Brunette's pretty on top of things as far as reading the media guides and finding out personal stuff about people, and he read that I like dill pickle chips, my favourite food. So one day he just said, 'Hey old Bill Pickle,' because of dill pickle chips, and it just kind of stuck."

So hard in fact it followed him all the way to Vancouver, though having a buddy at the Mission factory stamp 'Pickle' on his sticks likely helped the transition.

Getting Mitchell to dish details on some of the names he doled out is like peeling a watermelon--impossible.

"I'm new here," he says. "I'm just running with everyone else's names."

In some cases Mitchell's defence holds water. Kesler got his nickname 'Bull' long before Mitchell started splashing handles around the team bus.

"It got it a couple of years ago in practice," says Kesler. "[Todd Bertuzzi] gave it to me. I think he was wearing a red jersey or something and I hit him. That was the only time I ever hit him I think. It just stuck after that."

Not all the names come from inside.

Sami Salo insists he doesn't have a specific name amongst his teammates, though his friends called him 'Salpa' growing up. Now he's known as 'valkoinen viikinki' - at least that's what the Fins call him.

"It means White Viking when you translate that into English," explains Salo. "I don't know if you want me to say it in Finnish because you won't get it."

Not surprisingly it hasn't caught on.

Trevor Linden calls him 'Sam' instead.

"With the European guys, I like to North Americanize them," he says. "So with Nazzy, I'll call him Mark. I call Mattias, Mat. I try to stay away from the 'Z' thing, you know, Nazzy, and Kessy."

'Sam' is a far cry from 'Pickle,' or 'Anchorman,' but it's loads better than Salzy.

And thankfully nobody's made a bad habit of calling him that.

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