Considering the international flavor of the NHL, there is no other sports league in the world that can boast some of the most interesting and phonetically challenging names. With the melting pot of the United States and Canada, there have been literally hundreds of players with names that gave us pause.
Some players like Robin Big Snake, Wacey Rabbitt or Bear Trapp have a distinct native-North American flavor. Though they never got to skate in the NHL, their names alone would have been legendary.
The Eastern Europe and Russian influx of the late 1980's brought an assortment of players to the NHL. Never short on excessive consonants and syllables, players like Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, Sergei Krivokrasov and Valeri Zelepukin were an announcer's or spell-checker's nightmare.
Fun to watch but hard to say could be the take from a casual observer who only knows that hockey's Michael Jordan had a last name that ended in "-tzky". To me, it's another part of the sport that makes the game great. The names are almost as unique as the personalities that wear them on their backs.
The inherent toughness that is associated with the NHL can often be contradictory when you hear a players name. For every tough guy named Garth Butcher or Tony Twist there is a Jody Shelley or a Jordin Tootoo. You wouldn't want to tangle with any of those guys, but Shelley and Tootoo might have a little more of a chip on their shoulder to defend the name on their back.
The following list of names is hardly a list of goons that have played in the NHL, but they are still hockey players and still pretty tough customers. They also have the good fortune of a name that elicits a certain response or reaction that does not typically include fear and trepidation.
There are quite literally dozens and dozens more, but these are my favorites. Feel free to add yours in the comments section below. Enjoy now!
The French-Canadian players typically have the best, if not the least intimidating, hockey names. My personal favorite is Guillaume Latendresse with all due respect to Pierre-Luc Létourneau-Leblond or Marc Andre Fleury. Here's how you pronounce it.
There's nothing remotely tough or even "hockey-sounding" about Mike Smith. There is also nothing tough about Smith's acting job this past postseason. He had an incredible season and helped get the Coyotes get to the Western Conference Finals, but this incident with the Blackhawks and another episode against the Kings have Smith looking like a soccer player.
Insert random pot jokes here. Kind of funny and ironic that the picture of him is in the middle of a fight. Of course there weren't any pictures of him chilling on a couch eating Doritos watching Family Guy re-runs, so that will have to do.
Given the style of play from Vernon Fiddler, pesky and annoying, I found his name to be a touch ironic. Add to that, Fiddler played his first six seasons in Nashville, home of another famous fiddler, Charlie Daniels.
Cal Clutterbuck is known for his creativity with facial hair growing, his throwback hairstyle(s) and for crashing into anyone and everyone on the ice. He's a spark plug and fan favorite in Minnesota. With the Islanders' Matt Martin breaking Cal's record for hits last year, will Clutterbuck amp up his hitting? We hope so!
Quite possibly the most awesome name in the NHL right now. First you take an already amazing name like "Kirk", then throw "Shatten" on the front or back of it. It works either way. Say it out loud. You're welcome.
I can't figure out if Justin Abdelkader's name reminds me more of applicator, alligator or some sort of laminating device. "Abdel kader" also happens to be an Algerian traditional song by the artist Khaled.
The music doesn't inspire me to play fourth line hockey the way Abdelkader does, but I don't understand the lyrics either.
Lance Pitlick doesn't have any Algerian songs bearing his name, but he was a journeyman defenseman who played parts of eight NHL seasons with three different teams. I'm not sure what to make of his name, but I guess if you attach "-lick" to anyone's name it sounds a lot less rugged.
One of the greatest names ever, and the only person I've ever heard of named Zarley until the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted a kid named Zarley Zalewski in the 40th round of the MLB draft.
Zalapski had some pretty impressive years with the Penguins and Hartford Whalers before heading off to Europe to finish his career. Zalewski is a switch-hitting third baseman with a good bat speed who doesn't run well. He'll attend Kent State this fall. Zalewski, that is.
A trip back in time brings us Hall of Famer Bill Quackenbush. His most impressive accomplishment during his playing days was going 131 games without being assessed a penalty. He was the first defenseman to be awarded the Lady Byng trophy for his "gentlemanly play."
His general manager Jack Adams hated the award so much that he traded Quackenbush to the Bruins because he didn't want a player like that on his team.
I half expected Bonk's last name to be outlined with a cartoon-style frame or at least have an exclamation point at the end. BONK! The third overall pick of the Ottawa Senators in 1994, Bonk hardly lived up to his name and was often criticized for his less-than-physical play.
Close your eyes and say the name Pokey Reddick. Children's cartoon character? I thought so. His given name was Eldon and his father gave him the nickname "Pokey" for his lackadaisical movements around the house. Sounds like the kind of guy you'd want in goal, right?
Coincidentally, Reddick holds the NHL record for most games played by an NHL goalie without ever recording a shutout.
With another name that conjures up images of children's characters or some type of sorcerer, Merlin Malinowski had a brief career in the NHL playing for the Colorado Rockies, Hartford Whalers and New Jersey Devils.
He also holds the distinction of being one of two professional athletes named Merlin (the other being Merlin Olsen of the NFL).
With a name that is far more impressive than his NHL career, Ron Tugnutt's name should always be said with a wink. I had to get a picture of him in the sweet Nordiques jersey where Tugnutt began his career. His most significant NHL moment came in the 2000 playoffs when he made 70 saves in a 152-minute playoff loss to the Flyers.
When Ziggy Palffy came into the league I called him "Baby Jagr" because they were both Czechs, had sweet mullets and were pretty magical with the puck. Shoulder injuries limited Palffy's career and he retired from the NHL because of them.
His name conjures up images of a revered scientist more than an Czech sniper.
Kari Takko was once traded for Bruce Bell in the legendary "Takko-Bell trade." Check the link; I can't make this stuff up. Takko got a Stanley Cup ring as a result of his trade to the Edmonton Oilers, but retired when Grant Fuhr returned from his cocaine exile.
All right, I know it's childish, but Antti Laaksonen sounds like a remedy for your gullet after a night of buffalo wings and draft beer. Playing for three teams in a seven year NHL career, Laaksonen played mostly as a third line winger and penalty killer.
With the name and the look of a cartoon villain, Gaston Gingras was a defenseman who shuffled between Toronto, Montreal and St. Louis in his 10 year career. When he wasn't tying damsels to railroad tracks G-squared had a decent career and played with some of the NHL's all-time greats.
Quite possibly the best name in any sport, Hakan Loob sounds like a Scandinavian water park ride.
"Hey after we go on the Torgenstrudel (fictional Scandinavian roller coaster) let's go on the Hakan Loob again. The lines shouldn't be as long after lunch!"
Great player, better name.