NHL: Hockey's 10 Best Line Nicknames of All Time
The adage is as clichéd as it is true, especially in hockey: Individuals sell tickets, teams win games.
A good, productive and identifiable forward line is one way to create a happy medium on those fronts. It simultaneously satisfies a team’s wish to keep the “I” out of team and a fan’s appetite for a side dish of key names on the back to go with the crest on the front they already root for.
If a threesome of forwards can work together to fill up the scoresheet on a regular basis, they reward their team with results and themselves with added publicity. This is especially so if and when they stay together long enough to acquire a catchy nickname.
In today’s game, the lifespan of a consistent, attention-grabbing forward line tends to be even shorter than that of a head coach who is not elevating a franchise’s standards. Nonetheless, there sits an abundance of both legendary and contemporary combinations of forwards who have cemented their joint position in a given team’s lore.
Whether it’s homage to an integral part of the team’s locality (e.g. Detroit Red Wings “Production Line”) or a witty, colorful pop culture reference (e.g. Philadelphia Flyers “Legion of Doom”) a nickname shared among three scorers is a joint ticket to hockey immortality.
The lines garnering the 10 best all-time nicknames, in chronological order, are as follows:
Punch Line: Toe Blake, Elmer Lach, Maurice Richard
There’s a reason why Toe Blake is referenced at least once in all three Slap Shot movies. He and his famed Montreal Canadiens linemates epitomized “Old Time Hockey” with all of the results and none of the “showbiz crap” of the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers.
Although he is best-remembered for coaching the Habs to their unparalleled five-year championship dynasty between 1956 and 1960, Blake also had a fulfilling playing career.
And together with the “Rocket” and Elmer Lach, Blake packed a savory share of punch in both the physical and figurative sense. For three consecutive seasons (1943-46), they were each of Montreal’s top three point-getters. And Richard and Lach, in particular, were never outside the upper echelon among the team’s penalty-minute leaders.
As a unit, the three piloted the Canadiens as the starting line for five years in the mid-1940s, winning two Stanley Cups along the way.
Uke Line: Johnny Bucyk, Vic Stasiuk, Bronco Horvath
Some 50 years before “Youuuuk!” became the way of greeting and acclaiming Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis, the shorthand phrase had a different spelling and different meaning to the Boston sports fan base.
In 1957, the Bruins acquired a young Johnny Bucyk from the Detroit Red Wings and placed him on a line with Vic Stasiuk, with whom he shared common Ukrainian roots. Although the line’s third constituent, Bronco Horvath, was of Hungarian descent, the “Uke Line” moniker came to fruition as the trinity played together for four seasons.
In that four-year span, Bucyk scored 80 goals and 203 points, Stasiuk pitched in 68 goals and 204 points and Horvath nailed 103 goals and 215 points.
GAG Line: Rod Gilbert, Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle
For nearly a decade spanning between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s, these three consistently pitched in to the New York Rangers offensive cause. Their time on Broadway peaked in the 1971-72 season, when they each scored 40-plus goals when none of their teammates etched any more than 24.
The fact that the 1972 Rangers finished second only to Bobby Orr’s Bruins in both the regular-season standings and the Stanley Cup tournament is owed all but exclusively to what was soon dubbed the “Goal-a-Game” line.
Although, the GAG acronym was also suitable considering the sense of nausea Gilbert, Hadfield and Ratelle must have instilled to opposing fans when they went on the offensive.
French Connection: Rick Martin, Gilbert Perrault, Rene Robert
Just one of many well-used pop culture references in this department.
A 1971 Gene Hackman movie inspired the name for this all-Quebecois troika that piloted the Buffalo Sabres offense from about 1972 to 1979.
During their first year as an alliance, Perrault, Robert and Martin placed first, second and third on the Buffalo scoring charts. They would similarly finish in each of the team’s top three slots in both 1974-75 and 1975-76. And only in their seventh and final season together would any of them finish lower than fifth among team point-getters.
Coneheads: John Harrington, Mark Pavelich, Buzz Schneider
Their stats were not quite outstandingly radiant when they helped the 1980 U.S. Olympians to their famed victory in Lake Placid. Over the course of the Games and the six-month tune-up tour, three of their teammates accumulated more goals than Schneider’s 27 and four logged more points than Pavelich’s 52.
With that being said, the chemistry of the three Minnesota Iron Rangers was invaluable to Herb Brooks’ meticulously structured roster, as was well-documented in the 2004 flick, Miracle.
Perhaps equally critical, and equally documented, was the way they kept their teammates loose with their inadvertently amusing personalities. That was what earned them the immortalizing nickname “Coneheads” after a contemporary Saturday Night Live sketch.
Crazy Eights: Brent Fedyk, Eric Lindros, Mark Recchi
Lindros may have gained more notoriety later for teaming up with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg on the Legion of Doom. But when No. 88 teamed up with No. 8 (Recchi) and No. 18 (Fedyk) in the early 1990s, there was a rare opportunity to reference a common thread between the players’ digits and stress the havoc they wreaked on the scoresheets and the state in which they left observers.
Recchi played only two full seasons in Philadelphia, but he made the most of it with a career-high 50 goals and 123 points in 1992-93, followed by a 40-67-107 campaign in 1993-94—numbers he never duplicated again.
During the same period, Lindros broke the 40-goal plateau in consecutive years, despite missing 42 out of 168 games. Fedyk’s numbers were comparatively thin, but he still had a respectable 20-goal season in both 1992-93 and 1993-94.
Swedish Connection: Markus Naslund, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin
Was this nickname just a takeoff of Buffalo’s “French Connection?” Possibly, but who cares?
If anything, the fact that Vancouver fans embraced a whole line of Swedes, especially less than a decade after their country lost the Olympic gold medal to Sweden, shows encouraging open-mindedness.
Too bad Don Cherry can’t grow up and accept that other countries contribute to the world of hockey and that people of all nationalities are teammates in the human race.
Pizza Line: Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza
Also known as the CASH Line, this trinity of Ottawa Senators earned its other nickname when its regular productivity continuously activated an in-game promotion at ScotiaBank Place.
In the 2005-06 season and again during the team’s run to the Eastern Conference crown in 2007, all attending fans received a free slice from a local pizza chain when the Senators scored at least five goals in a home game.
That would happen 10 times out of 41 regular-season home dates in 2005-06 and five more the next season. Guess which three players were Ottawa’s top three scorers in each of those years?
Monty Babcock’s Flying Circus: Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg
Before there was Saturday Night Live, there was Monty Python, which set the precedent for sketch comedy and eventually passed the torch to Lorne Michaels and Co.
And if there’s anything a bona-fide hockey geek should file under one’s outside interests, it’s classic British comedy. Plenty of Detroit Red Wings fans proved to fit that precise description in 2007 when they voted on the name for head coach Mike Babcock’s top offensive troika.
ZZ Pops: Jamie Langenbrunner, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac
While the long-lasting line may be a critically endangered species, some recent units have still had time to formulate memorable monikers. The New Jersey Devils did just that three seasons ago with fresh faces Zach Parise and Travis Zajac linking up with the veteran Jamie Langenbrunner.
With Langenbrunner being nine years older than Parise and 10 years older than Zajac, the two Zs combined with the veteran to form a pun on the band ZZ Top. But when they played together in 2008-09, age was the only noticeable difference.
Langenbrunner was the only one of the three to miss a single game that year and placed third on New Jersey’s scoring chart with 29 goals and 69 points. Zajac was No. 4 in that department with 20 goals and 62 points while Parise led the whole pack with 45 strikes and 94 points.