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Hockey nicknames have become generic

Chewy? Really?

Paul Szczechura was a dilemma for Western Michigan's coaching staff. Just like always. Not where he'd play or how he'd fit in.

"Nobody could say my last name," he said shrugging.

"Szczechura" (pronounced Sha-hurra) offered little in the way of truncation and didn't fit in the normal template of hockey nickname-making, as in add a "y," "ly," or "zy." "Pauly" didn't quite ring, and "Paulzy" sounds sort of sickly.

So an assistant coach improvised. And ''Chewy'' lives, now attached to the rookie center and one of the rare exceptions to the nickname norm in the Lightning locker room.

The era of the grandiose hockey nickname, as is the case in most sports, has passed. Gone are the eloquent times and prose when players and journalists concocted gems such as Carson "Shovel Shot" Cooper, Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, Maurice "The Rocket" Richard, Bobby "The Golden Jet" Hull, Ken "The Rat" Linseman and Alf "The Embalmer" Pike.

Even into the 1980s, there was "Super Mario" Lemieux, and Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky.

A few, such as Bulin Wall (former Lightning and current Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin) sprout. But the taglines for the next generation seem more contrived by marketing firms eyeing personal services deals than by half-cocked players or coaches cavorting with the boys and celebrating a lifestyle lived hard and fast.

"Sid the Kid" Crosby? Alexander "The Great" Ovechkin?

No charm. No style.

"I think that was more of the style back then," Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos said. "I guess now the abbreviation of the last name just seems to be the easiest thing to remember.

"Obviously, those nicknames come in time. Wayne Gretzky, I'm sure that wasn't his nickname from the beginning. He got it as he played on and became the greatest player in the world. I guess it just evolves."

So players and fans are stuck with workaday monikers like those spoken in the Lightning locker room.

There's Emmy (Steve Eminger) and Range (Paul Ranger), Smitty (Mike Smith) and Arty (Evgeny Artyukhin) and so on and so forth. Stamkos is Stammer, just like his father, Chris. Mark Recchi goes by ''Reccs," though he has at least one unrevealed nickname.

The team's most iconic players — Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis — offer little in terms of nickname fodder because the abbreviated versions of their first names end in 'y' anyway.

Unique among the Lightning is Ryan Malone, who has been "Bugsy" since he first picked up a stick because his father, former NHL player and Lightning scout Greg, carried the same tag. He earned the nickname alone in 2003 at age 22 when he earned a spot on the Penguins roster.

"My dad had it when he played (for the Penguins), so I was always 'Little Bugsy' in the locker room," he said. "When I made the team, everyone started calling me 'Bugsy.' "

Stamkos, too, inherited his nickname when his talent and reputation eclipsed his father. Chris Stamkos played three seasons at Centennial College in Canada and was ''Stammer'' until his son became a top junior player.

"It started off Stammer Jr.," Stamkos said. "As I got older, just Stammer."

Many players have lesser known nicknames, products of some experience or idiosyncrasy closely held within the fraternity of players. Jeff Halpern is "Bob," "Booger" or "Pig Pen" to former Capitals teammates, though he doesn't elaborate on why.

"And you've got 'Emmy,' " he said, referring to the Lightning defenseman. "But he's Jorge or Sanchez, and so all those guys have a few other nicknames, too."

If you don't like it?

"Sometimes, it's just too bad," Malone said laughing and leaning over to involve Recchi in the conversation. "Reccs has one. They call him 'Knuckles.' He doesn't like that one."

Brant James can be reached at brant @sptimes.com.

Hockey nicknames have become generic 01/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 10:55pm]
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