In life, we’re told, size matters. These guys didn’t get the memo. Packing a punch well above their weight, what these gentlemen lack in height, they make up for in heart, drive and pure, unadulterated talent.
In the post-lockout era, with the game now more reliant on speed, dexterity and skill as opposed to sheer brute strength, The Sportster is taking a look at our shorter hockey brethren. One illustration of this new trend is Nathan Gerbe (5'5") of the Hurricanes, currently the shortest player in the league, who set a franchise record in Buffalo after scoring two goals, five seconds apart. Today, speed trumps size.
Reaching back through the NHL history books, one comes across numerous players who never let the doubters and critics silence them. From “Boom Boom” Geoffrion to “The Pocket-Rocket”, these hockey legends may not have been able to ride certain roller coasters, but they certainly had some great up and down rides to the Cup. From “Shrimp” to “The Little Beaver”, they also had some of the NHL’s most colorful & evocative nicknames.
Fair or not, every NHL entry draft still sees undoubtedly talented young, short men drafted considerably lower due to their measurements. Martin St. Louis (5'8") is one the most well-known examples of this pattern, going undrafted before being picked up by the Calgary Flames after a brief stint in the International Hockey League with the Cleveland Lumberjacks. Thankfully, for St. Louis, that was the last time he would have to hear the word lumberjack associated with his career. Where will he end up on our list, if at all?
15 Bob “Boomer” Baun (5'9")
14 Pat “The Little Ball of Hate” Verbeek (5'9")
13 Paul “The Mighty Mouse” Kariya (5'10")
12 Yves “The Road Runner” Cournoyer (5'7")
11 11: Ron “Ronnie the Robot” Ellis (5'9")
10 Lorne “Gump” Worseley (5'7")
Nicknamed after the comic strip character Andy Gump, Worseley’s performances in net were anything but comical. A four-time Cup Winner and two-time Vezina Trophy recipient, Gump saved his comedy for the locker room. He was every reporter’s favourite player, ready to be quoted at all times. Asked about why he continued long past the age of normal retirement for goalies, he joked, “It beats carrying a lunchbox.” Can you imagine any goalie today standing at 5'7"?
9 Martin “The French Connection” St. Louis (5'9")
8 “Terrible” Ted Lindsay (5'8")
Terrible Ted joins the top ten for his rarity: one of the first naturally gifted scorers who also could hold his own in a bench-clearing brawl. Some go as far as to call the nine-time All-Star, “A small, powerful package [that] hadn't been seen in the National Hockey League before… and hasn't been seen since.” Lindsay also gets his due credit for diplomatically refusing to be present for his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1966, as the Hall refused to allow women to attend and Ted felt he had a duty to recognize the contributions of the women from his family. It was not a coincidence that the 1967 ceremony saw women permitted to attend for the first time.
7 Johnny “The China Wall” Bower (5'9")
6 Dave Keon (5'9")
Despite being the only player on this list without a legitimate nickname, Dave Keon’s talents can’t be encapsulated by a mere label. The winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy during the last Toronto Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup win in 1967, Keon was beloved by his teammates because he could “be the best player on the ice and the key to winning even in games he didn’t score.” Many players had more individual honours, but very few matched the pure talent of Keon.
5 Roy “Shrimp” Worters (5'3")
Coming in at number five, Shrimp has the distinction of being the shortest player in NHL history, though records of the NHL’s earliest seasons are somewhat hazy. Worters' stats will make some question his ranking - an abysmal .353 career winning percentage and never coming close to winning a Cup; but these numbers must be contextualized by the fact that he played for some pretty horrendous teams. It must also be noted that in 1929 Woters became the first ever goalie to win the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. Without him, it could have been a lot worse.
4 Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion (5'9")
The aptly named “Boom Boom” cements his spot at number four for one reason; he is recognized with perfecting the slap shot. Geoffrion also gets credit for standing up to the Montreal faithful, who begged him to slow down his scoring so that Maurice Richard could retain his scoring title after his infamous season-long suspension for hitting a referee. True to form for a guy who broke his nose 9 times and had over 400 stitches throughout his NHL career, Boom Boom ignored the fans and beat Richard by a single point during the last game of the season at the Montreal Forum. Though they booed him that day, they gave him a 10-minute standing ovation in 1961 after he scored his 50th goal.
3 Marcel “Little Beaver” Dionne (5'8")
The “Little Beaver” may never have won a Cup, but he is featured on a Canadian postage stamp. While Dionne never fared well in the playoffs, his individual accomplishments overshadow that gap on his resume. Today, Dionne ranks ninth in career assists, fifth in points and fourth in goals, though he was second in each of those categories when he retired in 1989. He sits behind only the Great One & Lemieux for 100+ point seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992.
2 Theoren “Theo” Fleury (5'6")
Theo Fleury’s statistics are not the reason why he is our runner-up, though they’re nothing to sneeze at: 1,167 points in 1,161 playoff and regular season games, not to mention almost 2,000 penalty minutes. No, Theo comes in at number two for the sheer drive and determination he has exhibited overcoming so many enormous obstacle strewn across his career path. Simply put, no other player on this list has had to prevail over so many seemingly insurmountable hurdles on his way to glory. Stanley Cup winner, Olympic gold medalist and best-selling author, Theo is a true, all-around champion and hero.
1 Henri “The Pocket-Rocket” Richard (5'7")
Being the younger brother of (and three inches shorter than) Maurice “The Rocket” was a tall task. Indeed, Montreal veterans scoffed that Henri’s 1955 invitation to training camp was “a favour” to his older, famous brother. After putting on a clinic with his unbelievable stick handling dexterity, those same veterans joked that scrimmage should now include two pucks, one for Henri and one for everyone else. However, The Pocket-Rocket tops our list for his unmatched stats, which rival any player across all four of the major North American sports leagues. Richard won 11 Stanley Cups as a player, more than any individual in NHL History and a feat matched only by the legendary Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics.
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