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?
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15 Bob “Boomer” Baun (5'9")
No other player in the history of hockey, with the exception of Paul Henderson, is known for his incredible performance during one, solitary game. In the third period of Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals, Boomer broke his leg after being hit by a Gordie Howe slapper. After a dose of painkiller and quick tape job, the Leafs defenceman came back into the game and scored the overtime winner. In another memorable game, as a coach of the Toronto Toros, he fined each member of his team $500 when they lost a game 10-9 after blowing an 8-2 lead. He refunded the money, but was still fired.
14 Pat “The Little Ball of Hate” Verbeek (5'9")
Long before the likes of Brad Marchand, there was the original Little Ball of Hate who solidifies his position on this list for his unparalleled gamesmanship. Call it what you want, but Pat Verbeek knew how to get under the skin of his opponents and alter the course of pivotal matchups. Verbeek was a key component in the Dallas Stars’ 1999 Cup win and while, during his career, he may have spent well over two days (3,130 minutes) in the penalty box for his antics; he was no slouch in the point department, putting up 1,125 points in 1,541 games.
13 Paul “The Mighty Mouse” Kariya (5'10")
Paul Kariya gets knocked down the list for having a slight height advantage, but The Mighty Mouse scampers on at number 13 on the basis of his one epic run-in with Scott Stevens. Who could forget him lying motionless on the ice after a devastating hit from Stevens in Game 6 of the Finals, only to return just minutes later and help the Ducks stave off elimination and force Game 7? A true gentleman, Kariya won consecutive Lady Byng trophies in 1996 & 1997 and was instrumental in helping Canada capture its first Olympic gold medal in fifty years in Salt Lake City.
12 Yves “The Road Runner” Cournoyer (5'7")
Certainly in the running for the fastest skater of all time, The Road Runner wowed opponents and crowds alike with his blistering speed. While Montreal fans will remember his time as captain during the final years of his career, Canadians all across the country can thank Cournoyer for his contributions during the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and Russia. Cournoyer scored the tying goal in the decisive eighth game and assisted on Paul Henderson’s legendary winning goal in Moscow.
11 11: Ron “Ronnie the Robot” Ellis (5'9")
Having your equipment locked up and being traded by infamous Leafs owner Harold Ballard might be enough to get you on certain lists, but Ronnie the Robot’s talent on the ice and his humility off of it is what cements his spot on this list. After helping the Leafs hoist their last Cup in 1967, Ellis remained on a team that was decimated by trades. Even though he knew he was training his replacements, the wise veteran still mentored future Leafs’ heroes like Lanny McDonald.
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")
St. Louis cracks the top 10 on the strength of his unrelenting spirit and impressive playoff performances. His most impressive run came during the 2003-2004 season when Tampa Bay captured the Cup and St. Louis garnered an impressive amount of hardware himself, taking home the Hart, Lester B. Pearson & Art Ross trophies. Not bad for a kid whose mom used to have to dress him in a “pom-pom” toque, just to be able to spot him at the outdoor rink 200 yards from his house.
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")
Johnny Bower is second to only one only person on this list in terms of sheer perseverance. Growing up in abject poverty in rural Saskatchewan, Bower made his goalie pads out of old mattresses, had his father shave him sticks out of “suitably crooked” tree branches and used horse manure to make ‘cow pies’, i.e. pucks. Given these humble origins that shaped this incredible player, is it at all surprising that Bower would retire in 1970 as the oldest goalie in NHL history or that in 1980 he came close to having to dress as the injury-riddled Leafs’ backup at the ripe age of 56?
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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