Counter Trey

When I was a young man, I’d go to Oilers games with buddies or my wife and watch from the bleeders. Some think it’s a horrible place to watch the game but for me it was an education because of Wayne Gretzky. I’ve said this before, but the beauty of his game was knowing where the open spaces were and who could get there. Many of his passes looked seeing-eye or lucky, but he had this way of sending the puck to places where Kurri or some other player happened to be heading. I often wonder if he had set plays or they just got used to 99 making the “unheard of” play.

These were not low percentage passes, in fact just a few years before Gretzky’s arrival there was a tandem (Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach) who played the game in similar fashion. But they did run counter to the coverage rules of the game and since offense always has the advantage because they know the play, all Sather had to do is find people smart enough to suss out what Gretzky was doing.

He was a beauty and it was a privilege to watch him play. Old guys like me are prone to sweeping statements like “we’ll not see his equal” but in a very narrow view (extreme offensive player who lets the puck do the work and the opposition strangle itself) it isn’t possible to see another one. Guys like Crosby and Ovechkin drive the play, attack the zone, rifle the puck. With Gretzky the opponent bled out and always seemed to be looking the wrong way.

One of the galling things about hockey is we don’t elevate these great men with nicknames and glorious stories. I know some 99 stories just from hanging around this town (the elevator story is my favorite) but we don’t tell them because the legend must be protected. It’s a shame, the best stories are usually about the human side of great players but no one has written down the hockey stories.

Baseball nicknames are so much better than hockey nicknames. Hammer, Catfish, the Babe, Georgia Peach, Fordham Flash, Big Train, Stan the Man, Fat Elvis, Little All Right, Rock. They’re beautiful nicknames, almost poetry.

What are Gretzky’s nicknames? 99, Gretz, The Great One, Brinks. Did you SEE him? That’s bloody horrible. If there’s one thing I’d love to see accomplished in my lifetime, it’s getting better nicknames in hockey. Smitty. Bucky. MacT. For Christ sakes, hockey isn’t filled with morons. There ARE people who can put two words together. Why does it have to be so pedestrian? Smitty is the nickname for 40% of the National Hockey League.

Here are my top 10 Wayne Gretzky nicknames. Feel free to add your own:

  1. Yahweh
  2. What’s the Use
  3. Shaft
  4. Why Bother
  5. The Lip
  6. Death to Goalies
  7. Score!
  8. Vestibule
  9. Counter Trey
  10. Paranormal

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29 Responses to "Counter Trey"

  1. Hoos says:

    I have no nicknames for Wayne, because, well, he’s so good that if you say his first name everyone knows who you’re talking about, i.e., “One night I saw Wayne…” it’s the same with Michael Jordan, and, Eldrick, although the last one is a little misleading.

    However, for these Oilers, I’d propose a few nicknames:

    Eric Cole: Ecoli – because he can make you sick.
    Dustin Penner: Fred – because his place is in front of the net.
    Gagner: The Watchmaker – because he uses Cogs in his work with the Oilers.
    Pouliot: Carbs – because that’s the player he could be, as well as his mortal enemy in the offseason.
    Garon: Steve Young – because he’s a back up, and that’s what you can expect out of him.

    I’m also a fan of: Chopper, Scorecoff, Lubo (he lives on the second floor), Hemmer (but only if it’s because he hems the opposition in their own zone), Little Bobby Nilsson, Strudwick the Stud-wick, and finally Huggy Bear.

  2. Colby Cosh says:

    There isn’t anything wrong with “The Great One”–people know who you’re talking about even if the sport isn’t specified. You can’t stick a god with a nickname like “White Gloves” or “Shirttail”.

  3. Mustafa Hirji says:


    Just write the book of hockey stories yourself. You know more about players than 99.9% of fans, you have a background in media and communication (albeit not print, but you certainly know language), and you seem to care more about the history of hockey than anyone..

    Just write the book.

    - Mustafa Hirji

  4. Art Vandelay says:

    Given the circumstances of his acquisition by and disposal from the Oilers, I suggest: Meat.

  5. rananda says:

    elevator story?

  6. PDO says:

    Babe “The Babe” Ruth is a good nick name? Seriously?

  7. Oilman says:

    elevator story?

    Gretzky talks about making small talk with one of the security people while riding in the elevator.

    “He was explaining to me how it really isn’t that busy right now because the craziness will be starting at 10:30. I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this guy thinks they are going to win.’ I say in jest, ‘Don’t worry about your job at 10:30,’ and he says, ‘Why is that?’ I say, ‘Because my job starts at 7:30.’ ”

    Gretzky had a hat trick in the 5-4 victory and calls it the greatest game he ever played

  8. mc79hockey says:

    I assume that this refers to the Kings-Leafs G7 in 1993? I just googled that game, knowing that Gretzky has called it his best and came across the following:

    “It was May 29th, 1993 and the atmosphere around the city was electric. We were one game away from playing Montreal in the Stanley Cup finals and I had just bought a T-shirt that read “26 years is long enough”, referring to the Leafs’ Cup drought at the time.”


  9. HBomb says:

    Bizzare admission, and maybe it was me being a naive 11-year old at the time, or maybe it was the idea of Gretzky winning a cup for LA being too hard to take, but I cheered for BOTH Montreal and Toronto in the 1993 playoffs.

    I didn’t know what to do, really…it was the first time the Oilers missed the spring dance in their history.

    I hate the Leafs now, but that 1993 team had an underdog, Chicago Cubs-type feel to it. Doug Gilmour, a guy that I cannot bring myself to dislike despite his being a former Leaf AND Flame, was at the peak of his career and was a force for Toronto.

    All I can say is this about the 1993 playoffs: thank God for Marty McSorley’s illegal stick. Then again, in hindsight, I’d gladly take Gretzky winning a Cup in LA instead of having to hear about how Patrick Roy is the ONLY man to ever have won three Conn Smythe trophies, arsehole that he is….

  10. nitric_oxide_99 says:

    Agreed. Hockey nicknames are, by and large, lame. That said, there must be a few that approach “poetic” levels… I’d bet The Flower (despite being translation-based) meets with LT’s approval… any others?

  11. MikeP says:

    LT: “There ARE people who can put two words together.”

    Man, half your nicknames are single words. :) That being said, most hockey nicknames are lame, but maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe Canadian nicknames are lame. During my stint in the army reserves, I heard (of course) lots of nicknames, and most of them were really bad. Being 5’6 110 at my time of enlistment, naturally my nickname was Killer. And the names didn’t get any better from there… and it’s not like the reserves are full of idiots either, I served with several schoolteachers and several dozen undergraduates.

  12. Lowetide says:

    There are some that I like, mostly Habs nicknames which is probably why this makes me so bloody mad.

    The Flower-Lafleur (as you mentioned)
    Boom Boom-Geoffrion
    Shitter-Jim Niekamp
    Baby Jesus-Crosby
    Turk-Derek Sanderson
    Golden Jet-Hull
    Mr. Elbows-Howe
    Terrible Ted-Lindsay
    Riverton Rifle-Leach
    Radar-Al Arbour
    The Orillia Milkman-Claire Alexander
    Cementhead-Dave Semenko
    Sonja-Eric Nesterenko
    Coco-Grant Fuhr
    Stratford Streak-Howie Morenz
    China Wall-Johnny Bower
    Snake Hips-Leo Boivin
    Popcorn Kid-Mike Palmateer
    Shaky-Mike Walton
    Bulin Wall-Nikolai Khabibulin
    Old Bootnose-Sid Abel
    Finnish Flash-Selanne
    Wake Up Walt-Walt McKechnie

  13. Ribs says:

    I think hockey has some decent nicknames. “The Great One” is just fricking awesome. It’s being so widely accepted is really something.

    Only great players get cool nicknames and I think that’s why you don’t see many these days. The new guard is just arriving and they have yet to gain cemented-in-time nicknames. Sid the Kid and Ovie are just starter nicks. Over time they will receive improved ones, I’m sure.

    among my favourites….

    The Great One
    Rocket/Russian Rocket
    Moose (even if it is common)

  14. Bruce says:

    Baseball nicknames are so much better than hockey nicknames. Hammer, Catfish, the Babe, Georgia Peach, Fordham Flash, Big Train, Stan the Man, Fat Elvis, Little All Right, Rock. They’re beautiful nicknames, almost poetry.

    They’re also old. Seems like nicknames were the domain of pre-TV era, when the sportswriters would throw a few at the wall and see what stuck.

    Hockey had its own Big Train (Lionel Conacher) and its own Babes (Siebert, Pratt, and Dye); as well as the Chicoutimi Cucumber (Georges Vezina), the Stratford Streak (Howie Morenz), the Little Giant (Aurel Joliat), the Phantom (Joe Malone), Old Poison (Nels Stewart), the Chief (George Armstrong, Johnny Bucyk), Jake the Snake (Jacques Plante), Apple Cheeks (Harry Lumley), the Big M (Frank Mahovlich).

    How many of the following Hall of Famers can you identify by their actual given name?

    Ching Johnson, Busher Jackson, Newsy Lalonde, Cyclone Taylor, Cooney Weiland, Hap Holmes, Happy Day, Hooley Smith, Teeder Kennedy, Tiny Thompson, Turk Broda, Gump Worsley, Butch Bouchard, Ace Bailey, Bun Cook, Toe Blake, Punch Imlach, and lest we forget, Bunny Ahearne.

    What both lists nearly all have in common is that nearly all of them were elected to the Hall of Fame 30 or more years ago.

  15. Lowetide says:

    Bruce: Lots of great nicknames from the baseball of our (yours and mine) youth.

    Pudge-Carlton Fisk
    Rooster-Rick Burleson
    Catfish-Jim Hunter
    The Bird-Mark Fidrych

    Chris Berman made a living from baseball nicknames (and football) in the 1980s and 1990s.

  16. Bruce says:

    LT: Mr. October is one of the great nicknames of any era. A personal fave (given my astronomical bent) was John “Blue Moon” Odom. You’re right, there were tons more from that era, and even today a few have filtered through: Big Papi, the Big Hurt, the Big Unit, El Duque, Boomer, Gonzo, Chipper, Coco, Trot, Boof.

    For whatever reason hockey nicknames got pretty tame a little earlier: Trots, Boss, Gretz, Mess, and the rest have ruled the roost for years. The ones that do make it through — Eddie the Eagle, Sid the Kid — sound like brand names.

    But baseball is hardly immune to this, Chris Berman notwithstanding. (Does anybody other than Berman himself actually use those nicknames?) As Bill James once wrote, Greg Luzinski’s nickname of “The Bull” sounds like it was passed in a board meeting of Phillies’ shareholders by a 7-4 vote. And these days the standard is box-score abbreviations like like Man-Ram, A-Rod, I-Rod, K-Rod … pretty boring. Although the cynical mutation into “Stray-Rod” was an all-time highlight for great nicknames. :-D

  17. Lowetide says:

    Bruce: Ask Dave Meggett. :-)

  18. Oilman says:

    Wasn’t BRian Savage also nicknamed Mr. October?:o)

  19. Coach pb9617 says:

    Babe “The Babe” Ruth is a good nick name? Seriously?

    Can we ban PDO for this?

    Please tell me that this is a joke post. You think his real name is “Babe Ruth”?

  20. Coach pb9617 says:

    LT – you forgot “Sugartits”

  21. Coach pb9617 says:

    My favorites:

    Finnish Flash
    Fats Delvecchio
    Riverton Rifle
    Billy “The Axe” Smith

    Best one: King Clancy – I mean, King. It’s like Babe Ruth – he just became known as King. King Clancy. Just awesome.

  22. Coach pb9617 says:

    As for Wayne’s nickname, I’ve always wondered if it would be better if he were The Brantford Breeze, which I’m sure he would have been if he played back in the day.

  23. Alice says:


    That is all.

  24. dwillms says:

    I’m partial to basketball nicknames.

    Showtime, Jail Blazers, Chief, Penny, Magic, Zeke, The Worm, Dream Shake, White Chocolate, Tractor Traylor, The Truth, Starbury, Spud Webb, Round Mound of Rebound, Plastic Man, Pistol Pete, Never Nervous Pervis, Mookie Blaylock, Mr Clutch, The Microwave, Black Mamba, Mailman, The Admiral, Larry Legend, Basketball Jesus, Little General, Iceman, The Human Highlight Reel, Hot Plate, Hick from French Lick, The Glove, Earl the Pearl, Dr J, Diesel, Black Mamba, The Big Aristotle, Chocolate Thunder, and my personal favorite: Grandmama.

    One hockey nickname I haven’t seen mentioned yet was Pat Verbeek, The Little Ball of Hate.

  25. Alice says:

    The Rat

    My daughter is a scrawny No. 13, I’m seriously considering sewing “Linesman” on her sweater next year.

  26. Oilman says:

    You do know why they called him The Rat right?

  27. Alice says:

    I heard a coach gave him that handle because he had a funny hunched-over posture when skating. That’s not why it stuck, tho – I enjoyed watching him in Edm.

  28. Kev says:

    Listened to the John Short interview on Gregor’s Just a Game last Friday (couldn’t get the achives playing for some reason this weekend for a relisten), he said they would call Gretzky “The Doctor” sometimes. Never heard that one before. Anyway, in the spirit of this post, maybe I would add Chess Master on Ice. He always seemed to see several moves ahead of anyone else.

    I like Chopper, Steady Steve, Scorcoff, Mountain Man, St. Fernando and Hemmer/Pinto, so for fun:

    Gagner: The Nifty One (nod to MacT)
    Cogliano: The Italian Torpedo (I know he’s Canadian, just sounded good) or Greased Lightning
    Nilsson: Swedish Sleek
    Brodziak: True Blue, Staunchy
    Stortini: Fearless Zedtini
    Gilbert: Silent Surfer, Ambusher
    Smid: Oil Czech
    Souray: SS Bombardier
    Penner: Mt.Oilympus
    Visnovsky: actually Lubo works well as in lube.

  29. Coach pb9617 says:

    Nilsson: Swedish Sleek

    Hey! I like that!

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