The Randy Newman song of the '80s read like this - "short people got no
The problem is that when it comes to the National Hockey League, it's not
always the case.
The first "small" NHL player I can recall and who made an impact on the
game, was Henri "The Pocket" Richard of the Montreal Canadiens, the famed
brother of Maurice "The Rocket" Richard.
Henri has the record for most Stanley Cup rings by an individual player
The fact that he has eleven rings is in itself, amazing, but to win them all
with the same organization speaks volumes about how the league has changed.
I'm referring to free agency, the business of the game today and a lack of
loyalty with teams due to the out of control salaries being paid to today's
He was always in his "big brother's" shadow, but he was a clutch player who
was durable and dependable.
Could Henri play as long and as consistently and be the impact player he was
if he were in the league today?
Players like Steve Yzerman and Martin St. Louis would have to say yes.
When the Detroit Red Wings chose Marcel Dionne ("The Little Beaver") with
the second overall pick in the 1971 amateur draft, one question mark was his
At only 5' 8", he proved quickly he would have no problem playing with the
He established himself by racking up "big" numbers as he scored an
impressive 28 goals in his rookie year.
He went on to score over 730 goals in his NHL career and is in the hockey
Hall of Fame.
Let's fast forward to the 80's when a young man from Oxbow Saskatchewan was
drafted by the Calgary Flames in the eighth round, people wondered if a
player who was listed at 5' 6" could step into an NHL lineup that included
big players like Joel Otto, Joe Niewendyk and Gary Roberts.
Theoren Fleury fit right in and showed that he was going to survive in the
NHL. He was a "big" part of the Stanley Cup winning team that year.
He scored some clutch goals and wore out the opposing teams with his
agitating style of play.
Unfortunately Fleury has gone through some tough times due to abuse problems
but make no mistake, this guy knows how to win.
He was a surprise pick by Wayne Gretzky and the other 2002 Olympic hockey
representatives that won gold in Salt Lake City.
Those doubts vanished once Canadian hockey fans and the media allowed him to
forget "the skeletons hanging in the closet".
He became an integral part of the team.
His veteran leadership and toughness were an example to all the players who
played with him. He checked his ego at the door and has a gold medal to show
The Toronto Maple Leafs were slowly climbing back to respectability in the
1992-1993 season thanks to new GM Cliff Fletcher (GM of the 1987-88 Stanley
Cup champion Calgary Flames), new head coach Pat Burns and rookie goalie
Fletcher approached the trade deadline with a couple of question marks. He
had a great captain Wendel Clark, he picked up Dave Andreychuk for some
scoring punch but there was a piece of the puzzle still missing.
That puzzle was completed when Fletcher pulled off a blockbuster 10 player
deal that included Doug Gilmour from his old team, the Calgary Flames. All
Fletcher had to give up was under-achieving centreman, Gary Leeman.
The Leafs won two unforgettable seven game series that year beating the
heavily-favoured Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues thanks in "large"
part to Gilmour, Clark and Potvin.
Gilmour was their leader who logged 20-30 minutes a game. He played through
pain in both ankles and the only player who could stop he and the Leafs was
the Great One, Wayne Gretzky as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Leafs in a "somewhat
controversial" seven game series.
Rewind to game six when Gretzky high-sticked Gilmour in overtime after a
face-off and there was no call.
Gretzky proceeded to score the game-winning goal on the same shift when he
should have been penalized for two minutes.
Gilmour almost single-handedly won the series for the Leafs.
Joe Mullen who was born in New York City, had to overcome more than one
obstacle to become a star player in the NHL.
He grew up in the Big Apple, an area known more for baseball (the Yankees)
and basketball (the Knicks), and not exactly a hotbed for NHL recruiting.
He was considered too small for the "big" leagues.
Mullen had tremendous hands. The puck seemed to follow him and he took
advantage of his opportunities.
He was another group of so-called "smaller players" (Gilmour and Fleury
included) who helped the Calgary Flames win the 1987-88 Stanley Cup
Mullen was also an important part of the early 90's Pittsburgh Penguins
squad, captained by Mario Lemieux and coached by the late Bob "Badger"
Johnson, who won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1990 and 1991.
Mullen retired as the highest scoring American-born player in the NHL.
Steve Yzerman is a class player. He has played with the same organization
for his entire NHL career and was also part of the Canadian Olympic team
that took home gold from the 2002 Winter Olympics.
He has been the captain of the Detroit Red Wings for the majority of his
twenty-some year career and has three Stanley Cup rings ('97, '98 and 2002)
to show for his efforts.
He has battled through injuries to become arguably the best player to don a
Detroit Red Wing's jersey since Gordie Howe.
He won his last Stanley Cup in 2002 playing on one knee.
This guy is the epitome of heart and courage.
Today's smaller NHL players can thank players like Richard, Dionne, Fleury
etc. because they have proven that "size doesn't always matter".
Martin St. Louis, Saku Koivu, Steve Sullivan, Daniel Briere and Jarome
Iginla just to name a few, may be small but they have "big" skates to fill.
With an emphasis now on speed, passing and shooting in the NHL, I think we
have just begun to see that the so-called "little" men of hockey are "large
and in charge".
Nicknames for small players were obviously common for NHL players in the
60's and 70's (The Pocket Rocket and The Little Beaver), but I guess in
today's politically correct society, we don't use them anymore.
Well, I have one, these guys are "Davids in a game of Goliaths"