David vs. Goliath

By Kevin Forrester  Apr 5, 2004

NHL teams

The Randy Newman song of the '80s read like this - "short people got no reason".
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 (11).
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 players.
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 size.
At only 5' 8", he proved quickly he would have no problem playing with the big boys.
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 for it.

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 Felix Potvin.
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 championship.
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"

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