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Original Issue

Two Minutes for Name Checking

BUBBA BERENZWEIG, the former Nashville Predator, has a wonderful Dixie-Judeo mash-up of a name, a head-on collision—grits-meets-shvitz—that is not unusual in the NHL, which once employed a defenseman named Milan Chalupa, a Czech who was somehow half Italy, half Mexico. Pasta la vista, baby.

As the NHL schedule unfurls, so do its incomparable names, their missing vowels like so many missing teeth. Recall the unplayable Scrabble racks that were Stan Smrke and Ji≈ôí Crha, Tony Hrkac and Pavel Trnka. His star shone for just a single game, but who can forget Neil Hawryliw, with that surname like a butt-dialed text?

You wouldn't want to muck with any of these men in a corner. Keith Tkachuk—one couldn't help but think of him as Teeth Kachuk—was made for hockey, played by hard men with even harder consonants. Except that all those missing vowels turn up elsewhere, in excess, on the sweaters of men named Tuomo Ruutu or Olli M√§√§tt√§, the Penguins defenseman with one more umlaut than M√∂tley Cr√ºe.

There is a certain nominative determinism at play in this sport, the notion that your surname will spur you to your destiny. Andy Aitkenhead played goalie for the Rangers before helmets or face masks. Peter Ing played four seasons in goal for three teams before—there is really only one phrase for it—Peter Ing out. The unsinkable Morris Titanic had 19 games under his belt in the NHL when his career abruptly proved incompatible with ice.

Until this season Jordin Tootoo wore 22, but he was also born on Feb. 2—2/2—which is too, too improbable. This kind of double determinism is difficult to pull off. Ask Murray Wing, whose one and only appearance in the NHL came for the Wings but, alas, as a defenseman. Likewise, the Lady Byng Trophy for fair play was never awarded to Larry Playfair, nor to Ebbie Goodfellow.

As with Playfair and Goodfellow, hockey names can be lyrical. Many of them are Bucyk to our ears, instantly summoning a song. Moe Mantha, Mo' Problems. It is not possible to hear the name Marc-André Bergeron without wanting to sing "La Donna e mobile," from Rigoletto: "Ta-Ra-Ra-BOOM-De-Ay! Marc-An-Dray-BER-Zher-On!"

We should all be so lucky to be French-Canadian, with names as lovely as Patrice Brisebois ("Pa-Treece Breeze-Bwah") and Pascal Dupuis ("Poss-Coll Doo-Pwee") and Michel Goulet ("Mee-Shell Goo-Lay").

How sad when a Mar-Tan Bro-Door (or a Mar-Tan San-Looey) is reduced to a mere Marty. The entire name of journeyman winger Pierre-Luc Létourneau-Leblond rolls off the tongue like a TGV zipping through the Loire Valley, its cars coupled by hyphens.

From the palindromic (Lupul, Latal) to the poetic (Bill Shill) to the onomatopoetic (Daniel B√•ng, Darren Pang), hockey names give full expression to human language, embracing the muttered oaths of Frig and Frk—Len Frig and Martin Frk—but also the bjeauty of Bj√∂rn Bjurling.

Some names serve as cheap setups for opposing fans, as Harry Dick or Peter Loob or Ron Tugnutt could unhappily attest. Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate is a Nixonian scandal, part Tricky Dick, part Rubber Duck. Roman Hamrlik still sounds like the kinkiest event in the hardware Olympics: Picture a boy, on a frozen pond, his tongue stuck to a claw hammer. Darius Kasparaitis is an ice-borne disease, while Uwe Krupp was reduced by announcers to a phlegmatic cough: Oo-ey Croup.

But then hockey is played in cold places by cold men nursing head colds. Shawn Burr, who made his living on a sheet of ice for 16 seasons, should have dropped the U from his surname.

The only indispensable letter in hockey is Z, or zed if you speak Canadian—and if you've made it this far, you almost certainly do. No sport has made more of Zorro's mark: Think of Zarley Zalapski, Ziggy Pàlffy, Valeri Zelepukin, Rick Zombo, all those Zdenos and Zdeneks, and the great Peter Zezel, the two Z's on the back of his sweater—ZEZEL—like a pair of skates, legs bent at the knee, pushing that L of a stick, one step ahead of the Zamboni.

The notion that your surname will spur you to your destiny is at play in hockey. Which is why after 19 NHL games, Morris Titanic abruptly found his career to be incompatible with ice.

What's the most unforgettable name in hockey?

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