Big enough

Does top hockey have room for the little guy? Yes, it does.


Norway's Mats Zuccarello Aasen is a prototype of the fast and skilled player that also happens to be short. Photo: Jukka Rautio / HHoF-IIHF Images.

BERNE – One of the most common dismissals of a player is this: “too small”. There are dozens and dozens of stories of great players who were told throughout their careers that they’d never make it to the big leagues or the national teams or the World Championships because they were too small.

Even Wayne Gretzky was told that he was too small. In 1976, he was invited to Team Canada’s World U20 Championship as a courtesy extended to the leading scorer of the Canadian junior league, but the coaches didn’t expect him to be able to crack the roster — because he was too small.

And even if he did win the scoring title and get voted best centre, he sure wasn’t going to make it in the NHL and so on.

Gretzky wasn’t even short – at about 180 centimetres, for once, he was just an average man – but he was considered too small in general to survive in the big man’s game. And it hasn’t got easier for the little guys to survive or convince the scouts and the coaches.

In 1970, the average height of an NHL player was 180 centimetres. In 2006, it was 185 centimetres.

Being small isn’t what it used to be.

The gap between the short and the average guys widens - and creating new and for a while in the 1990s, it looked as if there was no room for the little guys anymore as the power forwards took over the game.

Thanks to the return to calling the game according to the rules, and with the two-referee system, the need to be able to bulldoze your way to the net isn’t as urgent as it once was. 

Even this World Championship features several great small guys. Players that have defied the odds and have made it to the top. Players that carry their teams, make the plays, have the moves, and hustle like there’s no tomorrow. You know those speedy forwards - let’s face it, you have to be speedy to make it in world class hockey and as a rule, the coaches like their defencemen big - that put a smile on your face.

According to the opening rosters, submitted between April 24 and 27, the teams had registered 357 players to play in the World Championship. Among them are 16 players that are 175 centimetres or shorter. What is called “short” is a matter of taste, but since the line has to be drawn somewhere, I put it at 175 cm.

(I have my doubts about whether some of these numbers are in line with reality. Every little guy adds something to his height. And I should know, being just 175 cm myself.)

Those sixteen (14 forwards, 2 defenceman) under 175 centimeters are, by team:

Austria: Roland Käspitz (the officially shortest player of the tournament, 170 cm), Thomas Koch (173)
Belarus: -
Canada: Martin St. Louis (175) and Derek Roy (175)
Czech Republic: -
Denmark: Mads Bødker (174), Kim Lykkeskov (174)
Finland:  Sami Kapanen, (175)
France: -
Germany: Yannic Seidenberg (172)
Latvia: -
Hungary: Csaba Janosi (172), Roger Holezcy (172)
Norway: Tommy Jakobsen (173), Mats Zuccarello Aasen (171)
Russia: Anton Kuryanov (175)
Slovakia: -
Sweden: -
Switzerland: Martin Plüss (175), Ivo Rüthemann (172)
United States: Ryan Shannon (175)

How are the little guys doing in the World Championship?

Let’s see. On Wednesday, Jakobsen scored Norway’s OT winner against Denmark and is currently tied for lead in team goal scoring with Zuccarello Aasen, another player on the above list, with 2. Shannon got two goals in the Americans’ game against Sweden.

Canada’s Martin St. Louis is the tournament’s leading scorer with his 3+6=9 points in three games (followed by Finland’s Niko Kapanen, who’s listed as being 177 cm).

Switzerland’s leading scorer is called Martin Plüss, 2+1=3 in three games, Denmark’s Lykkeskov leads the team in plus/minus with plus-2, and Seidenberg is tied for second in the German scoring, but granted, no German player has two points yet.

In short, they’re doing very well, thank you very much.


Risto Pakarinen is's correspondent in Stockholm, Sweden. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the official views of the IIHF.




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