A pronunciation guide for hockey's spellbinding young stars

Say what? "I've gotten a varying amount of butcherings on it," says Philadelphia's Shayne Gostisbehere of the many mispronunciations of his surname. "They put a 'Berry' in there. The Ghost. It's been bad. I don't think it's that's hard." Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire

For those who make their living talking about hockey players -- on radio, on podcasts, on television -- there's often a moment of truth.

You're racing toward the point where you have to say a hockey player's name in front of an audience and you're not 100 percent sure how it's pronounced. You've watched a million games. You've even talked with the player. Still, when that moment comes -- and it's coming quick -- the mind races through a couple of choices.

If you're Canadian broadcaster Don Cherry, you plow right through. Roberto Luongo becomes Roberto Lulongo. Mike Babcock is Mike Dadbabclock. Kevin Bieksa becomes Kevin Bieska.

"I don't think he wants to get it right," Bieksa once told the Canadian Press. "That's the thing."

Cherry can get away with it. He's a legend.

Those of us lower on the food chain might opt to go with a nickname. Or maybe just a first name. Or -- my favorite option -- a quiet mumbling of the name surrounded by just enough context so people know who you're talking about despite the weak attempt at pronunciation.

It happens. Even to the most prepared.

And it's not getting any easier. The crop of young players has entered the league recently and seized the conversation -- and sent us back to the NHL's pronunciation guide in the process.

Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid? Their names are easy enough. Got it.

Andreas Athanasiou? That took a minute to iron out. Jakob Chychrun? Bless you. At this point, most of the hockey world has figured out that Patrik Laine's last name isn't pronounced Lane. (It's pronounced LIGH-NAY.) It helps that the Finn is scoring every other game in his first season.

Then there's Connor Hellebuyck (KAW-nuhr HEHL-uh-buhk), Slater Koekkoek (SLAY-tuhr KOO-KOO) and Brady Skjei (BRAY-dee SHAY), to name a few.

We owe Shayne Gostisbehere a year's worth of apologies after spending last season messing up his name on our Hockey Today podcast.

He's one of several young players who is used to pronunciation struggles.

"I've gotten a varying amount of butcherings on it," Gostisbehere (GAWS-tihs-bair) said of his multisyllable surname. "They put a 'Berry' in there. 'The Ghost.' It's been bad. I don't think it's that hard."

Neither does Athanasiou.

His name is pronounced the way it looks -- ath-ah-nah-SEE-yew -- but people still want to add an extra N after the first A. And by "people," I mean me.

Athanasiou said that's the thing that puzzles him most -- folks who want to add letters that don't exist.

"My whole life, it's been butchered so many times," Athanasiou said. "It's just second nature now."

Many people resort to calling him nicknames.

"A-A, Double-A, anything Double," he said. "Anything but my name."

When he first played in NHL preseason games, Athanasiou noticed that broadcasters wouldn't say his name. Instead, they would just wait for him to pass the puck.

"And then [they'd] say, 'A pass to (whoever it was)," he said.

Chychrun is a Florida native who was the Coyotes' first-round pick last summer and is playing regularly on the Arizona defense despite being one of the youngest players in the league. He turned 19 on March 1.

His dad, Jeff Chychrun, played eight seasons in the league, so that has helped make his surname recognizable. Spelling it is still another story.

"The thing is, my first name is Jakob, which is [spelled] different," he said. "If they get my last name right, usually they spell my first name wrong. It's hilarious. It's either one or the other. ... Spelling is tough. I rarely see it spelled the right way."

For the Anaheim Ducks, Rickard Rakell is having a breakout season with 31 goals in 61 games. On the day we chatted, he'd already seen his name screwed up in an article that morning. His last name was spelled Kakell.

As for pronunciations?

"It's about 50/50," he said of the rate of accuracy. "I'm just going with whatever right now. I don't really care anymore."

He pauses a moment, then reconsiders.

"I wish, actually, that when I came here [from Sweden], I had just said that my name is Richard instead of Rickard," he said. "In Sweden it's the same name. Just a different spelling."

Now, c'mon. We don't need anyone to change names. We owe the league's up-and-coming young players better than that.