Size of athletes | Inch, but equal inch

In a promotional video for the Canadiens, shot in 2014, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk play “who knows the other best”. Gallagher asks the first question.

Posted Oct 25, 2021

“How tall am I?

« On, or in real life? »

– My real height. My exact height.

« With or without your shoes? »

« Without my shoes. » »

Galchenyuk hesitates for a few seconds. “Um, I would say… 5’10” and 4 tenths.  » Nope. Bad estimate. « Five foot eight and a half », says Gallagher, before adding, all smiles: « But I appreciate [ta réponse] ! »

In the Canadian’s documents, Gallagher is half an inch taller…

I’ll let you in on a big secret: official measurements in the National League are like the size of the last walleye your brother-in-law caught. Allow for a one inch margin of error. Or two.

Cole Caufield, for example, made his NHL debut at 5’7″. In training camp, the Canadian measured it again. And the little winger went up to 5’9″… before dropping back to 5’7″.

Martin St-Louis, who was listed at 5’9″ in media guides, told ESPN he was actually 5’7″. « I was more likely to make it at 5’9 » than at 5’7½. Everyone is trying to find an edge. Sometimes it’s done with a tape measure. It’s a game that’s decided by a few inches, isn’t it? »


Was Martin St-Louis 5’7″, 5’8″ or 5’9″ tall? Regardless, he was one of the best players in the NHL.

Former Canadiens star Mark Recchi even hid a thick layer of tape inside his socks to grow an inch taller a few weeks before the draft session.

This is not unique to hockey. In his excellent essay The Inside Game, journalist and former assistant general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays Keith Law is ironic about the official measurements of baseball players. “They are about as accurate as airline schedules. »

Why ?

Because scouts and their bosses have a favorable bias towards big players. “The six-foot mark, despite its arbitrary nature, is a commonly used threshold in scouting reports,” Law explains. Hence the value, for smaller players, of having an official measurement of 6′ – or, at least, something that comes as close as possible to it.

Law did a fun exercise. He compiled the heights of all major league players in September 2019. The result: there were 89% more 6′ players than 5’11 » players… but only 1% more 6′ players 1 in than 6 ft. « It’s suspicious to say the least, » he notes.

What about hockey? I did the exact same exercise. This time, with current NHL rosters. Guess what ? There’s a solid gap between the number of 5’11 and 6′ players. A 52% increase. But between 6′ and 6’1″? The increase is only 5%.

Pierre Cholette is not surprised. Until recently, it was he who measured the hopes of Quebec junior teams on behalf of the NHL. He is now director of the QMJHL Recruitment Support Centre. He has as many tape-measure stories to tell as your brother-in-law has fishing stories.

“Once I was with a very good player. On the lists it was 6ft. Except when I measured it…well, it wasn’t 6′ anymore. He left to laugh. I asked him to pick up [son dos au] wall. I re-measured it. He was 5’11 ». I said to him, ‘Look, you’re really not 6′ tall. If I put you at 6’ and then you’re invited to an NHL camp or by Junior Team Canada, they’re going to say, come on, who are these guys who measured you? »

“The physical dimension in hockey is incredible how overvalued it is,” he laments.

“Hockey is an extremely conservative sport. Wounds are not disclosed. The identity of the goaltender for the next game is not revealed in advance, whereas in the NFL, the starting quarterback is announced on Thursdays. We are very, very, very conservative. We rely a lot on what people say. Players think they must be the famous 6 ft. Or weigh 200 lbs. »

It’s true in the NHL. It’s true in the American League. It’s true in the QMJHL. And that’s even true in minor hockey.

“Each season, the U18 AAA teams from the Maritimes and Quebec send their rosters to the QMJHL,” he explains. On our side, we hire an independent firm to check the measurements. This firm will soon be going to the Moncton tournament to measure players from the Maritime provinces. And sure, sure, sure, 5’11 guys are going to drop to 5’8. And that 5’9″ guys will be 5’6″. »

“Are you sure about that?

– Absolutely. 100 %. Without any hesitation. Afterwards, it will be the same thing with the Quebec teams. Then we will meet the coaches and tell them: “Tell us the truth! It’s the rest of you, in there, who look like nonos. If a young person is 5’10 », indicate that they are 5’10 », that’s it. » »

I told you earlier about Mark Recchi’s trick to grow an inch taller. Current players also have more than one trick up their sleeve to gain an inch or a few pounds.

“Often, explains Pierre Cholette, we see players lean against the wall, and inflate their lungs. When we ask them to take a deep breath, they see the numbers going up, they are super happy. Afterwards, they are asked to expire. The numbers are coming down. This is when we take the measurement. And there they are angry [rires]. »

“I remember a more extreme case. I called the name of a player for the first time. A second. Four times. Six times. Minimum. When the youngster showed up on the scale, he must have drunk six liters of water. In his mind, the more water he drank, the heavier he was going to be. It does not make sense. »

Pierre Cholette’s advice to young players: stop worrying for an inch or two. Instead, focus on your skills. Teams are looking first and foremost for talent.

He gives the example of rookie Hendrix Lapierre, of the Washington Capitals, who is not the player involved in the anecdote told a little earlier.

« When I measured it [avant le repêchage], he was very disappointed to see that he was 5 ft 11 and a half tall. I told him, « Hendrix, it’s not your greatness that will make recruiters look at you, it’s your talent. » »

It’s true.

Lapierre was eventually drafted in the first round.

He reached the NHL at age 19.

He scored a goal in his first game.

And today, he officially measures… 6 feet!

The exception of the guards

Where size matters more is for goalies. It’s mathematical: the taller and wider a goalkeeper is, the more area he covers in front of the net. « There are scouts in the NHL who don’t even look at goaltenders under 6’2″, explains Pierre Cholette. Take Alexis Shank [6 pi], who played for the Saguenéens of Chicoutimi. He’s probably the best goalkeeper of the last three years [dans la LHJMQ]. He was never picked up. Not surprisingly, there are three times as many 6’2″ goaltenders in the NHL as there are 6’1 » goaltenders.

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