Playing on two hockey teams is hard enough. Schedules can conflict and there's a lot of running around to do, but it becomes extremely tough on the body when playoffs arrive. Because of these two co-ed hockey teams, I am bagged. Dead tired. Not interested in the least bit when it comes to blogging. However, thanks to the team currently in the playoffs this weekend, I came up with something that seems very unknown. Our goaltender, Cory, wears #20 in net. His idol? Former NHL goaltender Ed Belfour. While it's easy to see why he wears #20 - Belfour wore #20 during his career - it's not so easy to determine why or how that trend started. Or why goalies wear #1. Or #30. But we'll break down why goalies opt for these numbers in today's examination.
Frank Patrick, one of the men at the top of the legendary Patrick hockey hierarchy, introduced a numbering system in 1911-12 in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association where players were numbered from the goal out: Goaltender #1, Defenceman #2, Defenceman #3, Rover #4, Left Wing #5, Center #6, and Right Wing #7 (teams played six + goalie back then). There were no subs - all players played the full 60 minutes. Many believe that this evolved from soccer.
The reason goaltenders were assigned #1 was that they slept in sleeping bunk #1 (lower bunk, closest to door) on the train. Goaltenders were relied upon heavily to win games, so they were given the best place to sleep in order to maximize their rest. In order to keep things straight, Patrick would assign sleeping car bunks and positions by jersey numbers. This lasted for nearly 50 years when teams saw the need to carry two goaltenders on their expanding rosters. The rosters were up to 19 players in 1960-61 (twelve forwards, six defencemen, one goaltender) when all teams moved forward with carrying a backup goaltender who was assigned #20 most often.
Just as a note, when Gordie Howe made the Detroit Red Wings roster in 1946, he wore #17, not #9. The reason? The veterans got the best sleeping arrangements on the trains, and the rookies were there to round out the rosters. He was expected to bide his time like every other rookie had before moving up the depth chart. However, after establishing himself as a fierce competitor and scoring sensation in the 1946 season, he quickly gained the respect of his teammates. He didn't switch to his iconic #9 until the 1947-48 season after Roy Conacher was traded to the Blackhawks. Initially, Howe had no interest in changing numbers, but when he was informed that his sleeping quarters would change, he jumped at the opportunity. Bobby Hull did the same when he switched from #16 on the Blackhawks to #9. Numbers played a big role in the early NHL.
Internationally, the Soviets, coached by Viktor Tikhonov, were beginning to develop their dominance in the game, and Tikhonov assigned the goaltenders #1 and #2 as designation for sleeping arrangement in trains, and as their order of starting in games. However, there was the occasional Soviet defenceman who wore #2 while playing in Russia, and Tikhonov worked to get those he liked the numbers they regularly wore. However, due to Vladislav Tretiak's wearing of #20 in the Russian League, Tikhonov allowed Tretiak to keep #20. The Soviets only carried twelve forwards, six defencemen, and two goaltenders when traveling to keep costs down, and the backup goaltender was relegated to either #2 or #20. It wasn't until a young Soviet defenceman named Vyacheslav Fetisov came along that #2 was taken off the board for goalies on Tikhonov's team.
In 1966-67, the impending expansion of the NHL from six to twelve teams opened up hundreds of jobs for players. The league allowed for additional players to be carried on the roster in order to protect against injuries, thus removing the "regional ownership" over minor teams that some NHL teams enjoyed in the Original Six days. In the 1964-65 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs already had a veteran goaltenders named Johnny Bower who wore #1. However, they acquired Terry Sawchuk who also wore #1 traditionally. Sawchuk, being the younger of the two men, relinquished his #1 so that Leafs' veteran Bower wasn't challenged for his #1. Instead, Sawchuk opted for #25 initially, before settling on #30. Sawchuk reportedly changed his number to #30 since there were more players on the roster after expansion.
Due to Sawchuk's change in numbers, a lot of younger players began wearing #30 as goaltenders thanks to the Leafs' continual appearances on Hockey Night In Canada. While #1 was still popular amongst goaltenders thanks to the likes of Glenn Hall and Johnny Bower, a lot of goaltenders began looking at #30, thanks to Sawchuk, and #35, thanks to a Blackhawks goaltender named Tony Esposito. Those three numbers were primarily the dominant goaltending numbers until the late-1980s. If you'll notice some of the trends, a lot of the American goaltenders wore numbers near #35 (Vanbiesbrouck, Barrasso, and Richter are good examples) as they embarked on their NHL careers in the late-1980s and early-1990s. As a note, Vanbiesbrouck opted for #34 when he broke into the league because teammate Ron Scott wore #35 during the Beezer's rookie season.
It wasn't until a young Francophone goaltender named Patrick Roy came along that some of the "weirder" goaltender numbers began appearing. Roy never thought he would make the team in 1986, but he ended up playing 47 games that season. Due to his spectacular play, Roy earned the starting job for the playoffs as a 20 year-old. However, because he had no idea he would be part of the Canadiens' roster, he went with #32 to start his career. Once he made the cuts, Roy needed to choose a number with the Canadiens. He had worn #30 all throughout his junior career, but Chris Nilan already wore #30. #35 was being worn by Mike McPhee, so that number was out as well. Instead, Roy settled on a happy medium and chose #33 - the number directly between #30 and #35.
With the change in numbers, lots of goaltenders began to choose less traditional numbers while defending the blue paint. #1, #30, and #35 are still used today, but we've seen lots of other numbers used as well.
- John Davidson was the first goaltender to wear #00. Incidentally, he also wore #30 and #35.
- Martin Biron was the last goaltender (and player) to wear #00. He did it with the Sabres. The NHL outlawed #00 in 1998.
- Kevin Weekes wanted to wear #00 as he said it "looked balanced". However, he settled on #80 as the NHL prohibits players from wearing #00 now.
- Ron Hextall wore #27 throughout his career in Philadelphia and in Quebec, but swapped the numbers to #72 when he joined the Islanders in 1993-94. Why? Derek King wore #27 for the Isles. However, he went back to #27 the following season in Philly.
- John Grahame wore #47 since his days in college.
- George Hainsworth, a very successful goaltender in the early NHL days, wore both #10 and #12 during his stint with the Montreal Canadiens.
- Both Ed Belfour and Evgeni Nabokov wear #20 in honour of Vladislav Tretiak. Belfour, however, started his NHL career as #31 before changing to #30. Why? Alain Chevrier wore #30 during Belfour's rookie season.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!