Friday 29 June 2012

The Power Of Zero

I received an email from Paul Lukas, author of the excellent Uni Watch blog, asking me about NHL players who wore #0 or #00. Normally, there would be discussion about John Davidson and Martin Biron, but Paul actually wanted to know all of the players who wore either #0 or #00 and why they chose such an odd number. Honestly, I had never given much thought as to why the players chose those numbers, so that was a challenge I accepted wholeheartedly as I thought it might be a good way to find out some interesting reasons why a player would be a zero (not literally). Here are the stories of the five men who donned #0 or #00 in the NHL or the WHA.

From Paul's June 22nd article, "NHL/WHA: Paul Bibeault, Canadiens; Martin Biron, Sabres*; John Davidson, Rangers*; Bernie Parent, Blazers; Neil Sheehy, Whalers. (Special thanks to Teebz for his help with these.)"

Let's start with the man who first donned a singular zero in competition, Paul Bibeault. Bibeault was a backup goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens in 1940. The only problem is that there were no official backup goalies at that time, so Bibeault never actually was assigned a number at the start of the season. However, poor play by and injuries to starter Bert Gardiner led to Bibeault getting a couple of starts. By the start of 1941, Bibeault had taken the starter's role.

The issue, of course, was that players who weren't on the official roster could assigned any number that was available. Bibeault was given #0 in one of the games, and he was recorded as the first player in the NHL to have worn the number. He also had worn #1 and #16 in games, so it's not like #0 was his designated number, but he was the first. He wouldn't be the last, however.

The next player to be a zero was actually in the WHA. Bernie Parent made the jump over to the Philadelphia Blazers for a richer payday, and he needed to choose a number with his new team. It was actually Parent who made the joke about his number, saying, "Every time a puck gets past me and I look back in my net, I say 'Oh,oh'". And from there, Bernie Parent served as #00 while with the Blazers.

From Parent, we skip ahead to John Davidson and his time with the New York Rangers. Davidson didn't actually want to wear #00, but he became the first player in NHL history to do so because of Phil Esposito. He told Scott Morrison, "The reason I wore it was because of Phil Esposito. When he got traded to the Rangers, he wanted number seven but Rod Gilbert had it. Phil asked me if I would wear 00 because he was going to wear 77 and at the time double digits were rare. Later on, when Ken Hodge got traded he wore 88 because Steve Vickers had eight.

"I was a naive kid, 21 years old at the time, and I agreed to do it for him. Phil was the most superstitious player I ever met. In his dressing room stall he had all kinds of stuff hanging in there for good luck. But he wanted someone to help him transition to the new number and I was the guy."

The next person to show up with a donut on his back was Neil Sheehy in his time with the Hartford Whalers. Sheehy only spent 26 games in Hartford as #0, but his story is perhaps the funniest reason as to how he became a zero. Before Calgary traded him to Hartford, he had been assigned to the Moncton Golden Hawks in the AHL where he wore #0! Sheehy told Scott Morrison,
"When I was with Calgary I had two games to go before my contract became a one-way contract. Calgary was on an eight-game losing streak and I got called into Cliff Fletcher's office and told I was being sent to the minors. That team was going to play four games in four nights on the road, what a treat.

"Terry Crisp was coaching the minor-league team at the time. When I got there, the trainer had a jersey with number 0 on it and he asked me what number I wanted. I said whatever, it didn't matter. He said would you do me a favour and wear this, number 0. I laughed and said absolutely. Crisp came in a few minutes later and said you're not going to wear that are you, and I said, sure. He laughed and said great, 'that's why I love you...'.

"So I wore it in the minors for four games. I got traded to Hartford in 1988 and when I got there I wanted number 5 because I had worn it before but it was taken. I had worn 15 before and it was taken. My first time in the minors I wore 21, but it was taken. So I asked the general manager, Emile Francis, if I could wear number 0. He looked at me funny and laughed, but I told him I wore it in the minors, Crispy loved it, and Emile said 'why not?'

"When people asked me why I wore it I had some fun with it. I would tell them it was the furthest number from 99 and talent-wise I'm furthest from Wayne Gretzky, but just remember opposites attract. At the time, the Battle of Alberta was pretty intense and my job was to play against Gretzky a lot of the time.

"I also told people I wanted to get the 'O' back in my name for O'Sheehy, my Irish ancestors. The truth is, in Ireland our name was MacSheehy. I just tried to have some fun with it. Fans used to yell at me, 'Is zero your IQ?' then somebody would say, 'Hey, this guy went to Harvard you know.' It was hilarious."
Pretty cool story, right? Essentially, he just took #0 because the trainer in Hartford asked him to wear it. How often would a player do that today?

Finally, the last player to have officially worn either #0 or #00 before the NHL outlawed it was Buffalo's Martin Biron. Biron was quoted on the Islanders website regarding his story. Biron got called up for three games in '95-96, and he took his number that he wore in Rochester and with the QMJHL Beauport Harfangs ("Snow Owls"). He said, "Its kind of a long story but when I played junior and in the AHL with Rochester, I wore #00. Even in my first NHL game with the Sabres, I wore #00 but the NHL made a rule at the start of the 1998-99 season to disallow the number. I had the choice of changing to #1 but hated that. My brother at the time was playing for Shawinigan in the QMJHL and wore #34 which someone already had in Buffalo so I flipped the numbers and got #43."

There are your five men who wore #0 or #00, and all but one are goaltenders. Neil Sheehy, who is now a player agent, gets the distinction of being the only non-goaltender in NHL history to have worn either #0 or #00 on the ice in an NHL game. Pretty cool topic if you ask me, and thank you to Paul Lukas for prompting me to do a little research on the topic!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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