Saturday, 14 February 2009

What Number Do You Wear?

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.

There are a lot more goaltenders who wear odd numbers. This was just a sampling of some of the weirder numbers seen on goalies. As you can see, though, jersey numbers played a very big role in determining traditional numbers for the masked men in the NHL. Hopefully, this will help any future goalies choose a traditional number. Or a weird number. Either way, make it important to you!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Tony said...

I was a goalie all through my years of playing roller hockey, and I always was #36.

I'm also a big music fan, and I read a lot about the superstitions about numbers that add up to 9. So thats why 36 was on my back all those years.

But this is a DAMN good blog, Teebz. You really ought to have Paul put it on the UniWatch site so it gets better exposure. Great job, man.

Anonymous said...

Curious as to why Hasek wore 39. or 24 in the Olympics

Teebz said...

Hasek originally wore #34 with the Blackhawks in his rookie season. However, he swapped to #31 the next season before being traded to the Sabres. When he arrived in Buffalo, Daren Puppa wore #31, forcing Hasek to pick a new number. Puppa was traded for Grant Fuhr, and then Fuhr wore #31. My guess? He kept the idea of keeping the #1 around (31-1 = 30, 39+1 = 40).

As for #24, the number of players carried on the Olympic squads is 22 + two goalies. Since he's never worn #1, I assume that he chose #24 in the traditional manner just as Tretiak chose #20.

I'll dig around and see if I can come up with steadfast reasons as to why he chose those numbers, but those seem logical.

Anonymous said...

Wow. 7-on-7, everyone went the full 60, the Zamboni hadn't been invented... The game must have been slower than floor hockey.

Anyway, I already said it in the UW comments, but this is a great post. (And thanks for making the Belfour correction).

And in reference to Friday's post, Duncan Keith absolutely belongs on the Team Canada roster.

Anonymous said...

Nathan Lawson of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL) wears #52 in honour of his mother.

thanks for the story.. cool stuff

Anonymous said...

I know I wore #31 when I played in net due to Fuhr wearing that in the 80s - I'm not sure of the lineage there, as Moog was always #35 and I honestly can't remember another Oiler goalie wearing #30. Probably something from junior hockey.

Dave Hogg said...

Slava Fetisov was only 12 when Tretiak joined the Soviet National Team, so I doubt that's why Tretiak wore 20.

Teebz said...

Good call, Dave! I had their birth years swapped, making me think Fetisov was older when he's actually younger.

Changes made to reflect that fact. Thanks for correcting that! That was a HUGE mistake! LOL

Anonymous said...

Very awesome post. Very informative. I've always wondered why the goalies (majority) always wore a # close to #30. I appreciate you plugging Hextall in there, makes a Philly fan pleased.

Maybe you can find out why Bernie Parent wore #00 in the 1/2 of season he was in the WHA with the Philadelphia Blazers. I found out why once, but can't seem to find it.

Also it'd be great to swap links? Let me know. Here's my blog.

Anonymous said...

@JD I interviewed Bernie Parent a few weeks ago for TendersLounge and asked him about flaming WHA mask vs. the plain white one in the NHL. While I didn't ask specifically about the "00" the mask response probably applies to the number as well... he wanted to be a bit flashier in the new league but went back to his conservative nature in the NHL.

Anonymous said...

Patrick Roy was not called up before the 1986 playoffs, he had been with the team all year, and had unseated Steve Penney (who stayed on the roster all year, and thru the playoffs before being traded to the Jets in the off-season. And, wore an unusual number himself #37... and he actually WAS called up just prior to the playoffs, so maybe thats where the confusion stems from.)

Also, when Roy first joined the Canadiens, his number was #32 which he wore briefly (though only as a back up, never in game action) before switching to #33.

Check it out here...

tracey said...

This was an awesome post.. I keep noticing the #35 on goalies and was curious.... this article was interesting and informative! thanks!!

-hockey girly in CA ~* go ducks! *~

MikeHunt said...

Hextall also wore #1 in the 92-93 preseason as can be seen in the NHL Network special "A Day That Changed The Game" The Lindros trade episode.

Unknown said...

In Soviet Union, numbers from 2 to 19 were assigned to field players, and the first and last (1 and 20) were for the goalies.

Dukey63 said...

Great post, thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I'm from the UK, NHL fan of nearly 40 years (Rangers), and always wanted to be a goalie. Never got the chance however. My number of choice would be #63, as it was my jersey number when I played American Football in the UK with the Kingston Liberators as an offensive tackle. The number has stayed with me since 1987, so I feel an attachment to it.