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Behind the Sweater Number: No. 81

Marian Hossa retire; sweater number 81

Sweater numbers are synonymous with players. Most hockey fans can instantly tell you a great player by the number they wear on their back. There are many different stories about how players became associated with the famous numbers. Many odd and interesting facts surround these numbers as well. As we count down the start of the 2023-24 NHL season, we take a look at the story behind the numbers. Today we continue with sweater number 81. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.

Behind the Sweater Number: 81

Opening 81s

According to Hockey Reference, 41 players have donned sweater number 81. The first player to wear that number according to the site is Craig Laughlin of the Los Angeles Kings. He first took that number in the 1987-88 after coming over in the middle of the season. Laughlin had worn 26 and 18 for most of his career and reverted back to 18 with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1988-89.

The number would undergo a “Satan-ic” transformation when Slovakia Miroslav Satan next wore the number. He wore 32 with the Edmonton Oilers before switching over to 81 with the Buffalo Sabres. The devilish playmaker became a cult favourite with the Sabres. Satan registered 224 goals with Buffalo. He would switch to 18 for one season, but reverted back to 81 with the New York Islanders.

Great 81s

A pair of great players to don sweater number 81 now come into focus. Marian Hossa is arguably the best player to take the number. However, his younger brother Marcel Hossa had the number first. The younger Hossa was born in 1981, but wore 36 for his first season with the Montreal Canadiens. However, the elder Hossa would be more famous with the number. Marian had worn 18 the Ottawa Senators, Atlanta Thrashers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Marian would switch to 81 with the Detroit Red Wings because Kirk Maltby had 18. Hossa would move onto the Chicago Blackhawks, but keep sweater number 81. He kept 81 because 18 was retired for Denis Savard.

Another great 81 was coming through the league at the same times as Hossa. Phil Kessel is the league’s iron man and has done it wearing 81 mostly. Kessel’s favourite number was eight, but it was usually unavailable. The American decided to go with 81 because he wouldn’t have a jersey conflict. (The ironic part is coming later.) Kessel has carved out a Hall of Fame career and has the most consecutive games played n league history. He’d be forced to wear eight because of Jonathan Marchessault had that number.

Other 81s

There’s some great 81s playing right now including Marchessault. Tampa Bay Lightning standout Erik Cernak has the number and is going to be a staple of the lineup. Winnipeg Jets sniper Kyle Connor has become a goal-scoring threat for the club. Marchessault is the reigning Conn Smythe winner after guiding the Vegas Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup crown. Lars Eller was also a key part of the Washington Capitals when they won the Stanley Cup.

The Future 0f 81

Sweater number 81 actually has a strong history behind it due to some Hall of Fame players. Hossa is in the Hall of Fame and Kessel should be joining him soon.

The other great current players wearing 81 are also raising the numbers profile. There could more 81s to add to the list of greats down the way.

Main photo by: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images


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