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 53. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Behind the Sweater Number: 53
The First 53s
According to Hockey Reference, 82 players have worn sweater number 53. Hockey Reference lists Mike Walsh of the New York Islanders as the first to wear the number. This occurred in the 1988-89 season for 13 games. Walsh’s son Reilly Walsh is in the Boston Bruins system.
André Racicot would be he next to wear the number with the Montreal Canadiens in 1989-90. The goalie who would earn the unfortunate nickname of “Red Light” for some of his shaky performances early in his career. Racicot only had 53 for one game before moving onto 40 and 37. Bill Lindsay and Sean Williams would each have the number in 1991-92 season.
Some famous players would take on sweater number 53 before taking on other number. Alec Martinez wore 53 for parts of two seasons with the Los Angeles Kings before switching over to 27. Nikolai Khabibulin donned the digits with the Chicago Blackhawks for the 2005-06 season because his trademark 35 was retired for Tony Esposito. Zdeno Chara took the number for part of his rookie season with the Isles before moving back to three.
Johnny Gaudreau‘s first number with the Calgary Flames was 53. However, he would move to 13 like he had at Boston College. The first number Joe Pavelski had with the San Jose Sharks was 53, but he would move onto eight. Shea Theodore wore 53 with the Anaheim Ducks before getting taken in the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft. That was the same thing that happened to Alex Tuch when he was with the Minnesota Wild.
One of the better players to wear sweater number 53 was Bo Horvat when he was with the Vancouver Canucks. Horvat originally wore the number as a tribute to former London Knights teammate Ian Jenkins. The latter died in a car accident in 2011. Horvat was traded to the Islanders, but Casey Cizikas has carried the number for many seasons with the Islanders. This allowed Horvat to take the number 14 after the deal. Cizikas has donned sweater number 53 for 745 games since coming up in 2011-12.
Jeff Skinner has been a solid goal-scorer in the NHL with the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres. The Toronto native has been a 40-goal scorer and netted 30-plus the last two seasons. Skinner didn’t always wear 53 because he had 23 most of his youth hockey career. The number 23 was taken in junior, so Skinner took 53 because it looked 23. He’s kept the number ever since.
Derek Morris was a longtime wearer of 53 throughout his career. The Edmonton native took the number for all but the 2003-04 season with the Arizona Coyotes. Morris played in 1,107 career NHL games and was a steady player for his stay in the show. The former 13th overall pick made the All-Rookie team in 1997-98.
Other 53s and the Future
The future of the number looks to be in good hands with Moritz Seider of the Detroit Red Wings. He won the Calder Trophy for top rookie in 2021-22 with the Wings and the young German has been solid on the backend. Seider may wrest the crown of best to wear sweater number 53, but there are some talented players that have taken the number.
Main photo by: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports