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 9. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Behind the Sweater Number: 9
To the Nines
According to Hockey Reference, 303 players have worn sweater number 9 since since jersey records were kept in the 1950-51 season. However, it does not list any players before then that may have taken the number. Hockey Reference lists five of the Original Six with at least one player in that number. The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t have a player wearing number nine that season. Three Hall of Famers wore the number in Roy Conacher, Gordie Howe and Gordie Howe.
The number nine has been synonymous with the team’s top scorer. Many greats have donned the number over the years. We will still look at some of the players that had brief runs with the number. However, it’s usually a number that many players seek out and will want if they get it assigned to them.
There are always a number of players that wore sweater number 9 that would go onto have decent to good careers. However, these were with other numbers. Pavel Bure wore the number for two seasons with the New York Rangers. Future Hall of Famer Ron Francis was actually nine before he got his trademark 10 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brett Hull had nine in his brief tenure with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Igor Larionov was nine for his one season with the Florida Panthers. Rick Martin of the Buffalo Sabres wore sweater number 9 for a brief spell, but settled on his trademark seven. Hall of Famers Denis Savard and Darryl Sittler each wore the number near the end of their careers.
Both Richard and Howe were players that transcended the game. However, the Detroit Red Wings ace gets the slight edge in this one. The man known as Mr. Hockey won six titles between the NHL and WHA. Howe was a 21-time All-Star and won six Art Ross and six Hart Trophies. He finished with 801 career goals and played in 1,767 games in the NHL.
A fun fact was that Howe actually started his career with the number 17. However, he was offered nine after Conacher was traded to Chicago. The lower number was a chance for Howe to get more sleep on long train rides. Howe took the sweater and the rest is history.
The Rocket and other 9s
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the greatness of Rocket Richard. The Rocket won eight Stanley Cups, a Hart Trophy in 1947 and was a 14-time All-Star. Montreal’s AHL team bears its name as does the top goal-scorer award in the league.
Plenty of Hall of Famers like Glenn Anderson, Andy Bathgate, Johnny Buyck, Dick Duff, Clark Gillies, Bobby Hull and others have worn sweater number 9. Others HoF players like Paul Kariya, Ted Kennedy, Lanny McDonald, Mike Modano and Norm Ullman also wore the number.
The future looks good with nine as Filip Forsberg, Jack Eichel, Clayton Keller, Adrian Kempe and others have the number. Sweater number 9 is one of the most storied numbers in the game. Stay tuned for another installment in the sweater number history series.
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