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 23. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Behind the Sweater Number: 23
The First 23s
According to Hockey Reference, 504 players have worn sweater number 23 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 players with the number in the 1950-51 season. Hall of Famer Marcel Pronovost only wore the number for one season with the Detroit Red Wings. The five-time Stanley Cup winner actually wore 21 and 23 that season.
As we draw closer to the end of the countdown, we’ll focus more the big-name players that wore the number. We’ll also give more attention to the players that briefly wore sweater number 23. This series will also take a look at the future of the number and who may carry the digits.
There are always a number of players that wore sweater number 23 that would go onto have decent to good careers. However, these were with other numbers. Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk spent his New Jersey Devils career with the 23 sweater. Defenceman and future University of Michigan coach Red Berenson had the number for one season with the Montreal Canaidens. Travis Hamonic donned the digits for two seasons with the Ottawa Senators. Sheldon Kennedy‘s two seasons with Calgary Flames were with the 23 sweater. Jyrki Lumme carried the number for his season with the Dallas Stars.
Craig MacTavish had 23 in his stint with the St. Louis Blues. The late Bryan Marchment had the sweater for his tenure in Tampa Bay. Bryan McCabe wore the number with the Vancouver Canucks. Enforcer Terry O’Reilly donned the sweater for one season with the Boston Bruins. J.P. Parise wore the number with the Cleveland Barons for a season. Hall of Famer Pat Quinn wore the number two seasons in Toronto.
There have been plenty of talented players with sweater number 23. However, Bob Gainey was one of the best defensive forwards in the history of the league. Gainey was actually drafted in the top 10 of both the NHL and World Hockey Association drafts in 1973. Montreal took the Peterborough, Ontario native eighth while the Minnesota Fighting Saints. The Habs would win out and reap the benefit of having one of the best lockdown forwards in league history.
Gainey would scored 239 goals, but helped Montreal to five Stanley Cups during their dominant run in 1970s. He would also win four Selke Trophies, which was the record before Patrice Bergeron eclipsed Gainey with six. Gainey would also win the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP in the 1979 post-season. His number 23 would be retired by the Canadiens franchise in 2008.
Other 23s and the Future
Brian Bellows, Milan Hejduk and Bob Nystrom were some of the greats that also had distinguished careers in sweater number 23. Bellows was a potent goal-scorer while Hejduk was a key part of the Colorado Avalanche. Nystrom was part of the four straight Stanley Cups won by the New York Islanders.
Other players like Dustin Brown, Alexander Edler, Todd Gill, Lou Nanne, Mathieu Schneider, Eddie Shack also all carved out successful careers while wearing sweater number 23. The future looks great with players like Adam Fox, Brock McGinn and others ready to carry the number.
Main photo by: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports