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 29. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Behind the Sweater Number: 29
The First 29s
According to Hockey Reference, 420 players have worn sweater number 30 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 Jim Bartlett of the Boston Bruins as the first player to don the digits. He did so in the 1960-61 season for 63 games. It would be the last season in the Verdun, Quebec native’s career, but he went out with 15 goals in 63 games.
The number wouldn’t be in circulation until the 1965-66 season when two Bruins players would wear the number for a total of five games. Poul Popiel of Denmark would have the number for four games in his only season in Beantown. Bob Ring would get the number for his lone NHL start, which was a win. However, he had a ghastly 7.24 goals-against-average and an .810 save percentage.
There are always a number of players that wore sweater number 29 that would go onto have decent to good careers. However, these were with other numbers. Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk had the number for a season with his first stint with the Buffalo Sabres. New Jersey Devils goalie and Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur started life as 29 before moving onto 30. Shayne Corson had the number for a season with the Montreal Canadiens in the late 1990s. However, Tony Esposito had the number in his spell with the Habs before a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Todd Gill took the number for a couple of seasons while future Hall of Fame builder Ken Holland had the sweater with the Hartford Whalers. Dmitri Khristich started his NHL career with sweater number 29 with the Washington Capitals. Goalie and fellow Hall of Fame builder Jim Rutherford also had 29. Hall of Fame goalies Terry Sawchuk and Rogie Vachon also donned the digits as did Billy Smith with the Los Angeles Kings. Peter Stastny had 29 in his opening season with the Devils.
There are a number of players making noise about being the best to wear sweater number 29. However, Ken Dryden is the pick for him being one of the best goalies ever. Dryden won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy before even losing a regular season game. He won six Stanley Cups, the Calder Trophy and five Vezina Trophies during his brief career with the Habs.
Dryden was one of the best in the business and one of the most intelligent players in the NHL. His career off the ice is just as decorated as it is on the ice. Dryden would be an author, a commentator, a politician, a teacher and a sports executive. He also earned his law degree and was a businessperson. Dryden probably has one of the most colourful lives on and off the ice.
The former Cornell goalie had 29 assigned to him after traditional goalie numbers like one and 30 were taken. Dryden had one when he was with the Big Red in the NCAA. However, he’s made sweater number 29 his own.
Other 29s and the Future
Leon Draisaitl is one of the players trying to gain on the legacy of Dryden. The German has become one of the most feared scorers in the NHL. Nathan MacKinnon is also going to try and stake a claim to why he’s the best to wear sweater number 29. Marc-Andre Fleury also has a Hall of Fame resume for his great career and Jason Pominville had a long and successful career.
The number also belongs to difference makers like Akim Aliu, who is trying to help grow the game. Brock Nelson of the New York Islanders has also been a solid player in his NHL career. Felix Potvin was a good goalie for a number of seasons in the league.
Main photo by: Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images