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 31. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
Behind the Sweater Number: 31
The First 31s
According to Hockey Reference, 256 players have worn sweater number 31 since since jersey records were kept in the 1950-51 season. Hockey Reference lists goalie Bob Perreault of the Montreal Canadiens as the first to wear the digits. Perreault did so in the 1955-56. The Trois-Rivieres, Quebec native had both one and 31 during that season. He’d go onto play for the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins.
Claude Cyr would be the next player to take the number in the 1958-59 season with the Habs. The Montreal native would be one of the numerous players that had a one-game NHL career. Montreal continued to have a monopoly on the number with Claude Provost wearing the sweater in the 1961-62 season. He’d get 33 goals during that campaign, but would switch back to his familiar 14.
There are always a number of players that wore sweater number 31 that would go onto have decent to good careers. However, these were with other numbers. Tony Amonte‘s first number with the New York Rangers was 31. It’s his second time appearing in the cameo category. Don Beaupre had the number 31 with the Ottawa Senators. Hall of Famer Ed Belfour was 31 in the 1988-89 season for the Chicago Blackhawks. However, he’d settle on 30 and 20 for the rest of his career. A number of other goalies would have short stints with the number from Sean Burke, Ben Bishop, Brian Boucher among others.
Hall of Famers like Ed Giacomin, Dominik Hasek, Jacques Plante and Gerry Cheevers also had stints with the number. Valeri Kamensky had the digits for a time with the Quebec Nordiques. Other goalies like Dwayne Roloson and Antti Raanta also had some time with sweater number 31.
The choice for the best player to wear sweater number 31 was a battle of goalies. However, Carey Price is the man to get our pick due to his dominance of the game. The British Columbia native came onto the scene in 2007-08 and was a force for a number of seasons. Price finished fourth in the top rookie voting and in the top 10 in the Vezina standings.
However, Price would be almost impenetrable in the 2014-15 campaign. He helped Canada win Olympic gold at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Price also won the Vezina Trophy for top goalie and the Hart Trophy for most valuable player. He did get to a Stanley Cup final in the 2021 season, but the Canadiens fell short. Injuries have likely ended his career, but he’s left a legacy.
Price had a simple reason to wear 31 and it was because it was available. However, Price has made that number his own in a land of great goalies.
Other Great 31s and the Future
An argument could be made for Grant Fuhr and Billy Smith as the best players to wear 31. Fuhr and Smith are both Hall of Fame goalies that have worn 31 and won four Stanley Cups. The eras were different and both Fuhr and Smith did well in a more open and free-wheeling type of game. Curtis Joseph could also make a case for being one of the best 31s thanks to his great play. It’s still puzzling why the Keswick, Ontario native has yet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The future of the number is in good hands with a goalie like Igor Shesterkin with the Rangers. Shesterkin won the Vezina in 2022 and is continuing the tradition of great Blueshirts goalies.
Main photo by: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images