Selecting Uniform Numbers: A Memoir

When I was six years old, and had just begun playing organized hockey, it was 1988 and Steve Yzerman was the greatest thing to happen to Detroit in half a century. As a result, my coaches in Fraser, MI decided that they wouldn’t allow requests for jersey numbers because they’d probably have 23 six-year-olds asking for #19, and end up with 22 crying six-year-olds wearing some other number. Through some stroke of dumb luck, #19 ended up on my back and I was proud (although we were the Nordiques, so I suppose I was more Sakic than Yzerman).

When a rink opened closer to home a few years later, I began skating for Farmington Hills. For some reason, we only had even numbers, and while most kids were able to choose their own numbers, I was always stuck with whatever they gave me because each year, there was one small in a stack of mediums and larges. Playing organized hockey for nearly two decades, it was rare that I wasn’t the smallest kid in the locker room. And since “smallest jersey” = “smallest kid,” I wore #4. The following season, I was shoved into #34 for the same reason.

Fast forward a bunch of years to college. After six weeks of tryouts, the locker room became a smattering of 24 familiar faces, and it was time to get down to what boils down to a very unimportant part of the game: selecting a number to have on your back and to the left of your name in the program.

Our equipment manager went around the room with a clip board, asking each of us for a few numbers we’d like because there was sure to be cross-overs and they really did want to let everyone have whatever number they wanted, since hockey players are a notoriously superstitious bunch. I was hoping for #9, but noticed during tryouts that no less than five of us wore jerseys with #9 on them: whether they were practice jerseys or uniforms from our high school teams or — in the case of a few — junior programs.

Funny thing is… we wouldn’t know which uniform number we were given until we showed up to the locker room for our first game. The team manager’s son also wanted #9, so guess who didn’t get it. Instead, when I found my stall, I saw my second choice hanging above my gear. I would be wearing #11 to represent the school, and that was just fine by me. When I called my dad to tell him the news, he told me that he opted to wear #11 when he was playing collegiate soccer (for the record, he was better at soccer than I could ever have dreamed of being at hockey). #11 grew to be very important to me — and I felt that it represented me well and I did it justice.

Of course, I would have felt the same way if they had thrust a random number on me, like #58 or, even, #64.

And that, of course, is the moral of this story.

Possibly because it’s July and there’s nothing else to bitch about, Red Wings Nation is divided on whether or not new defenseman Mike Commodore should opt to wear #64 as an homage to an ancient computer that’s making a comeback for some reason. Puck Daddy is hosting a pledge drive, asking folks to donate $64 if and when Commodore makes that decision, which — for record — is actually pretty clever and I tip my hat to them for the effort. For his part, Mr. Commodore said he’s open to the idea and he’ll decide once he’s spoken to the Red Wings, who — according to a tweet from the official account — say they’re alright with it and #64 is all his if he wants it.

Putting aside my personal thoughts on the matter (which are: Mike Commodore taking #64 is supremely lame because that’s a reference that’s funny for approximately ten seconds before it becomes tedious and nerdy for the sake of nerdiness — it’s just not my thing, that’s all), I just hope that if he does decide to take #64, it’s because he finds it humorous and not because he feels the pressure of a potential charitable windfall. If that’s the kind of reference that he finds amusing, and wants to wear #64, more power to him. If he’s doing it because everyone else thinks it’s funny, well… that’s less cool. Consider for a moment that this is (approximately) his seventeenth team in the National Hockey League and we’re very likely not the first fan base to breach the subject, and it becomes, then, very likely that he hasn’t chosen to wear it yet for a reason: he’s just not that into the reference. That doesn’t make him a jerk. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still donate your $64 to a good cause. That doesn’t mean he hates nerds. It just means he prefers a different uniform number, which — as I said above — amounts to very little when all is considered. Whatever he chooses, he’ll wear with pride and he’ll make it his own, because that’s what hockey players do.

In recent Red Wings history, players are often assigned a number in their first prospect camp… and usually that number stays with the player until he outright makes the team. Examples of this include Pavel Datsyuk wearing #56 in camp, or — more recently — Jakub Kindl and Jan Mursak wearing #46 and #61, respectively, as call-ups or for their bulks of the camps they attended. Some players likely stuck with their numbers because of the success they had within them (Darren Helm’s #43, lifting a Cup; Jonathan Ericsson’s #52…playing hockey), but some players take advantage of their standing and select a number more fitting for themselves.

If you’ll recall, Valtteri Filppula wore #41 during his few games as a call-up, but the Wings put him in #15 when he became a fixture. After a game or two, he felt comfortable enough to ask for #51, the sweater number he wore in Finland.

Long story short-ish, it’s rare that a Red Wing gets to choose his own number, as silly as that sounds, and I’m sure the same is true of many hockey clubs. I’d hate for Mike Commodore to feel pressure from outside to sway a decision like that. If he prefers #22, the number he wore in Columbus or Carolina, then he should wear it and try to wash some of the Brett Lebda juju out of it. He can’t have his #44 from Ottawa, and he might have to fight Brendan Smith (and Jeff Hancock) for #2, like he wore in Calgary, New Jersey, Albany, Cincinnati, or Lowell; and something tells me that his #8 from the University of North Dakota is safe with Justin Abdelkader, but he could wear #22 if he thinks that’s a better fit.

Funny aside: Logan Pyett was given #22 in camp last season, and he was just signed to an extension, but something tells me his number is fair game at the moment.

#64, for the record, is currently being worn by prospect camp tryout Danny DeKeyser. Last season, once-draft pick-turned-tryout Stephen Johnston wore #64. In 2009-10, it was worn by Gustav Nyquist at prospect camp and tryout John Vigilante in main camp. In 2008-09, it was tryout Bryce Swan. 2007-08: Scott Jackson. 2006-07: Matt Hussey (HUGE thanks to Red Wings Central for the comprehensive training camp rosters — I’ve kept my own since ’08, but theirs go back a long way).

Good luck, Mike. Looks like you’ve become this season’s Prodano / Nodano, where 50% of fans are going to be disappointed no matter what happens… and that’s too bad, because we should all be excited for the new additions. If he has #64 on his back in October — fine, drop the puck. If he opts for #22 or something else — fine, drop the puck. The only thing that’s gimmicky is that we’re wasting breath about it.

26 thoughts on “Selecting Uniform Numbers: A Memoir”

  1. He better not take #2. 

    I like this post.  It makes me think back to my playing days and all the numbers I’ve worn.  I rarely had the same number every season.  I’ve worn 7, 33, 10, 17, 96, 41, 66, and 2.  All for various reason, whether it was size of the jersey or it was assigned to me, like Petrella mentioned, or because I wanted to wear the same number as a Red Wing (33 for Draper, 96 for Holmstrom, 2 for Smith), my favorite number (41), or a lucky number from Michigan Tech hockey camp (17).  

    Picking a new number was always fun.

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  3. If he wants to wear 64, I think it’s fun and wonderful.  I like fun.  If he doesn’t, that’s fine too.  I hope all the PD people donate money anyway, because it was a cool idea and it would be a great way to kick off this new chapter for him regardless of the number on his back.  We will be cheering for him or bitching about him if he is 2, 22, 64, or another random number.  It really doesn’t matter to me.  I hope other news happens (oh hey Joey Mac) so we can talk about something else.

    Side note.  I didn’t click dislike, I liked this post very much, I have a crappy mouse. 

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