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More than just a number

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
MONTREAL – Some numbers will always be more popular than others in the hockey world, but behind every player’s jersey choice, there’s usually a story.

Whether it’s Hal Gill opting for No. 75 in honor of his birth year or Michael Cammalleri finding out after being assigned No. 13 as a kid that it’s actually a lucky number in Italy, players usually have a tight bond with their digits.
After donning the number 91 in his first campaign with the Habs, Scott Gomez used the offseason to give his jersey a little makeover. Hoping it will be well worth the wait, Gomez will finally get to sport the No. 11 he wore with pride from the time he was taking his first strides on Alaskan ice as a tot until he cracked an NHL lineup.

When the Anchorage native first slipped on his Devils jersey as a rookie, John Madden was already established in his red and black No. 11, so Gomez chose 23. When he made the move to the Rangers, Mark Messier’s No. 11 was already dangling from the Madison Square Garden rafters, he chose 19 in honor of New Jersey coach – and Canadiens Hall-of-Famer – Larry Robinson. And finally, upon landing in Montreal, Gomez realized the departure of Habs captain Saku Koivu was still too fresh to wear his coveted No. 11.  
Over the years, 58 Canadiens have worn No. 11, from Jack McDonald who played just 35 games between 1917 and 1922, Yvon Lambert and Kirk Muller to Koivu, who sported the sweater for 792 games from 1995 to 2009.

The number hasn’t just been popular in la Belle Province, either. In fact, throughout NHL history, 493 players have donned No. 11.* While that may represent an impressive crop of NHLers, it’s not even the most popular number in the game. No. 15 leads the way, representing 559 players over the years, followed by No. 14 (549), 17 (514), 18 (501), 12 (498) and 16 (496). Jersey selection in Montreal is never an easy process, with 15 numbers – including three of the most popular – retired for some of the greatest legends of the game.

Gomez’s choice was no easier, with both of the NHL jersey’s he had previously worn, No. 19 and No. 23, already retired by the Canadiens in honor of Robinson and Bob Gainey. Now, the speedy center is looking forward to going back to his roots in his lucky No. 11.    

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for Translated by Shauna Denis.

* (Editor’s note: These figures are courtesy of the Society for International Hockey Research.)

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