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by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
A giant faux pas; that’s what wearing sweater No. 91 would have been in the 1960s. In those days hockey players wore low numbers, that’s just what they did. And when the Los Angeles Kings drafted Butch Goring in the fifth round (51st overall) of the 1969 Entry Draft, selecting his sweater number was one of those giant blunders.

“When I was a youngster, my favorite athlete was a football player,” Goring said. “My favorite hockey player was Gordie Howe, but he wore nine. Jackie Parker, who very few people would know, played in the CFL (Canadian Football League) for the Edmonton Eskimos and he wore number 91. I loved Jackie Parker.”

Because of his love for the American-born football player, Goring said, “I always wanted to wear number 91, but it wasn’t fashionable back in the ‘60s or even the ‘70s. Back when I first turned pro in ’69, I wanted to wear 91, but they wouldn’t let me.”

Instead, Goring switched the numbers around, and for 10 years, the center sported sweater No. 19.

Then during the 1980 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Goring was traded to the Islanders and in his first 12 games with the franchise he wore sweater No. 21. But the following season, Goring wanted to get back to his roots, and again he asked to wear No. 91.

“When I came to the Islanders, (Wayne) Gretzky was in the League (and he wore 99) and Phil Esposito was wearing 77. So I had the opportunity to wear 91,” Goring said.

“It wasn’t because Bryan Trottier wore No. 19,” Goring continued. “I had worn 19 in LA, but it wasn’t like many people think. I didn’t just switch the numbers around. Ninety-one was the number that I always wanted to wear.”

In his final NHL season (1984-85), the second Islanders player to wear sweater No. 91 wasn’t even born yet. Five years later, John Tavares would be born in September 1990, the ninth month of the year. Then in 2009, at the age of 18, the center would be selected by the Islanders first overall in the NHL Entry Draft and he would play in his first professional game at 19-years-old.

As the first-overall draft pick, Tavares was unquestionably allowed to choose his own sweater number and the skilled forward chose No. 91.

The Tavares family has a history with the No. 9.

“Nine has always been a number in my family,” Tavares explained. “My uncle used to wear nine in lacrosse. My mom was born on the ninth day of December. I’m born in September, the ninth month. So it’s always been a number that’s been associated with my family and it just kind of suited me ever since I was young.”

But the No. 9 is just half of the equation. When he was young, Tavares started wearing the No. 19.

“In minor hockey, I wore nine or 19, but mostly 19,” Tavares said. “Then the last team I played for before I was drafted in junior, one kid had 19 on the team and he didn’t want to give it up. I didn’t blame him so I just kind of flipped the numbers around that season.”

Flipping the numbers worked for Tavares.

“I had a really good season and at the time, no one was wearing it at all except probably Sergei Federov in the NHL, who was really making a name for that number,” Tavares said. “And I kind of wanted to make it mine. It’s more popular nowadays, but I’ve had it ever since then.”

Tavares really seems to fit in with the Islanders clan. Whether he wears No. 91 like Butch Goring or the No. 19 like Bryan Trottier, which now hangs in the Coliseum rafters, Tavares is hoping to bring a Stanley Cup back to Long Island.

“It’s a pretty good guy that wore 19 here so hopefully I can do something that he’s done and bring a Cup back and bring a lot of success back to this organization like Trotts (Bryan Trottier) did,” Tavares said.
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