Back in the halcyon days of the NHL, which was when I was growing up for all of you who are under the age of 25, the team that was closest to my home was the New York Rangers. I listened to the radio calls of Marv Albert and Sal “Red Light” Messina and heard the names of players like Eddie Giacomin, Rod Gilbert, and Brad Park battling it out with the likes of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Eddie Johnston, among others. It was my introduction to the National Hockey League.
I had some favorite players, and paid attention to their sweater numbers. Jean Ratelle wore #19, Rod Gilbert wore #7, Brad Park wore #2, Bobby Rousseau wore #22, and Pete Stemkowski (yes, that Pete Stemkowski) wore #21. Thus, when it came time for me to actually try to put on the equipment and learn how to play, I thought that I’d choose one of those numbers as my very own.
What I found out was that circumstances often threw a wrench into the works in my grand plans for a proper sweater number, and that was the case in all sports that I tried to play. In soccer, my number was 26 because that was the shirt that fit the best. In my one season playing lacrosse, I was assigned #46, and I learned to love it, because I was barely on the school team and proud just to be in the locker room.
In hockey, it was really no different. It all depended on the position that I was trying to play, the team that I was trying to play for, the size of the jersey that fit, or whatever I was given. There was one little thing, too: sometimes, I played worse than usual with a certain jersey on my back, which has no basis in reality whatsoever, other than how I felt when I put it on.
As it turned out, I was assigned #11 when I played at the highest level of my hockey life, when I was in preparatory school. I took the sweater, and was able to go to practice every day. I was able to play, albeit sparingly, given that other guys on the team were so much better than I was. So, in spite of the fact that Vic Hadfield and Ulf Nilsson were not my favorite NHL players, their sweater number turned out to be my own. It was really an organic process.
Here in San Jose, players have either requested a sweater number, been assigned a sweater number, been forced to wear a sweater number because of circumstances, or have changed their sweater number to accommodate another veteran coming into town out of respect. Here are a couple of my recollections on this topic:
- The first game in Sharks history was played in Vancouver on October 4, 1991. When the training staff unpacked the jerseys, somehow one of them, #5, was not in the bag, for reasons that have disappeared into the ether of history. Thus, in the very first game in the history of the hockey team, defenseman Neil Wilkinson had to wear one of the spare jerseys that were on hand. In this case, “Wilkie” wore #45.
- Jeff Friesen exploded onto the Silicon Valley hockey scene in 1995, when he raced around Toronto defenseman Kenny Jonsson, sprinted in alone, and scored a brilliant shorthanded goal, his first in the NHL. He did so wearing #39, but the next year, he started the season by changing his number from #39 to #19, in homage to his hero, Steve Yzerman. After falling into a major scoring rut, he changed back to 39, and he immediately started putting the puck into the net again. So, for the rest of his Sharks career, Friesen wore 39.
- The record for most different jersey numbers worn in Sharks history is four. The record is held by none other than Alexander Korolyuk. In his six seasons with San Jose, Korolyuk wore the following jerseys: 15, 27, 94, and, for at least one game, 41. Darren Turcotte and Bob Errey each wore three different jersey numbers, but Korolyuk is the current champion.
SWEATER CHANGES THIS SEASON
We have recently learned that uniform numbers have been assigned to the new members of the Sharks, and that there will be a couple of changes made to the sweaters of some players who were here last season.
For the record, the new numbers and changes are as follows:
- Jason Demers will wear #5
- Brad Stuart will wear #7
- Andrew Desjardins will wear #10
- TJ Galiardi will wear #21
- Adam Burish will wear #37
For all of you Brad Stuart fans, the fact that he is wearing #7 means that your older edition of his Sharks jersey, if you have one, is still good. Selected by the Sharks in the first round, third overall, in 1998, Brad wore that same sweater from 1999-2006 (he did briefly wear #12 in 2000-01).
After leaving San Jose in the Joe Thornton trade, Brad wore #6 in Boston, #6 in Calgary, #6 in Los Angeles, and #23 in Detroit. With his full-circle move home to San Jose, he has returned to wearing #7, and all you have to do is get your updated Sharks jersey with Brad’s #7 emblazoned on it.
Jason Demers wore #5 earlier in his career while playing for the AHL’s Worcester Sharks, and he also wore it in junior with the Victoriaville Tigres, so it is pretty natural to see him gravitate from #60, usually reserved for a training camp tryout kind of guy, to a low-digit number that signifies his continued development into an NHL regular.
For some reason, I can’t help but recall when Jeff Friesen promptly fell into a scoring rut until he switched back to #39 and began scoring again. So, my cautionary advice to J.D. is to keep #60 in the bullpen for an insurance policy. You don’t think that I really believe in that sort of thing, do you? (The answer is: no, not really).
TJ Galiardi wore #9 when he played for the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. He wore #39 in Colorado, and donned #37 here in San Jose last season. But since that sweater fits Adam Burish like a glove, given that he (Burish) has worn it for much of his career, the move to #21 seems like a fresh start for him. I’m sure that TJ is hoping for a happy and healthy season wearing #21, and I’m pretty confident that Burish is fine with 37.
Galiardi now has the same number that Craig Coxe wore on October 4, 1991, when he scored the first goal in the history of the Sharks franchise against Vancouver’s Kirk McLean. Burish has the number worn by Rob Gaudreau when the first hat trick in franchise history was scored on December 3, 1992, at the Cow Palace vs. Hartford.
Andrew Desjardins skated with #22 when he played with the Sault Sainte Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. He kept that number in Worcester, but upon his arrival in San Jose, that sweater was most certainly claimed by veteran Dan Boyle. So, “Desi” ended up taking the individualistic #69, which was previously worn by only one NHL player in for a cup of coffee, Mel Anglestad. He gets a pretty solid upgrade in his new sweater.
For what it’s worth, here are some of the others who have worn these numbers at various points in Sharks history:
5:Neil Wilkinson, Mike Lalor, Jason Widmer, Doug Bodger, Ken Sutton, Jeff Norton, Jeff Jillson, Rob Davison, Colin White.
7:Wayne Presley, Mikhail Kravets, Igor Larionov, Ville Peltonen, Richard Brennan, Shawn Burr, Mark Bell, and, most recently, Niclas Wallin.
10:Tony Hrkac, Johan Garpenlov, Marcus Ragnarsson, Alyn McCauley, Christian Ehrhoff, Jamal Mayers, Brad Winchester.
21:Craig Coxe, Peter Ahola, Yvon Corriveau, Dave Brown, TonyGranato, Jim Fahey, Alexei Semenov, Scott Nichol.
37:Don Barber, Rob Gaudreau, Ville Peltonen, Stephane Matteau, Mikka Kiprusoff, Curtis Brown, Grant Stevenson, Brad Lukowich.
What does this all mean, other than a few wardrobe changes to Sharks fans who wish to be as current as possible? Well, the bottom line is that if a hockey player is happy, they generally perform better when they’re on the ice, so if these changes make the players happy, they’ll make me happy, too.
Get your new Sharks jerseys now and get ready for an exciting season!