Friday, 13 June 2014

The NHL's Unluckiest Number: 13, 69 or 66?

In honour of Friday the 13th, I thought that it would be worthwhile to research whether or not NHL players in general have an aversion to the number thirteen.

NHL players are often viewed as some of the most superstitious athletes in pro sports. From bingeing on Diet Coke, to curating bags of elephant excrement, and even punishing insolent sticks by giving them a swirlie, hockey players have some strange hang ups.

However, avoiding the number 13 does not seem to be one of those rituals. Of all 30 active NHL franchises, only one team does not have at least one player in club history who has donned the number thirteen. That team is the Minnesota Wild, and, based on their ongoing problems with scoring, they might want to change the clubs identity by breaking in a #13 jersey. 

While not every #13 is a scoring menace, the notable thirteeners such as Mats Sundin and Pavel Datsyuk suggest that their preferred number is bad luck for opposing teams. Perhaps Minnesota would be wise to snag pending UFA/#13 aficionado Mike Cammalleri this off season. 
 
So if most NHLers are immune to triskaidekaphobia, what numbers do they shun? 

The most commonly-avoided number is 69. Only two players in NHL history have donned this risque combination. Back in the 2003-04 season, Mel Angelstad (a.k.a. "Mel the Mangler", a.k.a. "cementhead") wore #69 twice for the Washington Capitals. The number may in fact be cursed as those two games were the only big-league outings that Angelstad would get in his long but inauspicious career. 

In counterpoint, the number may have brought Angelstad good luck as there was little reason to believe that he would ever see NHL action.

More recently, Andrew Desjardins boldly decided to emblazon the least-worn number on his San Jose Sharks jersey. Rather than attribute his selection to something that would challenge the unofficial boycott against #69, Desjardins admitted that he was wearing that number for the very reason everyone would expect. 

The juxtaposition of the tainted number with the Sharks' logo raises unsettling questions regarding what the shark is trying to do with that stick.

After scandalizing spectators for two seasons, Desjardins changed his number in the off-season of 2012. I've heard that he went with #10 because #55378008 was unavailable.

And so, the most unworn number seems to be a matter of taste rather than superstition. Hockey players may stoop to using dives, embellishments, and cheap shots to get ahead, but they won't blur the one line that separates them from the likes of Bryan Adams

So is there an unlucky number in NHL history? 

The closest thing seems to be #66. Although made famous by Mario Lemieux, the number had been scarcely used prior to Super Mario's hall-of-fame career.

Perhaps Lemieux threatens to incinerate anyone who wears his beloved digits.  

According to hockey-reference.com, which keeps track of numbers used by all active NHL franchises since the 1950-51 season, only four other players have donned double sixes: Milan Novy of the Washington Capitals, Gino Odjick of the Vancouver Canucks, Yanick Dupre of the Philadelphia Flyers, and T.J. Brodie of the Calgary Flames. 

Furthermore, only Lemieux wore #66 for more than a season. Perhaps players avoid the number because it represents two-thirds of the apocalyptic beast's name from the Book of Revelation. However, gut instinct suggests that there must be some sort of sex joke associated with these digits.

According the urbandictionary.com, the number #66  could refer to spooning or an anti-fascist saying. Perhaps hockey players are anxious to avoid presenting themselves as cuddlers whose pillow-talk usually involves denouncing Nazis.    

Do you have any idea why players not named "Mario Lemieux" have shunned or only briefly flirted with wearing #66? If so, please write your theory down and submit it to the estate of Robert Stack. Perhaps you may be able to help solve a mystery. 

Here are some other bits of numbers trivia that I found while going through records.

1. The club with the least used numbers is the Kansas City Scouts / Colorado Rockies / New Jersey Devils franchise, who have not used 54 out of 98 available numbers. Perhaps there has not been much diversity because the Devils are using mostly the same roster that the Scouts iced in the 70s.  

2. In contrast, the Montreal Canadiens have used the most available options. Only 11 numbers have not graced a bleu, blanc, et rouge jersey (#66 is among those unworn by Habs players). 

3. The above tallies do not include the #99, which the league retired after it was immortalized as the number worn by NHL greats Rick Dudley and Wilf Paiement. 

4. Several teams have left entire series of numbers unused. 

The Kansas / Colorado / New Jersey franchise has refrained from dressing anyone in the #70-79 range. 

The Quebec Nordiques / Colorado Avalanche franchise has left the 80s completely untouched. The Columbus Blue Jackets have similarly turned their backs on the 80s. 

Meanwhile, The Atlanta Thrashers / Winnipeg Jets have shunned all numbers in the 90s.