With the recent passing of Hockey Hall of Fame member Andy Bathgate, we hockey fans of a certain lofty demographic were reminded once again that nine was once the number of the superstar.
In those post television, pre expansion National Hockey League days, nine was the number you wanted to wear when you grew up and made it to the bigs, because nine was the number of legend.
Those were the days, when even the Leafs could win the Stanley Cup, when the big guns on the big teams were the guys with a glorious number 9 on their backs.
Bobby Hull wore nine in Chicago, as did Gordie Howe in Detroit, Johnny Bucyk in Boston, The Rocket in Montreal and Andy Bathgate with the Rangers. Bathgate also wore number nine for the Leafs, as did Dickie Duff, Dick Gamble, Brett Imlach and Norm Ullman.
As of this writing, there are fifteen famous number nines in the Hockey Hall of Fame, including The Rocket, Gordie, Bobby, Johnny, Andy and Dickie.
Other notable number nines over the years have included Cowboy Bill Flett with the Kings and the Flames, Paul Kariya with the Ducks, Avalanche, Predators and Blues, Red Berenson with the Blues and the legendary Reggie Fleming (said to be the inspiration for Paul Newman’s Reggie Dunlop character in Slap Shot) who played for the Rangers, Flyers and Sabres.
For we Vancouver Canuck fans, the history of number nine for the ‘Nucks goes back to their first year in the league, 1971, when the famed figure was sported by none other than Ed Hatoum. Other Canucks to carry that digit over the years include Ivan Boldierev, Russ Courtnall, Don Lever, Brad May, Ryan Walter, Andrew McBain, Brandon Prust, the forgettable Lubimor Vaic and the talented but troubled Harold Druken.
Additionally, Bathgate wore number 9 with the Rangers, Leafs and Penguins; Hull with the Black Hawks and the Jets; Howe with the Red Wings and Hartford, and Russ Courtnall with both the Canucks and the Leafs. And there you have it — everything you always knew about the number nine but couldn’t quite remember.