Being an ice hockey fan, what comes to your mind when you hear or see the kit number 99? What does it remind you of? What this number referred? To whom this 99 kit belongs?
You might know if you are a true hockey fan and watch the NHL games from the start. But if you do not know much about ice hockey, its treasures players, and some signature signs/ numbers.
Some specific numbers are related to particular players. Like, when you read 23 on NHL kit, you get reminded of Michael Jordan, and when you see the most famous 99, then who else can come to mind other than the ‘The Great One’ – hockey greatest player Wayne Gretzky. It’s like he owns that number.
The question is: Can you wear the 99 number kit in the NHL? – No, You are not allowed to wear the 99 number in the NHL. Because the NHL officially retired the 99 number on behalf and in respect of Wayne Gretzky. However, five other players have also worn this number in NHL history.
Let’s look at the brief history of the 99, where you will find all the answers to your question.
Why Did Wayne Gretzky Choose 99 To Wear in NHL?
Gretzky has always idolized Gordie Howe since his childhood. He even had a fanboy picture with his idol hockey player Gordie. As Gretzky loved and respected Gordie, he wore the number 9 shirt throughout his childhood career because his hockey hero had worn the number 9 on his shirt.
But how did he start wearing number 99? At the age of 17, Wayne had a match with Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – a junior ice hockey team in Ontario, Canada. A player named Brian Gualazzi was already seen wearing the nine – 9 on his shirt. Since ice hockey already has a rule that the senior or veteran player is privileged to choose the number first, and Wayne was just a rookie then. Thus, following his coach’s advice, Wayne started wearing the number 99.
That’s how the legend of 99 began!
When did Wayne Retired His Number?
Edmonton Oilers were the first to retire Wayne Gretzky’s number 99 on October 1st, 1999. He is the most remembered player of Oilers and the one who has almost the best years in this franchise as any other player. He set numerous records, became MVP of multiple trophies, and had the honor of lifting four Stanley Cups to his name.
At the retirement ceremony, he was given a whole round in a truck and received 5 minutes standing ovation. Edmonton had renamed a street on him, now called Wayne Gretzky Drive. In addition, Edmonton had also erected a Wayne Gretzky statue holding a Stanley cup in his hand at the front of Rogers Place arena, where Oilers players usually have their home series.
Los Angeles Kings
Before the opening of the Los Angeles Kings season, the Kings gave the retirement Wayne Gretzky jersey on October 9th, 2002. Besides giving the retirement, they also stand a Wayne Gretzky bronze statue outside the Staples Center.
All Over the League Official Retirement
At the most fascinating and shining stars event – the 50th Annual All-Star Game, the league presented retirement to Wayne Gretzky’s signature number, jersey 99, on February 6th, 2000.
Wayne Gretzky has honored to drop the ceremonial 1st puck to start the All-Star game between the North American team – Paul Kariya, and the Word team – Jeromy Jagr.
Gretzky announced his retirement just the previous year, 1998-99, and after a few months, the league decided to retire Gretzky’s legendary jersey.
Why The NHL Retired The Number 99?
Not a specific reason. The NHL has done what it should have done to the jersey of any Great player, showing how responsible and respective the leading hockey association NHL is towards its legendary players.
Plus, none other players will in his right mind put on the jersey 99 after the retirement of Gretzky. Since it was his number and it will be his number forever.
And it should be to his name as he has many reasons for it. He was the greatest player ever in hockey. People call him ‘The Great One’ due to his countless accomplishments. He broke and set many new records, almost having the longest records list to his name. He has records regarding every stat: the goals, assists, and points individually in his career and series.
Whether NHL retired his number 99 or not, no one would wear his jersey because wearing 99 means that you are putting yourself equal to the ‘Great One,’ yet one can never be in his place. Also, Ice Hockey is a game of respect, honor, and tradition. So, being responsible, The NHL just did what it had to do.
Which Players Have Worn The 99?
Other than Gretzky, five different players also had worn the 99 number. Out of these five players, three were from the beginning era of the NHL, and two were at the time of Wayne’s starting career.
The first three 99 players were all from the Montreal Canadians, and all three wore the same number in the same year. These three players, Jose Lamb, Desse Roche, and Leo Bourgeault, all played in the season 1934-35 for the same league. 1st Lamb wore it before he got traded, then Roche before the trading, and the same goes for Bourgeault.
Another two 99 players came after decades of these three 99 players. Ricky Dudley and Riff Paiement.
Waivers hired Rick Dudley during 1980-81, and he played his final 30 games with Winnipeg Jets wearing the number 99.
The last 99 players, Riff Paiement, played for Toronto Maple Leafs, wearing the number 99 in all his 187 games. He had worn this number to his final game with the Toronto Leafs on March 6th, 1982.
Do Other Numbers Also Have League-Wide Retirement?
Except for the 99, no other number has the league-wide retirement officially. However, the only worthy number deserving of retiring unofficially is the number 66 – the Mario Lemieux.
The NHL official Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux, the shining star of the Pittsburgh Penguins, played from season 1984 – 2006. Even the ‘Great One’ Wayne Gretzky considered Mario a better player than himself. However, Mario Lemieux ended up at the rank 7th in the overall score points, which would not happen if he was not injured and ill. Otherwise, he would have flown too high.
Just look at the points of these legendary players’ greatness. Gretzky has a points average of 1.92, while Mario has an average of 1.88 points. They both stand too high compared to today’s players. Even the current star player Sidney Crosby is behind these two players, with an average of 1.28 points.
Therefore, no one in the game wears the number 66, knowing the respect for the number even without the official retirement of the number. Every player knows the reason, so neither any player asks about it, nor will they wear it as a symbol of admiration and paying regard to him, plus follow the hockey tradition of mega players of the NHL.
The Bottom Line on Can you Wear 99 in the NHL?
Coming to the conclusion point of the 99 kit history. Everyone in the NHL knows to whom this number belongs and what it reminds them. The love, passion, respect, admiration, struggles, and efforts, this number has all in it that describe the ultra-majestic playing capabilities of the ‘Great One.’ It deserved to retire officially along with the retirement of Wayne Gretzky.
The only greatest player of the NHL till now – Wayne Gretzky!