Jul 11, 2023
Behind the Sweater Number: No. 66
Sweater numbers are synonymous with players. Most hockey fans can instantly tell you a great player by the number they wear on their back. There are many different stories about how players became
Sweater numbers are synonymous with players. Most hockey fans can instantly tell you a great player by the number they wear on their back. There are many different stories about how players became associated with the famous numbers. Many odd and interesting facts surround these numbers as well. As we count down the start of the 2023-24 NHL season, we take a look at the story behind the numbers. Today we continue with sweater number 66. Keep up to date with the series everyday until the start of the 2023-24 NHL season.
According to Hockey Reference, only six players have worn sweater number 66. One may think a certain superstar from the Pittsburgh Penguins was the first to don the number. However, a Czechoslovakian forward named Milan Novy was the first to wear the number with the Washington Capitals. Novy actually started with number 26 when he broke in during the 1982-83 season.
However, Novy would switch to 66 in the middle of the season. The Kladno, Czechoslovakia native was a longtime veteran of his native league before coming over to North America. Novy did win six league titles in his home country The IIHF Hall of Famer was also a silver medalist in the 1976 Winter Olympics and part of the Canada Cup all-tournament team in 1976.
The most known player to wear sweater number 66 is Mario Lemieux. The Montreal native was already drawing comparisons to Wayne Gretzky when racking up goals with Laval of the QMJHL. Lemieux decided to take the number 66 was 99 flipped upside down. Both Gretzky and Lemieux shared the same agent in Gus Badali, so the move made sense.
“Super Mario” lived up to the insane hype that was thrust upon him by scoring on his first shift in his first game. The Pittsburgh Penguins would finally get Stanley Cup glory with Lemieux and help from other great players on that roster. Pittsburgh was always a threatening team with Lemieux a threat to score a goal at any time.
However, Lemieux won his biggest challenge when he overcame Hodgkin’s Disease that cut years off his career. He managed to return after his January 1993 diagnosis and win the Art Ross Trophy. One wonders what history would be like if he didn’t lose time in his career because of cancer and injuries.
Lemieux also saved his club off the ice and owned the Penguins franchise. He deferred salary and returned to the ice in December 2000. The legend then got a goal and three assists in his first game back. Lemieux would captain Team Canada to hockey gold in the 2002 Winter Olympics. Mario Lemieux was truly a super player.
One would think the book would be closed on players that wore sweater number 66. However, there were some that donned the digits are Lemieux. Joshua Ho-Sang stirred up controversy when he took the number 66. However, Lemieux was fine with the former London Knight’s number choice. Ho-Sang would switch to 26 in the 2018-19 season.
T.J. Brodie had the number for a spell with the Calgary Flames, but shifted over to seven in 2011-12. Gino Odjick and Yanick Dupre also carried the number in early 1990s during the peak of Lemieux’s powers.
The sweater number 66 will also be one of the most iconic sweaters in the game. It may not be officially retired, but the number is loved and many kids often want that number. Perhaps it should get the Gretzky treatment and be retired for the entire league. Despite not having that honour, the number will be a part of hockey lore forever.
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