Can you wear 99 in the NHL? A brief history

Certain numbers are synonymous with certain players. When you think of the #23 you think of Michael Jordan and when you think of #99 you think of Wayne Gretzky. Has anybody else worn #99 in hockey? 

Can you wear #99 in the NHL? No, you cannot wear the number 99 in the NHL. The league officially retired the number on behalf of Wayne Gretzky in 2000. Although, five other players have wore the number 99 in the history of the NHL.

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Gretzky was the most famous player to wear the number 99, but it has been worn by 5 other players. Let’s take a look at Gretzky’s history of wearing the number and the multiple jersey retirement ceremonies, and the other players who wore the number before the league wide retirement.


Why did Gretzky start wearing 99

Gretzky grew up idolizing Gordie Howe. There is even a famous picture of the boy Wayne with his hero Gordie! So all through his childhood playing career Wayne wore the number 9, because Gordie wore number 9. 

However, when Wayne at the age of 17 went to play with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, which is a junior hockey league team in Ontario, Canada, a player by the name of Brian Gualazzi was already wearing the number 9. One of the unwritten rules of hockey is that the veteran or older player usually gets the choice of number first. Since it was already claimed, Gretzky as the rookie did not get to take number 9.

So the coach at the time, Muzz MacPherson, suggested to Gretzky that he wear the number 99. Gretzky agreed and the legend of the number began!


When did Wayne Gretzky have his number retired?


Edmonton Oilers

Fittingly, the Oilers were the first to retire Gretzky’s number on October 1, 1999. He had the best years of his career (or the best years of anyone ever to play hockey) while he was in Edmonton. He set numerous records, captured numerous trophies and won 4 Stanley Cups. 

At the start of the retirement ceremony Gretzky was driven around in a truck where he received a standing ovation for 5 minutes. 

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Edmonton would rename a street after him, which is now called Wayne Gretzky drive. As well as, they erected a statue of Wayne holding the Stanley Cup that sits outside of Rogers Place arena, where the Oilers play their home games. 


Los Angeles Kings

The Kings retired Gretzky’s number On Oct 9th, 2002 before their season opener. 

Along with the retirement of his jersey to the rafters Los Angeles also erected a bronze statue of Gretzky that stands outside the Staples Center.

Gretzky still makes his home in the Los Angeles, California area. 


League Wide Retirement Ceremony

The league retired Wayne Gretzky’s 99 at the 50th annual all-star game in Toronto on February 6, 2000. 

Gretzky had just retired the previous year at the end of the 1998-99 season with the New York Rangers. It didn’t take long for the league to decide to retire his number league wide as they indicated this within months of his actual retirement.

At the All-Star game Gretzky would drop the ceremonial first puck between Paul Kariya of the North American team and Jaromir Jagr of the World team. 


Why did the NHL retire 99?


The NHL simply did what should have been done. Nobody in their right mind would have worn the number after Gretzky, because it was simply his number and always should be his number.

Gretzky is the greatest player to ever play the game of hockey. He holds by far the most records, including all of the most significant scoring records. He holds the record for most goals, assists and points in a season and a career. 

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Even if the NHL never retired his number it would be essentially retired, because nobody would have worn it anyway. Hockey is a game of tradition, and nobody would have wanted to touch the number because putting it on would have been comparing yourself to him. Nobody compares themselves to Wayne!

So, the NHL simply did what it had to do and retired his number league wide

Who has worn 99?

There have been five players in the history of the NHL to wear the number 99 other than Wayne Gretzky.

The first three came early on in the history of the league and the other two at the start of Gretzky’s career. 

The first three players all played for the Montreal Canadiens and all wore the number 99 in the same year.  Joe Lamb, Desse Roche and Leo Bourgeault all played for and wore the # 99 for the Canadiens during the 1934-35 season. Joe Lamb was the first to wear it before he was traded, and then Desse Roche before he was traded, and then finally Bourgeault. 

The next two players who wore number 99 came much, much later.

During the 1980-81 season, Rick Dudley was picked up off waivers and played the final 30 games of the NHL season with the Winnipeg Jets while wearing the #99. 

Wilf Paiement was the last player other than Wayne Gretzky to wear the #99. Paiement would wear the number while playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He wore the number for 187 games and wore until his last game with the Maple Leafs on March 6, 1982. 


Are there any other league wide retired numbers?


There are no other numbers officially retired league wide. However, the number 66 would be best classified as unofficially retired. 

The number 66 was worn by Mario Lemieux – the hall of famer who played with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1984 to 2006. Lemieux, who Gretzky called an even better goal scorer than himself, would end up finishing 7th overall in total point scoring. However, the number would have been a lot higher if it had not been for illness and injury. 

To give you an idea of their greatness Gretzky averaged 1.92 points/game, while Lemieux was slightly behind at 1.88 points/game.  These two are way ahead of everybody else – Sidney Crosby has 1.28 points/game.

Anyway, nobody in the game wears number 66. Nobody asks, and nobody will. A player in the NHL just knows this is not a number they can wear. There is way too much awe and respect for Lemieux to think that you can even wear his number.  

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