What’s in a number?
Jersey retirements a fun topic of debate for fans
Jan. 25, 2008, was a memorable night for Screaming Eagles supporters as Marc-André Fleury returned to Centre 200 to have his number 29 retired by Cape Breton. It’s the only time an Eagle has seen his jersey raised to the rafters.
Jersey retirements can be hotly debated topic among sports fans, and those discussions are more complex in the world of junior hockey. The debate is often whether or not there should be a primary focus on what the player did in junior, or what the player did in the pros, namely the NHL. Perhaps the most intriguing case is that of Alexandre Daigle who saw his number 91 raised by the Victoriaville Tigres last Friday.
Daigle was a phenomenal hockey player, recording 281 points over 127 games with the Tigres. People in other cities flocked to see him when the Tigres came to their town. He was the top pick of the 1993 NHL draft and came into the NHL with tremendous hype.
Judged by normal expectations, Daigle’s career in the NHL was fine — 327 points over 616 games over 10 seasons. But due to the enormous buzz, he’s rarely remembered as a three-time 20 goal scorer, but instead one of the biggest busts in NHL history. Perhaps it was that stigma that caused the wait (Daigle last played in the QMJHL in 1995) but his jersey retirement was a key part of Victoriaville’s celebration of their 30th season.
Of the 71 numbers retired among the QMJHL’s 18 clubs, 15 belong to players who never played in “the show” — more than half of whom were not even NHL draftees. In some cases, it’s a player who had a major impact in junior regardless of their pro career — similar to the QMJHL’s all-time leading scorer Patrice Lefebvre (595 points in 276 matches) who has his number 17 honoured in Shawinigan despite just three NHL appearances. More tragically though, are two other jersey retirements by the Cataractes — Benoit Plouffe (number 14) and Dean Bergeron (number 26) — who had their careers shortened by severe injuries.
Most heartbreaking is the story of Neil Carnes, whose number 19 was raised after he was killed in a motorcycle accident following Carnes skating for the Titan in the 1989 Memorial Cup. While few would complain about a player being honoured posthumously, the decision by Bathurst to keep retired numbers from their tenure in Laval — seven in total, including the likes of Mario Lemieux (number 66) and Mike Bossy (number 17) — is another matter of debate.
The Titan have also removed number 1 from circulation for Robert Luongo, who with 45 contests for Bathurst has the least games (aside from Plouffe and Carnes) with a team that retired his jersey. Luongo was in goal for the Titan’s President’s Cup in 1999 however, just like he backstopped Val-d’Or to a title the prior year. His number 1 is honoured there also and he is the only QMJHL player to have his number retired twice.
Val-d’Or is the lone QMJHL club to retire a jersey for a nonplayer. Founded in 1993, the Foreurs retired 93 in honour of Jean-Claude Babin. Babin was part of a group that was founded in 1976 that wanted to, and eventually did, bring QMJHL hockey to the region.
Another number, number 9, is retired for someone who didn’t play in the QMJHL. When the Montreal Rocket was founded as an expansion team named after Maurice Richard, no one was assigned his signature number. Even following the team’s move to PEI (where the Rocket name was originally kept) and subsequent rebranding to the Charlottetown Islanders, no player there has worn number 9.
Two teams — the Moncton Wildcats and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada — still have all numbers available. But at least one player on the Armada’s current roster could see his uniform honoured elsewhere. When Cape Breton dealt Pierre-Luc Dubois to Blainville, they received gifted 16-year-old Mathias Laferrière who wore number 18 during his brief stint with the Armada. That was the same number Dubois wore in Sydney, and once Laferrière arrived in Cape Breton he was given number 81 instead. Eagles general manager and coach Marc-André Dumont hinted during a radio interview that number 18 could potentially not be worn again in Cape Breton.
Perhaps the club will wait to measure his professional success. For certain, there will continue to be plenty of debates in plenty of QMJHL cities about how good is good enough to never use a number again.
When Marc-André Fleury, shown in this file photo, had his number 29 retired at Centre 200 on Jan. 25, 2008, it was the first and only time a Cape Breton Screaming Eagles player has had his jersey number retired.