What’s in a num­ber?

Jer­sey re­tire­ments a fun topic of de­bate for fans

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - Pa­trick McNeil Pa­trick McNeil is the play-by-play an­nouncer with the Cape Breton Scream­ing Ea­gles. Email him at cb­sepbp@gmail.com, or Twit­ter: cb­se_pbp.

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.

CAPE BRETON POST PHOTO

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.

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