Ilya Bryzgalov has a well-earned reputation for being unique, so it’s not a shock to see him sporting No. 80 on the back of his Oilers jersey.
He isn’t, however, the first netminder to wear the unorthodox digits. That honor goes to Hockey Night in Canada analyst Kevin Weekes, who donned 80 for the Rangers, Islanders, Hurricanes and Lightning. Apparently, Weekes chose 80 because it’s the number that most closely resembles “00”, which the league no longer allows players to wear.
As for Bryzgalov, he went with the high numeral because it’s the year he was born and he had success with it one season in the Russia when he posted eight shutouts.
For much of the NHL’s formative years and the Original Six era, when there were no regular backups, goalies almost exclusively wore No. 1. The NHL mandated in 1950-51 that teams have an emergency goaltender in attendance, then in 1965-66 made it compulsory for clubs to dress two stoppers each night. Terry Sawchuk, who began sharing the crease with Toronto’s Johnny Bower that year, went with 24, then soon after made the switch to 30. Others around the league followed the star’s trend.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that goalies started to wander beyond Nos. 1 and 30 with any frequency. In celebration of the free spirited crease monsters, here’s a top 10 list of high-profile NHL stoppers who made their own numerical fashion statements.
00 John Davidson. The stately-looking J.D. went rogue for one campaign in 1977-78 when he became the first goalie go “double goose-egg.” Martin Biron followed suit in Buffalo in 1996, but had to surrender it when the NHL outlawed zeroes, decimal points and fractions on sweaters.
20 Ed Belfour. ‘The Eagle’ paid homage to Soviet star Vladislav Tretiak and did so in a Hall-of-Fame way.
27 Ron Hextall. A number made famous by Frank Mahovlich, Darryl Sittler and Reg Leach, 27 was made for snipers. In a way, that’s what Hextall was. The first goalie to shoot and score was also known for his fiery demeanor in the crease.
29 Ken Dryden. Rogie Vachon already wore this prior to Dryden’s arrival in Montreal, so it wasn’t exactly trail-blazing, but like the big man himself with the iconic pose, it stood out.
35 Tony Esposito. ‘Tony 0’ said he chose to become the first goalie to wear No. 35 because he wanted to be different. He also accomplished that end by pioneering the butterfly style during his spectacular career with Chicago.
39 Dominik Hasek. ‘The Dominator’ wore 34 and 31 in his brief stint with Chicago before making an indelible mark as the best No. 39 in NHL history.
50 Corey Crawford. They questioned his glove hand and he won a Cup, so we won’t question his choice of numbers.
60 Jose Theodore. The Hart Trophy winner says he went off the board when he arrived in Montreal because all of the good numbers were retired (1), to-be retired (33) or taken.
72 Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. He can wear whichever number he wants.
93 Daren Puppa. We wanted a 90-something on the list and Puppa is the best of the group. A second-team NHL all-star with Buffalo (while wearing No. 31), he posted a .918 save percentage for Tampa in 1995-96 with No. 93. That was during a time when .918 was rarefied air.