The incredibly wholesome reason Gordie Howe started wearing No. 9 has us cracking up

There will never be anyone like Gordie Howe again.

Born on March 31, 1928, Howe was one of nine siblings in a farmhouse in Saskatoon, and at age eight, he started playing organized hockey.

Howe proved to be a great talent, and at 15, he was invited by the New York Rangers to their training camp.

Howe did well enough to get offered to sign a ”C” form, which would give the Rangers his NHL rights.

But Howe didn’t think it was a great fit, and he decided to return home to Saskatoon to play with his friends. A year later, he was invited to the Red Wings’ camp, and Howe signed a contract with them.

In 1946, Howe made his NHL debut, playing on the right wing for the Red Wings, and at age 18, he scored in his debut. The rest, as they say, is history.

Howe played 26 seasons in the NHL and another six in the WHA, breaking numerous records.

He’s widely acknowledged as the most complete player to ever take the ice, and at the time of his retirement, he had the most goals, assists, and points in NHL history. Eventually, all these records were broken by Wayne Gretzky, who grew up idolizing Howe.

Howe also shares the NHL record for seasons played, and his all-time NHL games played was only surpassed in 2021 by Patrick Marleau. Nicknamed Mr Hockey, Howe won the Art Ross Trophy six times and led the NHL in goals four times.

After Gordie Howe’s death, Wayne Gretzky said that if it were up to him, Howe’s No. 9 would be retired league-wide, and it’s difficult to imagine Howe ever playing with another number on his jersey than the No. 9. 


But what most people don’t know is that Howe, when he first started playing in the NHL with the Red Wings, didn’t even wear the number.

During his first year, playing as a rookie, he wore No. 17. But things changed when Roy Conacher joined the Chicago Blackhawks after the 1946-47 season.
”When I joined the Red Wings, it had been Roy Conacher’s sweater, but he was dealt away near the beginning of the 1947–48 season. I didn’t mind wearing number 17, except for one thing,” Howe wrote in his autobiography ’Mr. Hockey: My Story.’

”We traveled to away games by train. On overnight trips, the sleeper cars had twenty-four berths, a dozen spots on top and twelve down below. Bunks were assigned by sweater number, with lower digits getting the bottom beds.”

Having No. 17, Howe was assigned the top spots on the train, and he didn’t like it.

”A trainer pointed out to me that by switching numbers I could get a lower berth and sleep more comfortably. I snatched up Conacher’s number straightaway.”

It was just a matter of being a practical decision, but No. 9 became symbolic with Howe. And when Wayne Gretzky started playing, he wanted No. 9 as a tribute to Howe, but it was already taken. That led to Gretzky wearing 99, but it could’ve been 1717 if Howe didn’t have any issues sleeping on the top spot…

”After spending most of my career as number 9, it feels strange to try to picture myself wearing a different number. It’s funny to think that, at the time, it was purely a practical decision,” Howe wrote.

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