It all started innocently enough, while we were heading to the Bills game and listening to “Roll the Highlight Film,” a CD of Sabres play-by-playman Rick Jeanerette’s best calls. One clip refenced a player with the last name “Patrick,” and based on the era, we knew it wasn’t James Patrick. So we started trying to figure out the first name, and while we didn’t come up with it for a while, I did say I didn’t know the name, but that he wore no. 26. It turns out it was Steve Patrick (thanks to BfloBlog commenter “Jerome’s” brother) and he did, indeed, wear sweater 26.
So all that hard research led me to looking over all the jersey numbers in the Sabres media guide, and as I was reminiscing a bit, it occurred to me that there are some numbers that have never seen a good hockey player don them. So I promptly set about creating: The Sabres Top-Five Worst Jersey Numbers.
The rules were pretty simple. The jersey had to have been worn by at least five players. Obviously, any retired jersey is exempt, so no matter how badly I wanted Mikael Anderson’s number to be represented, no. 14 was exempt because of Rene Robert. Also, a legendary Sabre had the ability to “power up” a sweater, meaning Mike Foligno more than made up for Pat Hughes wearing no. 17. In addition, the ability to “power up” also works in reverse, meaning if you are one of those Sabres that was mocked for the majority of your career, you definitely added to the negative side. So, without further ado:
Fifth Worst – Number 21. In reviewing the Sabres number landscape, number 21 is a barren wasteland of names. Despite having one-time All-Star Christian Ruuttu (he made the team in the late eighties back when every team had to have a representative) and his 101 career goals, the rest of the 21’s are a weak bunch. Brian “Spinner” Spencer gives the number a bit of an edge, as he was wacked out and was killed at a fairly young age after either a bad drug deal or just plain bad luck, depending on who you believe. Other than that, it’s guys like Mark Astley, Mike Hurlbut, Scott Thomas and Claude Verret.
Fourth Worst – Number 26. I know my buddy Scott would agree that the power of Pat Hughes alone is enough to propel this legendary number into the top 5, but when you are able to add Dean Kennedy, Mal Davis, Keith Carney, and Darrin Shannon then it’s place is secure. Even the legendary Derek Plante and his 91 career goals (yes, thanks for the one against Ottawa in the playoffs) added to the numbers legacy, as the soft Plante helped “power down” number 26. Add to it that former goon, Eric Boulton, wore 26 on the rare occasion he got to don the sweater and it just gets sweeter.
Third Worst – Number 33. True story. A friend of mines mother once asked us when we signed a Chinese player. After we looked at her with vacant gazes, she replied “You know, Ben-wa Ho,” or as those of us who followed hockey spelled it, Benoit Hogue. Sadly, that story is the best things that number 33 has going for it, as the bearers of 33 through the years truly could form a bad AHL line. Hogue, Mark Astley (again), Doug Janik, Jody Gage (briefly, I think his main number was 12), Jim Hofford, Phil Myer, and Scott Pearson. Yeech!
Second Worst – Number 15. People often ask, how can a number make up for it’s mediocrity? It’s easy. Volume. The sheer overpowering number of awful players who have donned number 15 in the Sabres 35 years staggers the mind. With 17 players having worn it, you know there haven’t been any long-time Sabres in there. When the best players to have worn it are Randy Wood, Gerry Meehan, and Dixon Ward it’s real hard to make up for Lou Franceschetti, Chris Langevin, and Sergei Petrenko.
Worst Sabre Number in History – Number 34. I know…I too was initially shocked since I never realized anyone ever wore 34. But the brief list for that number reads like a who’s who list of busts that played for the Sabres, starting with the Grand-daddy of them all, Mike Wilson. Picked up in 1995 in the trade that shipped Alex Mogilny out of town for Mike Peca and the draft pick that became Jay McKee, Wilson underwhelmed right away. (Incidentally, that series of trades stemming from the Mogilny deal is fascinating. We later traded Peca away for Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt, and we traded Wilson away for Rhett Warrener and a draft pick that became Ryan Miller. Then we traded Warrener for Drury. So from Alex Mogilny we now have Tim Connolly, Taylor Pyatt, Chris Drury, Jay McKee and Ryan Miller. Not too shabby) Anyway, other not-so-famous 34’s include goalies David Littman and Darren Eliot, Adam Creighton (again), stereotypical Canadian Gord Donnelly, current loser Jeff Jillson, and last, but not least, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, who may or may not have more hyphens in his name than points while with the Sabres (hint: the answer is “may.”)
My apologies go out to some of the runners-up, especially the number 24. Bill Hajt’s steady play over 14 years was enough to overcome Ed Hospodar, Randy Wyrozub, and Ron Busniuk.