Looking inside the IceHogs’ numbers

by Mike Peck || AHL On The Beat Archive 

Ever wonder why your favorite player wears a certain number on their jersey? Hockey players are a superstitious breed, so how much does a player’s number really matter to them?

Surprisingly, most players on this season’s Rockford IceHogs club said the number they sport doesn’t hold a whole lot of sentiment to them. Remember, we said most, so there are some good stories behind some of the jerseys.

If you want to go the sentimental route, take Bracken Kearns. The No. 6 seems a little odd for a forward as the lower digits are typically reserved for defensemen. But that is the number that his father, Dennis Kearns, wore during his 10 seasons as a defenseman in the National Hockey League with Vancouver.

Pete MacArthur has a similar story about his No. 24. His dad, however, didn’t wear that number playing hockey. He wore it playing semi-pro basketball.

MacArthur was No. 15 last season, but when Danny Bois was signed by the organization, he was offered the number by MacArthur. Bois has worn 15 since his junior days with the London Knights (OHL) and has held on to it for all six years in the pros.

Perhaps the strangest number story from this season’s IceHogs squad comes from winger Ryan Flinn.

“I wear the number 49 because of a grudge,” said Flinn. “When I was a rookie with L.A. (Kings), a second-year player found out I wanted a certain number and told the trainer there and he gave him my number. I ended up getting 49 and have had it ever since.”

As Flinn illustrates, young players have a little harder time getting their preferred numbers as the veterans get first crack at them.

As head equipment manager, Russ Holden is responsible for assigning numbers to the players on the IceHogs. The process starts before training camp and rookies are the last to choose.

“It goes by seniority, games played and what the older players prefer,” said Holden. “Most of the time you can match up the veterans with their preferred number. I usually ask each guy for three preferences and try to accommodate them.”

After joining the IceHogs following the completion of his junior season at Colorado College, rookie defenseman Brian Connelly was fortunate enough to snag his collegiate No. 11. That was until this season when fellow former CC Tiger Mark Cullen, who recently played in his 500th career professional game, was signed by the Blackhawks organization and took the number.

When asked why he wears 10, Connelly simply replied with a grin, “Go ask Mark Cullen!”

All wasn’t lost for Connelly as he wore 10 while skating at Bloomington (Minn.) Jefferson High School. Cullen, by the way, has worn 11 on and off since his rookie season in Houston.

Some players on the IceHogs have worn the same number since they were kids playing youth hockey. Evan Brophey has had No. 7 for as long as he can remember.

“I have worn it since minor hockey back home,” said Brophey. “I thought 7 was cool and have been lucky to stick with it for every year but one in juniors when I was traded midseason.”

Matt Keith has had No. 22 since his junior days in Red Deer and David Phillips’ No.13 dates back to his junior playing days in England. Richard Petiot was given No. 2 during his rookie season in Manchester and has worn it since.

Rob Klinkhammer isn’t sure why he wears 37. He believes it was given to him during IceHogs training camp prior to last season. Obviously no sentiment there.

Defenseman Daryl Boyle was handed No. 41 as a rookie in Norfolk last season. He kept the number with the IceHogs this year as his preferred No. 6 was taken by Kearns.

Jack Skille actually swapped numbers two weeks into this season after wearing No. 12 during his first two years in Rockford. When Kyle Greentree was traded to the Blackhawks and assigned to the IceHogs, Skille gave him No. 12, the number Greentree wore with the Quad City Flames the season before.

Skille then snagged No. 20 from Akim Aliu, the same number that he wears when with the Blackhawks, also his old number at Verona (Wis.) High School. That meant Aliu had to find a new number and he chose 19, for no particular reason.

“During the middle of the season it is tougher to match up players with their preferred numbers,” said Holden. “When Greener (Greentree) got here he was hoping to get 12 and Skille wanted to change his number to match his number with Chicago so it was an easy switch.”

Skille previously wore 11 in Chicago until the Blackhawks signed veteran center John Madden. The winger then grabbed 20 with the Hawks.

Goalies are probably the most superstitious of all hockey players and that might explain why Corey Crawford flipped jersey numbers during his junior playing days. After originally getting assigned 30 from his equipment manager in Moncton, Crawford didn’t like it and switched to 29, which he currently wears with the IceHogs.

Joe Fallon isn’t as petty about the numerals on his back as he wears #30 because that was the number he got when he arrived in Rockford prior to last season.

Bryan Bickell wears No. 17 because of his favorite player growing up. Raised in Ontario, Bickell was a big fan of the Maple Leafs’ Wendel Clark.

“In the NHL the players might be a little more superstitions about their numbers,” said Holden. “At this level, players bounce around so often so they are a little more limited on which numbers they have available to them.”

Single digits suit Jonathan Carlsson well. He prefers the lower numbers and wears No. 3 with Rockford. Simon Danis-Pepin is usually No. 9, but Derek Nesbitt currently occupies that number despite being in Toledo in the ECHL, so the rookie D-man reduced his number by one this year and now shows off the No. 8.

Adam Hobson has been up and down the past three seasons between the IceHogs and their ECHL affiliates, but has held on to his No. 23. Not that 23 means a whole to Hobson, as the winger said it was the best number made available to him as his top choice would be 18, but was taken both seasons prior by older players.

Not really too picky about the number he wears, the most tenured professional player on Rockford’s roster, Jassen Cullimore, took No. 4 because it was one of the few numbers available when he got to Rockford in November.

Most guys fall into the number they wear. Jake Dowell was given No. 28 when he joined the Norfolk Admirals following his senior season at the University of Wisconsin in 2007 and has stuck with it since in the AHL.

“I really didn’t care to change it when I got to Rockford,” said Dowell, who wore 11 with the Badgers. “Fans get to know you in a certain number so I really didn’t want to change it.”

A lot of teams at the minor-league level won’t issue higher numbers. Number 88 might look good on Patrick Kane, but you probably won’t find an IceHogs skater donning 88 any time soon. Practicality is the main reason as players turn over more often in minor leagues and lower numbers are easier to hand out to new players coming in midseason.

Flinn’s 49 is the highest number issued to an IceHogs’ skater and is the highest since the team joined the AHL. The number worn by the most players in Rockford’s 11 seasons of professional hockey is 27, as 17 different players have been seen in it. Currently, defenseman J.C. Sawyer occupies it with Rockford.

The only number below 40 never worn by an IceHogs skater is 36, while only 11 numerals above 49 have been put on the back of an IceHogs player.