Uniform numbers have long been an important part of sports lore and serve multiple purposes. First and foremost, they identify the players, but they also allow fans to identify with those players by wearing those numbers on their own jerseys. Many players have also become so closely associated with their number that it becomes part of their legend and “brand”.
Frank Patrick, brother of Ranger Patriarch Lester Patrick, is credited with introducing a numbering system in the family-owned, Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1911. In the days of seven-man hockey the players were numbered from the goal out: Goal No. 1, Point No. 2, Coverpoint No. 3, Rover No. 4, Left Wing No. 5, Center No. 6, and Right Wing No. 7. The numbering system also aided in making travel arrangements with the lower numbers being assigned lower berths on trains, which is one of the reasons that goaltenders wore number 1, – teams didn’t want to see their netminder falling out of an upper berth if the train came to a sudden stop. Originally worn on armbands, the numbers were eventually moved to first the front and then the back of the players’ sweaters, which in those days were just that – sweaters.
In their new book, New York Rangers By The Numbers, authors Mark Rosenman and Howie Karpin use these uniform numbers and snapshot biographies to explore the Blueshirts’ rich history player-by-player. Think of the Rangers all-time numerical roster but with much more information.
The book allows you to trace the history of each of the 83 numbers worn by the Rangers in their 90 year history. For example, only five players have worn number 7, but three of them have gone on to coach the Blueshirts and two of them are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Number 11 has an interesting pedigree, being worn by three captains, two Hall of Famers, a Babe, a Bronco, a Carpenter and Gordie Howe’s brother. Number 16 has been worn at various times by three Hall of Famers, a former Olympian and a “Turk”.
The authors also honored the memory of New York City Police Detective Steven McDonald who was injured in the line of duty in July 1986 and passed away in January 2017. The Rangers wore his badge number – 104 on their backs during warm-ups in his honor on January 13, 2017. McDonald, his wife Patti and their son Conor have been part of the Ranger family since 1987. Each year the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award is given to the Ranger player who, as voted by the fans, goes above and beyond the call of duty. It is the most coveted of the Rangers end-of-season team awards.
New York Rangers By The Numbers, is a full of names you will recognize and many you will not. At 482 pages, the book is a comprehensive tome and an excellent resource that I guarantee you will refer to many times and find hard to put down. It’s a well-researched, fun read that would be a great addition to any serious fans’ hockey library.