According to Tom Guilitti over at Fire & Ice, Sheldon Brookbank gets to be the latest Devils snowman. I certainly hope that he fares better than previous players who wore #8 for the Devils:
Vadim Sharifijanov, who was actually drafted in 1994 ahead of some guy named Elias, scored one lonely goal during the 99-00 season. Unfortunately, Bubba and I were in the bathroom at the time the fog horn went off, and a few weeks later “the Sherriff” was shipped off to Vancouver as partial payment for Mogilny.
Igor Larionov, the Professor, who brought his twin wheels (stacked) from Detroit. He was about as effective as Mr. Magoo in a Devils sweater. Bonus points if you can name of the players who were traded for Larionov in years prior to 2004.
Alex Brooks, briefly appearing on the blue line last season as part of the shuttle service between Lowell and East Rutherford. He broke his foot (blocking a shot), was returned to Lowell, and upon gaining free agency split for the St. Louis Blues. He’s now minus-1 (as in wearing number 7, not plus/minus) in a Peoria Rivermen jersey.
All trends need to reverse at some point. At a solid 6-2, I’m betting Brookbank can bring some permanence to a #8 Devils sweater, and fear into wingers that see the approach snowman along the boards. In addition to loving the number 8, as my mother frequently points out, I also like words that end in the letter “k”. Good sign.
There was a short blurb in ESPN: The Magazine about Colorado’s Paul Stastny switching numbers so that he can don his dad’s digits: 26. Got me thinking…..Elias wears number 26, previously sported by Peter Stastny during his time with the Devils. I’ve wondered why Elias chose 26, especially when he wore 25 and 22 in Albany (although they were taken by Jason Arnott and Claude Lemeiux at various times). A potential but unlikely explanation is that 22, 25 and 13 (his birthday) were unavailable (no Devil has ever worn #13, which seems weird given that the team’s crest invites all kinds of evil juju anyway, adding triskaidekaphobia to the mix might actually be a double negative kind of thing) so he doubled 13 and got 26. More likely is that Elias joined the big club shortly after Peter Stastny departed, and he took the logical Czech digits.
I’m always fascinated as to why players choose the numbers they do. Mogilny was 89 to honor the year of his defection and escape from Russia. Jagr’s 68 is a tribute the independence of Czechoslovakia, precursor to the Czech Republic. Crosby wears his birth year (87). Gretzky did an alliterative stint on Mr. Hockey and got 99. It’s not often that there’s a story behind the numbers, but the stories tend to add to the richness of the fan experience.
Imagine this: It’s 1989. The Cold War is still “hot” while US-Soviet relations are, well, cold. You’re a 20-year old hockey player who secretly flies to Buffalo, New York, because the year before some men in business suits took a wild chance on you. You fear for your life, for your parents’ lives, you don’t speak English and your #23 Russian Army hockey jersey seems more than half a globe away. You are Alexander Mogilny, the first Russian hockey player in the NHL.
We frequently think of our sports heros as brave for playing through pain, or for orchestrating come-from-behind victories, but we don’t always associate sports with life-and-death decisions. 89 became Alex Mogilny’s sweater number because it was the year he defected, ending up in Buffalo since the team had drafted him a year before. He established a precedent that brought other Soviet and Soviet bloc players to the NHL, showing that not only was it possible to play but to learn English, adapt culturally (Mogilny learned to play golf), and thrive. In 1993 he became the first Russian player named captain of an NHL team.
Mogs scored over 1,000 points in just under 1,000 games. A point a game is impressive over a few seasons, but he did it for more than 15 years. His name is on the Stanley Cup, won with the Devils in 99-00, and in 02-03 he was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy for the most gentlemanly play on the ice. Hockey is a contact sport, and Mogilny’s hip had been flaring up on him, limiting his play the last few seasons.
Tonight the Devils put Mogilny on waivers. It’s not a complete surprise as Mogs has been in the doghouse lately. Hopefully he’ll be claimed by another team, allowing him to wrap up his NHL career on a high note, perhaps reaching 1,000 games or 500 goals — both impressive milestones well within reach during this season. In the meantime, my somewhat authentic Russian army #89 and #23 jerseys, and my “Blue Streak” poster from his Maple Leafs days will sit quietly, awaiting a distinguished finish to a distinguished player’s career.
Life imitated art again today: Our little Devils took the ice after the big Devils finished their practice session. After losing in a shootout last night against Colorado, the Devils ran through a few shootout drills, and more than a few cycling from behind the net to the low slot drills (Colorado had two goals with that play Friday night).
I went back out to my car to get the well-traveled and chronicled Alexander Mogilny Russian Army jersey, hoping I might finally get the sublime sharpshooter to put the subtle Sharpie strokes on my sublimated sharp Lutch sweater. Alliteration and my feets failed me now; I missed Mogs by about 10 steps. He left the ice just as I re-entered the rink.
As the players left the ice, I couldn’t help but join in with some of the visiting youth players looking for autographs. I provided player names and pens. Zach Parise signed my semi-official scorer’s book. I have to remember to pull that page out before I use it to count shots on goal in our next home game.
Before heading into the locker room to change and then catch a plane to Columbus, Parise wished the little guys good luck in their game. Parise will probably get passed over for the Calder and Byng trophies, given how the Devils are playing this year, but he gets major props from me for being a model to young players.