Tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins host the New York Islanders in the fourth and final meeting of the season between the teams. Pittsburgh won the first two meetings (4-2 at home on October 27, 3-2 in overtime in Brooklyn on November 18) before dropping the third meeting 5-3 in Brooklyn on November 30. The game will mark the first time New York’s dynamic forward prospect Josh Ho-Sang will play in PPG Paints Arena.
But that’s not what this commentary is about. This is about the number he has chosen to wear. And you.
You all know the significance of the number 66 to Penguins fans. I don’t need to rehash that. But I feel it necessary to remind you that, as of this writing, the New York Islanders franchise has retired the following numbers:
- 5 - Denis Potvin
- 9 - Clark Gillies
- 19 - Bryan Trottier
- 22 - Mike Bossy
- 23 - Bob Nystrom
- 31 - Billy Smith
Is 66 there? No.
The National Hockey League has also decided to honor the legacy of the highest scoring player in the history of the league, Wayne Gretzky, by retiring his chosen number, 99, league wide.
99. Not 66.
By those two facts, the number 66 is fair game to be chosen by players of 29 of the 30 NHL franchises. The number 66 is only off limits to the Penguins, as they have rightly decreed it so for one of the most feared, talented, and dominant players this sport has ever known.
According to Hockey Reference, the number 66 has only been worn by six players in NHL history. Mario Lemieux was the second, following Milan Novy of Washington, who wore it in the 1983 season for 73 games. Also wearing the number were Gino Odjick of Vancouver in 1991 (for 45 games), Yanick Dupre of Philadelphia in 1992 (for only one game), T.J. Brodie of Calgary in 2011 (for only 3 games), and now Josh Ho-Sang.
Ho-Sang is on record as saying he has chosen the number 66 out of respect for Lemieux, having worn the number since his junior days.
Ho-Sang asked yet again about wearing No. 66: "It's no disrespect. If anything it's the ultimate respect."— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 7, 2017
Thanks to Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mario himself is also on record as saying he’s “fine with it”.
I don’t have an issue with it either, mostly because he can, and more so for his reasoning, which should be good enough for anyone. To me, by wearing his number, Ho-Sang is doing exactly what he says he is doing by wearing 66...honoring and respecting one of the league’s greats.
Apparently, this is a minority opinion.
The angst for Ho-Sang wearing 66 tonight is sure to reach a fever pitch, but I find it very curious that this level of uniform number angst is reserved only for 66 in hockey.
I don’t see Pirates fans getting upset when the likes of Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Todd Frazier, or Conor Gillaspie bring the number 21 into PNC Park.
I don’t see Steelers fans getting upset when the likes of Vince Wilfork bring the number 75 into Heinz Field.
More notably, I don’t remember Boston Bruins fans ever getting upset with Justin Schultz or Rob Scuderi before him bringing the number 4 into Montreal or Boston. Or Detroit Red Wings fans upset with Pascal Dupuis for bringing in the number 9. Or, to use the Islanders examples above, Ulf Samuelsson, Ryan Whitney, Ric Jackman, Scott Wilson, or Sebastien Caron (among so many others) for bringing retired numbers into Long Island or Brooklyn.
If you’ve got any sort of beef to have here, it’s not with Josh Ho-Sang. Take up your case with the National Hockey League, who have decreed that the honor afforded to the highest-scoring player in league history should not be conferred to anyone else at this time.
Leave Josh Ho-Sang alone. Give him the opportunity to pay his tribute to the greatest of all the Penguins by his play on the ice. If that’s the bar he wants to set for himself, that’s his choice; let’s see if he can live up to Super Mario.
Or, if you’re unwilling to do this, at least wait until he does something tonight that is truly worthy of your derision before you boo him. And it’s not putting on a number.
EDIT: This post was updated 12:04 pm, Friday, March 24, to include a quote from Mario Lemieux on Ho-Sang’s use of number 66, as obtained by Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.