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Nicklas Backstrom wears 99 in KHL

Oct 22, 2012, 8:09 PM EDT

Nicklas Backstrom AP

Is Wayne Gretzky’s number sacred to you? In the NHL, no player can wear the No. 99, in honor of The Great One’s record-shattering career.

But as long as the players are locked out, Nicklas Backstrom isn’t playing in the NHL. He recently joined Alex Ovechkin as a member of KHL Dynamo and he’s skating around with 99 on his back.

Sportsnet’s Luke Fox reported on the story and asked, “Could this be seen as another shot across the pond at the stagnant NHL?”

He also noted that Backstrom’s number with the Capitals, 19, was already taken and so was 91.

Ultimately, unless Backstrom states his intentions, we can only guess at his reasoning.

It does seem appropriate to add that, as ESPN once wrote, Gretzky originally wanted to wear No. 9 for his idol and another legend, Gordie Howe, when he was a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The only reason he didn’t do it was because that number was already taken and eventually his coach suggested No. 99 as a compromise.

Wearing another player’s number can be a tribute or a sign of the type of player you look up to, but this is one story that might rub some people the wrong way even if Backstrom’s motivations truly are innocent.

  1. stakex - Oct 22, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    I’ve seen guys get razzed while playing open hockey for wearing number 99…. its just one of those things you don’t do.

    • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Oct 22, 2012 at 10:22 PM

      You’re absolutely right….except that that happens in North America. He’s in Russia, where I assume Gretzky is just a good hockey player rather than some kind of deity.

      Would anyone think anything of someone wearing Tretiak’s number here?

      • blomfeld - Oct 22, 2012 at 10:44 PM

        “Would anyone think anything of someone wearing Tretiak’s number here?” …

        Yeah I would ! I’ve only ever owned one sports jersey in my entire life and that’s my white Soviet “away” CCCP jersey with # 20 on the back. That’s right, Vladislav Tretiak who’s my favorite player of all time ! (ie: sorry Quick and Doughty). Anyway, I had to make this shirt myself, because nothing like that was available in Canada at the time (1984). I used to wear it while playing goal in a beer league back then. I recently wore it at the Olympics here in Vancouver, when we went to visit the Russian “Sochi” Pavilion. And man was I ever a hit there ! I had “hot” Russian chicks all over me like flies and I was even interviewed by a Russian TV channel !

        ps: back in the mid 80′s I was wearing this jersey with goalie pads on underneath and it still hung loosely on me … today however, it seems to have become somewhat tight-fitting ? … I guess that’s probably due to shrinkage in the wash or something eh ? :)

      • stakex - Oct 22, 2012 at 11:29 PM

        Tretiak is not the un-questioned best hockey player ever like Gretzky is, even among Russians. He was pretty amazing, but hes not in the same class as Gretzky…. which is not a knock on Tretiak, since no one is in Gretzkys class.

      • 1943mrmojorisin1971 - Oct 23, 2012 at 12:24 AM

        Only because it’s you saying that, blomfeld, do I almost believe it.

      • blomfeld - Oct 23, 2012 at 1:34 AM

        Dearest comrades 1943mrmojorisin1971 and Stakex …

        Friends, I will respond to you as follows:

        Comrade 1943mrmojorisin1971: Despite the fact that I kid around here a lot at PHT, I’ll nonetheless have you know that absolutely “everything” I’ve said in my submission above is “pure” fact ! I could have also mentioned that I was a “bloody” good goaltender then too, however my belief in modesty prevents me from doing that.

        Comrade Stakex: Now listen. I suspect that you’re a little bit younger than me and so I’m prepared to cut you some slack. Nonetheless, the three greatest hockey players off all time are as follows:

        1) Bobby Orr
        2) Vladislav Tretiak
        3) Wayne Gretzky

        And let me tell you friend that I know what I’m talking about ! All three of these magnificent players were “cutting edge” geniuses, who were many years ahead of their respective times. Orr introduced the era of “blitzkrieg” on ice, while Gretzky later took that one notch higher with his almost “Da Vinci” like creativity. Tretiak however was truly special. Oh I remember so well back to 1972, when the local Canadian press here was going on about the fact that Russian goal-tending was still in the Dark Ages, etc. Well man did that ’72 series ever make them change their tune, eh ? To this day, I will forever swear that the greatest goal-tending display which I’ve ever witnessed, was that given by Vladislav Tretiak against the lethal and high-flying Montreal Canadiens on New Years eve in 1975 ! … in fact I still get goose bumps when I think about it now ! Tretiak played with a style that is emulated by all NHL goalies today and therefore “his” is a glorious legacy which is beyond refute !

  2. kitshky - Oct 22, 2012 at 8:38 PM

    I’ve never even been on a beer league team that allowed it … it’s just wrong and disrespectful.

    • taytay099 - Oct 22, 2012 at 9:18 PM

      It’s not disrespectful at all. Gretzky idolized Howe so much and wanted to wear 9, but he couldn’t. I’m sure he understands that there’s no disrespect intended by someone wearing 99.

      • kitshky - Oct 22, 2012 at 9:58 PM

        I’ll respectfully agree to disagree on that one.

  3. innout10 - Oct 22, 2012 at 8:48 PM

    Typical disrespectful Russian pig… I won’t watch a second of that commie puck.

    • taytay099 - Oct 22, 2012 at 9:16 PM

      He’s Swedish.

      • blomfeld - Oct 22, 2012 at 10:51 PM

        he’s technically Finnish, though you are correct in that he’s actually of Swedish stock …

      • taytay099 - Oct 22, 2012 at 11:00 PM

        You’re thinking of Niklas Backstrom the goalie.

      • blomfeld - Oct 23, 2012 at 12:45 AM

        @taytay099 – I think you’re right man ? … sorry about that, as I’m often just “shooting from the hip” here a lot of the time … my Google “search engine” is usually nothing more than my own memory, as I still adhere to the “old school” way of doing things … :)

    • bmoreredfury311 - Oct 22, 2012 at 10:12 PM

      …..shhh…..
      you should think before you talk.

  4. ibieiniid - Oct 22, 2012 at 9:18 PM

    Backstrom is swedish lol

  5. lostone49 - Oct 22, 2012 at 9:57 PM

    If in fact it is being done to honor Greztky, what is the issue? He is in Russia. I doubt they have retired his number there, and it’s not like he will be able to wear it in the U.S. or Canada. Let him have his moment, like many a kid growing up in N. America wanted to do. It doesn’t matter that he is from Sweden, maybe he grew up liking Gretzky, and this is his way of showing it.

  6. capsfan19 - Oct 22, 2012 at 10:58 PM

    Ha ha ha damn ruskis ruining the atmosphere and tarnishing our holy ones image! Pass me another beer honey and go tah sleep so i can watch ma tv!

    Relax big boy, backstrom is a stand up dude and i doubt would do it to mock the great one. I had the opportunity to meet him and he is certainly didnt appear to be the type to knock someone of such stature, however if ovi wore it… Ha im not sure i would be singin the same tune

    • danphipps01 - Oct 22, 2012 at 11:57 PM

      Well, yeah, but that’s because we all know Ovi would do it to wax his own ego, whereas none of us assume that of Backstrom. Relative levels of arrogance, I guess. Backstrom would never dare compare himself to the greatest player ever. Ovi… well, he might. He loves himself enough.

  7. theawesomersfranchise - Oct 23, 2012 at 12:20 AM

    Best part of it was that there was a guy on the other team wearing 99 as well. Ovy decked the other 99. Long story short
    Dear NHL I LOVED watching the KHL highlights tonight, was great to see hockey. btw the world is getting smaller.

  8. icelovinbrotha215 - Oct 23, 2012 at 12:40 AM

    I don’t see what the big deal is. He is playing in the KHL. What did Gretzky do in the KHL? For those who are ‘offended,’ I suggest finding something else to do haha. This article is a product of another slow day in hockey due to lockout.

  9. greedleague - Oct 23, 2012 at 12:44 AM

    Maybe 9.9 … maybe

  10. zabala81 - Oct 23, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    Canadian people are ostriches.

  11. id4joey - Oct 23, 2012 at 8:12 AM

    Homage to the “Great One”

    I would not abide by a rule in any beer league that would prevent players from wearing 99. Matter of fact, I would encourage each team to appoint a player to wear that number in homage of the “Great One”. However, there would be guidelines provided to help select to most worthy candidate, and it would have nothing to do with talent. It would be about selecting the person who best exemplifies consistency, respect of the game, integrity, honesty, leadership, perseverance, and along with that this person (male or female) would be wearing the C. Fans, we need to always look at the betterment of a situation when possible opposed to constantly spewing negativity.

  12. sergeikremlin - Oct 23, 2012 at 8:26 AM

    Ovy talked him into it. Definitely a shot across the pond. Backstrom is Swedish and playing in the KHL, so I don’t see how wearing a Canadian’s retired NHL number is wrong. Blame Bettman. Backs would be rocking 19 for the Caps if not for him.

  13. id4joey - Oct 23, 2012 at 8:26 AM

    blomfeld, I agree with 2 of the 3 men mentioned as the best, and agree that Tretiak was absolutely amazing on Dec 31, 1975. His performance with the Red Army was dazzling. The Montreal Canadiens, as you may recall at the time, was the power house team of the NHL winning cup after cup. However, one game of brilliancy does not a career make. I believe we in North America have that game imprinted in our minds, and it skews reality. A very good goalie he was. However, after re-viewing the 1972 series I noticed his performance was less than par especially in the final three, and very crucial games of the series on home ice no less.

    • blomfeld - Oct 23, 2012 at 3:31 PM

      Id4joey – Not much gets past you, that’s for sure ! :)
      You’re likely correct about the top 3, as Howe should probably be included instead of Tretiak ? Nonetheless, a top 3 “all time best” list for goaltenders definitely has to include Tretiak ! Your analysis is also accurate in terms of his play in the ’72 series, though keep in mind that that was just “our” introduction to the man here in North American. At the time he was only twenty, yet he had already made a huge name for himself in the USSR, having been with the national team since he was only sixteen years of age !

      Now granted Tretiak’s play was perhaps at times suspect during the final phase of that ’72 series, but so the same could be said for the entire Soviet team. Look, I’m Canadian and yet I readily admit like so many others, that by that point in the series, the whole thing had become a “goon show” with Canada willing to win at any cost. What Bobby Clarke did to Kharlamov was despicable and had nothing to do with hockey, but that was just the one glaring example. People like Bergman, Esposito, Mahovlich, Cashman and Goldsworthy all decided that it was “open season” on the Soviets and resorted to thuggery, threats, intimidation and cheap shots like there was no tomorrow, which there wasn’t. The Soviets simply couldn’t reply in kind as “dirty play” was an alien concept to them. So Canada won in the end, though it was with an asterisk. My point however is that Tretiak’s play like the rest of his teammates, must have been adversely affected by the “negativity and ugliness” which the Canadian team decided to bring to bear.

      Anyway, Tretiak went on to have an illustrious career filled with championships the world over and he became beloved even here in Canada ! His playing style set the template for the way “all” successful NHL goalies would play in the future and he did it all while maintaining a class, dignity and poise that is second to none !

      Blomfeld side bar: one of my biggest regrets ever was at a Toronto hotel in the fall of 1990. I was a young salesman at meeting there and I went out alone from the lobby for some fresh air, when all of a sudden right beside me is Vladislav Tretiak ! Well stupid me, I was just so nervous that I didn’t say anything to him part from “hi” … can you believe that ? :)

  14. wethog66 - Oct 23, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    This is a non-issue. Jaspers Rink has an interview with Nicky, and in that interview Nicky explains why he chose #99:

    When you were given bunch of numbers to choose, why did you choose number 99?

    “Because I had a 9 in my 19 and 19 was taken and then I didn’t like the other numbers so 99 was the only one.”

    So you will be like the Swedish Gretzky?

    “No. I will be like the Swedish Nicklas Bäckström.”

    So yeah, blown out of proportion. If the person who posted this blog post did some research this would be cleared up. Then again, maybe the blogger being vague was deliberate to incite Canadian insecurities.

    Anyway, not a big deal.

    • wethog66 - Oct 23, 2012 at 9:38 AM

      Oh yeah, link to the article:

      http://www.japersrink.com/2012/10/22/3537670/backstrom-will-be-the-swedish-nicklas-backstrom

  15. id4joey - Oct 23, 2012 at 5:27 PM

    blomfeld, not an easy task to ID the top three goalies of all time. Having never played in the NHL it is difficult to rank #20. Jacques Plante was a pioneer. Patrick Roy is a great champion, Martin Brodeur currently holds many of the records. One can argue about these three for various reasons. I do believe they are amongst the best ever, and one cannot omit Terry Sawchuk from the list.

    • blomfeld - Oct 23, 2012 at 5:55 PM

      The tragedy was that had it not been for the politics of the time, Tretiak would have played for the Montreal Canadiens … in his book, he talked about that as being his dream at the time … anyway, I’d have to go with the following in terms of the NHL’s best ever netminders:

      1) Terry Sawchuk
      2) Jacques Plante
      3) Gump Worsley

      people like Brodeur, Roy, Hasek and Luongo are excellent no doubt … however I maintain that anyone who came after the “Michelin Man” era began some 20 years ago, shouldn’t be in the same conversation as true pioneers like Sawchuk and Plante …

  16. id4joey - Oct 23, 2012 at 6:06 PM

    Hard to argue your point about the Michelin Man. However, keep in mind that the goalies equipment, which I suspect you know we’ll enough, was lame before the era of the Michelin Man and that the shots got harder as the hockey stick evolved.

    BTW, too bad you missed out on the opportunity to talk with Tretiak. I hope you get another chance.

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