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Why Gretzky Wore No. 99

April 16, 1999 GMT

Wayne Gretzky started wearing the No. 99 when numbers higher than 30 were almost unheard of for pro hockey players.

Gretzky, while playing for the Soo Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League in 1977-78, wanted No. 9 in honor of his idol, Gordie Howe. But another Greyhound, Brian Gualazzi, already had that number and Soo coach Murray (Muzz) MacPherson would not allow a switch.

So Gretzky began the year wearing No. 19, later switching to No. 14.

But that year Phil Esposito and Ken Hodge were traded from Boston to New York and began wearing Nos. 77 and 88.

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MacPherson then suggested Gretzky switch to No. 99. The budding superstar first rejected the idea before finally donning the unusual number.

Others copied Gretzky’s move into big double digits, with Eric Lindors choosing No. 88, Paul Coffey No. 77 and Jaromir Jagr No. 68.

Former NHLer Wilf Paiement wore No. 99 while with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1979 to 1982.