February 4, 2023

The last time we asked each of the Maple Leafs why they wear that number was all of 2017, which feels like an eternity for the team. The roster looked drastically different; There are only four leaves left of this team.

So with an almost completely new cast, the athlete asked himself again: What’s the story behind the numbers the Leafs have worn all season?

Three of the Leafs wear the same number (No. 16 Mitch Marner, No. 34 Auston Matthews, and No. 44 Morgan Rielly) as they did in 2017, so we’ve kept their answers.

Otherwise, we learned that some leaves have very personal reasons for their choice, some were the result of elaborate jokes they tried to pull, and some were simply given to them and asked no questions.

(Follow-up questions in italics)

I was assigned number 3. In my first game I got 3 but in the next camp I got 54 but I asked to go to 3 just for continuity. I like single digits. Carrying single digits for an Original Six franchise is fun because virtually every number is retired.

#12: Zach Aston Reese

It was given to me in college. I had no choice. It was a good number for me at Northeastern. My first year (with the penguins) I got 46, so I had to wait for 12 to be free. Finally it did.

No. 15: Alex Kerfoot

I wore 14 for a long time when I was younger. Not for any particular reason, it was just given to me. I also wore it to college. But when I got to Colorado, Blake Comeau was wearing a 14. So I switched to a 13 just because it was one gone. And then I came here and well, 13 was Mats Sundin and I think 14 was retired too. So, 15. I don’t have much attachment to it.

No. 16: Mitch Marner

I didn’t really choose it to be honest. I just got it as a gift.

Obviously 93, your offspring number, was taken…

I had a few options and 16 was the best I liked.

Care was taken. The eight was my father’s number growing up playing baseball, so I always tried to wear the eight.

And then I wanted to take 19 because 19 was the old number of (Jason) Spezza. I wanted it.

Because you really liked him as a player?

No, because I find it funny. Eighteen was available after (Calle Järnkrok) took 19. I called Spezza and told him I would look for his number. He said, “I love that.”

Jason Spezza in March 2022. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

No. 19: Calle Järnkrok

It was handed to me when I was playing at home and I’ve played (with) it for most of my career. I was 17, 18. I don’t mind. I got used to it.

No. 20: Dryden Hunt

i got it I got traded here and was told I was 20. My favorite number is 29 but… (Hunt nods to his stand neighbor Pontus Holmberg, whose number 29 helmet is hanging) Bergy wears it.

Have you tried making him an offer?

(laughs) I didn’t care the a lot of. That was the number I got when I was 15 when I was a junior. I loved them because a lot of guys didn’t wear them before.

My first daughter was born on May 24th.

That’s one of the best reasons I got.

It’s easy. (laughs)

My favorite number is 21, but when I got to Colorado, it was hired for Peter Forsberg. Since then I’ve been trying to get as close to 21 as possible.

My dad was a Leafs fan growing up and he always said one of his favorite players was Börje Salming. Growing up, he always said, “That’s a good number.” So I picked it and have stuck with it ever since.

Börje Salming at the 2014 Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Classic Game. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

No. 29: Pontus Holmberg

When I came to Växjö Lakers in Sweden they gave me 29. I like it.

Mainly because of Marty Brodeur. Growing up he was a guy I had posters of on my wall. It’s a common goalie number and it’s one that teams have always reserved for goalies. I never met him in person. He is considered one of the best goalkeepers of all time. He is a legend.

If you could ask Brodeur one goalkeeping question, what would it be?

I would be more interested in finding out more about the Brodeur man than the goalie. If we could talk, I’d like to talk to him about his life and experiences instead of hockey.

No. 34: Austin Matthews

I’ve been wearing it my whole life. My dad wore it when he played baseball and basketball.

I’ve played with it (with the Hershey Bears of the AHL). I don’t like number one. It’s not lucky for me. Thirty-five is a good number. I think I chose it because I played with it at Hershey.

I just got the number. I don’t care about the number. I don’t have a special number. I played in so many different teams, I had so many different numbers.

I was given 38. It wasn’t my number in Sweden. My main number was always 14. My first number I had in a pro game was 22. In the AHL I wore number 8. When (Jake) Muzzin was traded here he took number 8. I didn’t have much to say about that. I don’t blame him at all. When I came up they just gave me 38.

No. 44: Morgan Rielly

It was given to me in my first camp. In juniors I wore 4 but when I got here Cody Franson was wearing 4. So when I got here there was 44 on my helmet. And I was too nervous to ask any questions. But I kind of liked it, so I stuck with it.

They had 47 for me when I came to the Marlies. I think I decided between two numbers: 47 and 55 I think. I like 47 now. I’ve had different numbers over the years. I had an 88 once, but you can’t have an 88 here.

I’ve worn 5’s my whole career and it’s retired here so. (laughs) There weren’t any other really great options. When I went to Calgary, I wore 46 outside of training camp. And they told me I had to change that. Growing up, Nicklas Lidstrom was one of my favorite players. So I took 5.

It was given to me at my first NHL camp. So it was my first number and I stuck with it. It’s unique, there aren’t many ’58s out there. I like that. Why change anything?

I got it in Chicago. I always wore the number 10 when I was young, but… six plus four equals 10, right?

It’s an important football number. Is that why you wore it at all?

No, I just really liked the number.

It’s an organization number. It was the number they gave me at camp.

I was 7 in Calgary but obviously this was done. I wanted seven more in there. It’s my seventh birthday and my wife’s eighth. No one has had 78 here that I can think of. Something else.

I liked Patrick Kane growing up. And my brother actually wore an 88 when he was very little.

It’s a tribute?

Yes… but to my brother.

There is a little story behind it. I just flipped the numbers and had a really good season. It sticks. I had always worn 19. Growing up you saw Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, a lot of great players wore 9’s or 19’s, so that stuck with me.

When I played minor hockey and went from the Senators to the Marlboros and wore Cody Goloubef 19. He ended up being the best man at my wedding. But he didn’t offer it. When I met him I wasn’t surprised. At that time not too many players wore 91, obviously it was (Sergei Fedorov).

You started a trend.

Yes, Stammer (Steven Stamkos) is wearing it now too.

(Victor Mete and Jake Muzzin were unavailable for this story due to injury)

(Jonas Siegel contributed to this story)

(Top Photo: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

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