The National Hockey League is known for its traditions and rituals. It is also known for its history of worshiping its heroes.
In the mid-1940s, Maurice "the Rocket" Richard's amazing exploits caused a large number of French-Canadien kids to request No. 9 sweaters for Christmas.
In Detroit and most hockey circles in North America, Gordie Howe's No. 9 was also selling like hot cakes in sporting-goods stores.
The reason the number is so popular and revered was due to the early exploits of those two exceptional hockey players.
Bobby Hull has spoken about his excitement in meeting Gordie Howe when he was a boy. Hull graduated from St. Catherine's in junior hockey and was signed by the Chicago Black Hawks.
He eventually claimed No. 9 once he became a legitimate star in the NHL.
Soon the number became the trademark of elite players in the NHL and on every corner in minor hockey.
Children and their parents would often battle to determine which of the star players on the team would receive the number.
Wayne Gretzky, who was a huge Gordie Howe fan, wore No. 9 while playing youth hockey until he had to switch to 99 due to another player already claiming the 9 sweater.
Let's look at some of the famous 9's who made a name for themselves in the NHL.
Maurice Richard's exploits were legendary in the world of hockey. Richard was said to have fire in his eyes when going toward the goal.
He even carried opposing players on his back as he fought his way toward the net for a shot.
Richard was more than a hockey star, he was a cult hero who carried with him the hopes and dreams of many French-Canadiens with every shift he took on the ice.
It is no wonder that his funeral was as important as that of a Prime Minister or President. Richard made the number 9 elite.
As important as Richard was to Montreal, Howe was hockey to the rest of the world. A creative and tough performer, Gordie Howe was the perfect hockey player in his era.
He had the size, the disposition and the talent that allowed him to score over 700 goals and retire as the No. 1 scorer in NHL history.
His records were eventually surpassed by a young man who idolized him and also wore number 99, Wayne Gretzky.
Bobby Hull also idolized Gordie Howe as a youngster. Hull often commented about how much he enjoyed matching up to Howe when the Black Hawks faced Detroit.
Hull was a offensive force to be reckoned with possessing a extraordinary slapshot traveling at speeds above 100 mph.
Hull also was a explosive skater and puckhandler capable of breaking a game wide open. Hull also wore the No. 9 when he moved to the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA.
Wayne Gretzky in his book "Gretzky: An Autobiography" described his warm feelings for Howe and his admiration for Richard.
Gretzky, of course, wore the numbers 9 and 99 and rewrote the record books, scoring over 800 goals and 2,000 points in his career.
Howe and Gretzky took a now-famous picture together. Wayne was a kid scoring sensation with big ears and Howe playfully is holding them with a hockey stick. It clearly showed Howe understanding his effect on children and his fondness for them.
Much later, Gretzky and Howe has a chance to skate together when the WHA all stars played in a Canada Cup-type series.
Brett Hull actually outscored his Hall of Fame father scoring more than 700 goals in his career and playing on two Stanley Cup teams.
Brett wore his father's original number 16 until he briefly played with the Coyotes (the former Winnipeg Jets).
While with the Coyotes, Brett got to wear the No. 9 playing on the same team as his father had.
Johnny Bucyk played on the Red Wings with Howe before going to the Bruins and performing on the Uke line.
Bucyk became captain of the team and helped lead them out of obscurity to the Stanley Cup.
Bucyk wore the No. 9 well, playing on a team that included Bobby Orr, and Phil Esposito.
Before Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle and well before Messier, the leader and best player on the New York Rangers was Andy Bathgate.
Bathgate was a skilled performer who possessed a wicked shot and a nose for the net. His No. 9 recognized him as the best player on the team.
Lanny McDonald wore the number 9 with honor and dignity during his stint with the Calgary Flames.
McDonald was traded to the Flames from the Maple Leafs and despite leaving, his favorite center, Darryl Sittler, helped the Flames win a Stanley Cup.
His No. 9 was retired after his career ended as a Calgary Flame.
With Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, and Juri Kurri it would be easy to get lost in the shuffle in Edmonton, but Anderson made himself a force to be reckoned with. Anderson's skills and speed made Edmonton a juggernaut offensive machine. If Gretzy and Coffey were on the bench the opposition still had to worry about number 9 - Glen Anderson.
Clark Gillies played on the top line with Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. During the Islanders years of league dominance,
Gillies showed versatility scoring goals, fighting the other team's toughest players and contributing to his team's success. Gillies number 9 was retired after his playing days were over.
Several young players have selected the number 9, most notably Evander Kane of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Kane, 18 years old, wore the number in junior hockey and asked for it when he made the Thrashers lineup.
The future of number 9 is assured because new players like Evander Kane and others who claimed the number 9 jersey. Pictured in this photo is young Jonathan Shaw who plays Squirt hockey in Atlanta, Georgia.