Oilers playing by the number

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:49 AM ET

Legend has it that when Guy Lafleur came to the Montreal Canadiens, Jean Beliveau, who retired that very spring, offered to give the kid his No. 4.

It was the same number young Lafleur, who grew up idolizing Beliveau, had worn while starring in junior hockey with the Quebec Remparts where, before him, Beliveau had played for the Quebec Aces.

The story is that Beliveau went to Lafleur and told the kid that he most certainly was welcome to wear the number if he wanted. But Big Jean then put his arm on Lafleur's shoulder and said that if he were him, he'd choose a different number and make it his own in Canadiens history.

Lafleur decided to do just that, and wore No. 10 into hockey history.

Funny how all these years later a similar situation would exist involving the same No. 4 with No. 1 draft pick Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers' glory gang star Kevin Lowe and even legend Bobby Orr all part of this one.

When the Oilers picked first in the NHL draft for the only time in their history, the sweater which they took to the podium to present to Hall, representing the 2010 draft, had No. 10 on the back.

But Wednesday Lowe presented Hall with No. 4, the number Hall had worn in junior, the number of Hall's childhood idol and agent Bobby Orr, and the number only Lowe, the Oilers first-ever first draft pick, had ever worn.

Lowe, a former Quebec Remparts captain, said he knew of the story in a fuzzy sort of way growing up near Montreal. But he says he doesn't see the similarity.

"First off, I'm not Jean Beliveau," he said.

"Second of all, maybe Jean didn't think Guy was going to be quite the star he turned out to be. I know Taylor Hall is going to be a great player.

"This wasn't difficult by any stretch. I know I'm excited to see No. 4 back out on the ice again. The first time I saw him play, I just thought 'Wow, it's odd that a forward looks good in No. 4.' That number on a forward jumps right out at you. It boils down to that he looks good in the number."

Hall said he didn't ask for No. 4, it was offered.

"Kevin was pretty adamant about it. He thought it was a pretty good idea to wear it and start a new era.

"He seemed pretty adamant about passing on the torch. It's pretty prestigious. I could see he really wanted me to wear it," said the kid of the Oilers' president of hockey operations.

"If he gets into the Hall of Fame I'll give it up right away," Hall said of Lowe, the only player of Edmonton's Group of Seven core players -- from the era which produced five Stanley Cups -- who hasn't been enshrined.

Lowe figures that if No. 4 is going to go up there in the rafters with the numbers of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson, it's more likely that it will now be Taylor Hall putting it up.

"I've had some years of eligibility. I don't think it's going to be happening," said Lowe of the doors opening for him to the hockey Hall.

And he didn't seem the least bit concerned that wearing the number would add pressure for the new face of the franchise.

"I don't think it will faze him or put pressure on him. I think it will drive him," said Lowe.

Hall couldn't believe how many questions the media could think to ask him about the number.

Like, when was the last time he didn't wear No. 4?

"I wore No. 17 with the North East Canucks playing bantam in Calgary. I actually wore No. 4 for a couple games but an older kid took it. Steve Hynes was his name. He ended up as my linemate."

He said the fixation on his number has been going on since before he was drafted.

"I couldn't believe I was asked by somebody every day if I was going to wear No. 4 in Edmonton. I did a radio show the other day and the guy who interviewed me tried to ask me three different ways about it."

Hall genuinely seemed flabbergasted that what number he was going to wear could possibly be such a big story.

"All these people here just about a number?" he marvelled. "It's just a number!

"I didn't want huge hoopla about me and my number. But it is Edmonton. What are you going to do?"

Lowe had the answer to that.

When I joked with Lowe that I hoped the guy wearing the number now ended up scoring more goals (84) than the last guy to wear it, he laughed.

"Maybe the guy wearing No. 4 now could score the first goal," said Lowe of the anticipated beginning of a new era with the first game of the regular season.

Lowe scored the first goal in Edmonton Oilers history.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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