Fame in eye of beholder

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

LONDON, ONT. - In the NHL, it's so simple.

A star player calls it quits, he is judged great, and his team starts picking the date to put his banner in the rafters.

It's much more of a hornet's nest in junior hockey.

Retiring numbers can be risky business. There is no agreed-upon formula.

Basically, OHL teams are left on their own to figure out what matters most -- the impact a player had while he was in the junior ranks or what he accomplished after he left.

It's how the Kingston Frontenacs retired David Ling's jersey (61 goals in his best OHL season and only four in the NHL) while the Greyhounds hung up Wayne Gretzky's No. 99 even though he spent only one year in Sault Ste. Marie.

"There's a different mojo to it in junior hockey," London Knights GM Mark Hunter said. "Once you leave the OHL, you're considered retired (as a junior), but that doesn't mean you're done playing hockey."

Hunter's Knights are the latest club wading into the honoured player debate. They will retire reigning Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry's No. 94 at the John Labatt Centre on Friday. Later this season, they're doing the same for Rick Nash and his No. 61.

These are busy guys smack dab in the middle of their NHL careers.

Perry's Anaheim Ducks team is on a monstrous road trip, but he's up first because he has a free date Friday and plays in Detroit the following night. Nash only spent two seasons in London but is regarded as the first cornerstone player in the Knights' era as a consistently winning franchise.

"Every year, we ask for feedback from our fans," Hunter said, "and the last few years, people wondered when we were going to retire another number.

"Corey Perry and Rick Nash have the track record. They're more than just pretty good players. They're stars."

There is little debate of their worthiness in London. But you are always left wondering if they would appreciate the honour more when their playing career is done.

Rafter status and halls of fame should be for nostalgia purposes, not marketing.

Perry, for one, often says he'll be able to put his achievements into proper perspective when he can look back.

But then, the Knights and their fans might have to wait another dozen years to formally celebrate him.

Every franchise has its candidates.

The Peterborough Petes, the OHL's flagship franchise, don't retire numbers. They never have and likely never will.

But they do honour players and coaches with banners in the rafters.

They have tried, in the past, to tie it to special events in the building such as the all-star game and the Canada-Russia series.

The Petes don't mind taking their time. They honoured Larry Murphy after he was already inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, there is no banner for Mike Harding, the team's career points leader, or one at this point for NHL veteran all-stars Chris Pronger and Eric Staal, who is the same age as Nash but played three years with the Petes.

In junior hockey, it's different strokes for different folks.

Some teams have to go through the pain of honouring a memorable player who passed away. Windsor did that with captain Mickey Renaud, Owen Sound and Dan Snyder are forever linked and so are Guelph and Paul Fendley.

Some players who deserve to be celebrated go unrecognized for decades, and some who aren't as representative of their particular franchise end up earning one of the game's greatest honours.

But there's little question when you enter an arena for the first time, one of the best activities -- be it player, scout, fan or family -- is to look at the ceiling and check out the banners.

At its best, it should tell a story of a hockey city's history.

And in most cases, there's a pretty good tale of how that player's name and number got up there in the first place.

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