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Practice Report: Solar Bears discuss their jersey numbers, prepare for busy weekend

What’s in a number?

For a professional hockey player, their jersey number can become the easiest way for fans, coaches, opposing players, media members to identify them when they take the ice. In some instances, a player’s jersey number becomes almost synonymous with their name.

Gretzky – 99, Lemieux – 66, Orr – 4, Howe – 9, Crosby – 87, Ovechkin – 8, etc.

In days when professional hockey teams traveled by railcar and the rosters were smaller, the players’ jersey numbers typically corresponded to the larger berths in the sleeper compartments of the train. Hence, the goaltender would receive 1, defense 2-6, and the forwards would receive 7 and onwards, while depth players would receive higher numbers.

In the modern era, players have more freedom to showcase their personality with their number choices.

During the summer months, as an ECHL team fills out its roster spots, the team’s equipment staff will reach out to the incoming players to identify the myriad of equipment and apparel needs, such as stick flex, along with sizing for skates, helmets, gloves, pants and more.

At some point, the conversation may also include jersey number preferences. Older players with more professional experience will ordinarily be granted priority over younger, less experienced players.

An ECHL team such as the Solar Bears will typically order approximately 25 sets of home, away and alternate jerseys which will arrive in the fall already numbered with nameplates stitched on for the anticipated opening night roster. As players are cut, reassigned, traded or called up, their eventual replacements will have the opportunity to claim any vacant numbers.

For some, there’s a personal reason behind the choice: it could be in recognition of one’s birth year, to pay tribute to a famous player or family member, or it simply passes the eyeball test and looks good.

Here’s some stories behind the jersey numbers of the Orlando Solar Bears.

3 – Mike Monfredo: “When I first started playing travel hockey, I was one of the bigger kids. The lower jersey numbers were bigger sizes, so 3 became my first number and I stuck with it.”

4 – Taylor Doherty: “I’ve worn it for most of my hockey career. My dad was a Bobby Orr fan, and so when I was young I just started to wear it, and it’s been my favorite number ever since.”

5 – Alexander Kuqali: “My brother wore 5 growing up, so I figured I’d continue the family trend.”

7 – Tyler Bird: Bird, a Massachusetts native, wears the number 7 in honor of Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Esposito, whose number 7 was retired by the Boston Bruins in 1987. “He’s a legend at [TD Garden],” explained Bird.

11 – Trevor Olson: “I wore 11 pretty much my whole childhood. I had to change to 12 in high school, and then switched back to 11 in college and now I’ve kept it in pro hockey. I think it’s probably just the symmetry. It looks clean.”

13 – Dylan Fitze: “My grandparents on my mom’s side were both born on the 13th of their respective birth months, and I wanted to wear it for them.”

14 – Jimmy Lodge: “For me, I just liked the number on me – I got it assigned to me when I was sent down to Jacksonville two seasons ago and thought it looked good!”

16 – Chris LeBlanc: “Got it in college and stuck with it.”

20 – Michael Brodzinski: “It was my dad’s number that he wore, and I started wearing it in high school.”

22 – Kevin Lohan: “I got 22 when I was traded here. When I started playing as a kid, I wore 16 - my dad wore 16 and my hockey idol growing up was Pat LaFontaine, who wore 16.”

25 – Matthew Spencer: “Of the numbers that were available once I was reassigned this year, 25 looked like the best option.”

27 – Jake Marchment: Marchment has worn a variety of numbers in his career, 27 just happened to be the number available to him. If he had a preference? He’d wear 22, to keep things in the family – his sister Kennedy plays professionally in Sweden and wears that number for her team, and in a perfect world he’d do the same to “make it easy on my parents.”

30 – Spencer Martin: “My first hockey team ever had a choice between 1 or 30 for goalies – I picked 30 and have worn it since.”

35 – Zachary Fucale: “I’ve worn a bunch of numbers in the 30s over the years, but I’m not very picky. 35’s just a good number for a goalie to wear.”

44 – Cody Donaghey: “No major reason in particular, just liked the look of the number a lot.”

63 – Pierre-Luc Mercier: “Usually I’ve had a 2 in my number, so I was 20 in junior and then 2 in college. My first year in the ECHL I had 20, and then I went to 23 because my girlfriend’s favorite number is 3. 20 and 23 weren’t available in Orlando, so I just went with all multiples of 3, so 63, which is 6+3 = 9, which is three-squared.”

For those of you who couldn't tell, Mercier was a finance major at Bowling Green State University.

85 – Colby McAuley: “It was given to me when I was in San Jose, and I’ve kept it ever since.”

91 – Brent Pedersen: “It was the number given to me when I played at university, and since then it’s been my first choice for a number to wear.”

What’s the old saying? Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

#5 Alexander Kuqali

Following Saturday’s home opener, the Solar Bears have put their frustrating 4-2 loss to the Stingrays in the rearview mirror.

With two games looming this weekend – a home match against the Norfolk Admirals on Friday followed by a trip to North Charleston, South Carolina to face the Stingrays on Saturday, Orlando has the benefit of one of its larger breaks per game of the season, with five days between games.

That’s given head coach Drake Berehowsky and assistant coach Jared Staal the opportunity to put the Solar Bears through their paces.

The team’s practices on Monday and Tuesday could easily be described in one word: exhausting. Look no further than the board drills the team ran late in Tuesday’s practice, consisting of full-tilt, no-holds-barred one-on-one battles in the corners that left virtually every skater gasping for air.

“One of the biggest things is work ethic. What’s the old saying? Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Certainly there’s Xs and Os and using your brain while playing, but I think 85% of it is just your effort,” Solar Bears defenseman Alexander Kuqali said. “We’ve put in a couple of long days, but we’d rather nip it in the bud now and learn and move on from it early on than maybe halfway through the season or when it’s actually crucial.

"We have full respect and trust that the coaches are doing what they need. It’s early on, but there’s nothing wrong with a little wakeup call, and we’ve got some hard practices, but hopefully the guys are taking care of their bodies getting ready for Friday, because it’s a big response [game].”

Then of course there’s the chance to return the favor to the Stingrays and steal two points on the road as South Carolina hosts its home opener on Saturday.

“Drake’s pretty good about keeping practices short and keeping us fresh. When we don’t bring it on the weekend, he’s going to work us hard the following week, and he stands up to his promises,” Solar Bears forward Trevor Olson said. “The first two days here have been pretty tough, but it’s good for us. We’re excited for a new weekend, we’re going to build off of our mistakes and our turnovers from last weekend and hopefully spoil [South Carolina’s] home opener.”