Hello again, all you howling puckheads. The countdown gets back on track today as the preseason opener draws ever closer. A special treat is in store for all those who have been following along as three numbers get counted down in this column.
Jumping right into it, we hit the number 38. Eight different players have worn 38 as a member of the Jets/Coyotes, and like a lot of numbers in the forties, most wore it for only a handful of games. Only three players have worn 38 for more than 80 games and one of them was Dave Scatchard who wore it for 93. That narrows the competition down to two men and one of them was only in the jersey for two, albeit productive, seasons. That man was Vernon Fiddler, who in 147 games from 2009-2011, scored 14 goals and 52 points while being relied on as a shutdown center and penalty killer extraordinaire. After Vernon, we are left with one other 38, a man who wore it for five years in Winnipeg from 1990 to 1995 and scored 90 points in 203 career NHL games before leaving the league and spending the rest of his playing days in Germany. His name is Luciano Borsato and he is the greatest (and I guarantee the most obscure winner in this countdown) 38 in Coyote history.
Next up is the number 37. Seven different players have donned this number in the history of the Coyotes, including some of the most colorful and controversial players in team history. A number without much high end talent, only 249 total games have seen someone wear the number 37 for this franchise. Georges Laraque wore it for 56 games, the second most in team history, before he would be traded and later have a role in the second greatest hockey movie ever, Goon. That isn't enough for him to be the best 37 in team history though, as that honor goes to the last person to wear the number, Raffi Torres. In 107 games for the Coyotes, Raffi would net 20 goals and 18 assists while providing energy with his aggressive and sometimes over the line style of play. His most memorable Coyote moment was a perfect illustration of that when he laid out Marian Hossa with a huge hit in game 3 of the the 2012 first round matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks. Hossa would need to be stretchered of the ice and would not return in the series. Torres wasn't penalized on the play, but was later suspended for 25 games by the NHL for being a repeat offender in their disciplinary dealings. The Coyotes would defeat Chicago and Nashville before falling to Los Angeles in the conference finals, a series in which Torres' presence on the ice was sorely missed. Tasked with changing his playstyle in the now hyper-concussion conscious league, Torres would return to the ice in the following regular season. Amazingly, Torres would only accrue 13 PIMs in his time in Phoenix during that season, with 5 of them coming in a fight with Jamaal Mayers against Chicago in his first matchup against them after the devastating hit. Hossa would play in that game as well.
Finally, it's time to check out the number 36. Twelve different men have worn 36 and have provided some of the most memorable moments in franchise history. While some of the other numbers have had many different wearers, often it came down to one clear choice, and in some cases no choice at all. Number 36 is different as there is strong competition for the honor of being the best. Some wore the number proudly for many years in the frozen North like Mike Eagles. One was a grizzled veteran who was part of the original pack of Desert Dogs, Murray Baron. Still others would have short but spectacular runs of impressiveness in the Valley like Krys Kolanos and Joakim Lidstrom. Then there is the current bearer of the number 36, who has quickly become a beloved fan-favorite both for his name and style of play. Unfortunately for Rob Klinkhammer and the others, someone else trumps them all for the standing as the best.
Juha Ylonen was an unlikely NHL success story. Drafted in the 5th round out of Finland in the 1991 entry draft, Ylonen wouldn't even make the trip into North America until the 1996-97 season when he joined then AHL affiliate Springfield. But the time was well worth it, as Ylonen tore up the AHL for 20 goals and 61 points in 70 games. He was so impressive, he even earned his first NHL playing time that season, appearing in back to back games on February 12 and 13, 1997. Ylonen would become a fixture for the Yotes for the next 4 seasons, totaling 22 goals and 87 points in 261 games while becoming a shutdown PK specialist. In fact, Ylonen's play as a Coyote would be impressive enough for him to make the Finnish Olympic team for both the 98 Games in Nagano and the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. The Coyotes would trade Ylonen after the 2001 season and Juha would finish the 2002 season before returning to Finland to finish his hockey career.
Congratulations go out to Luciano Borsato, Raffi Torres and Juha Ylonen, the greatest numbers 38, 37 and 36 respectively in Coyote franchise history. Tomorrow comes the number 35 and the most interesting showdown for this honor yet.