You Raise Me Up

Paul Balm discusses the often thorny subject of player shirt retirements…

The discussions over the last week regarding whether or not Craig Kowalski’s number should be retired got me thinking about the whole issue of shirt retirement. It wasn’t surprising that Craig’s departure would have triggered these discussions. His performances over the past five years have played a huge part in the success we’ve had. In a way it seems strange that we should be discussing how to celebrate a player who wasn’t at all showy on the ice or (on the couple of occasions that I met him) off it. Maybe that’s what made him so special to so many Panthers fans – the way that he’d just make a heart-breaking save look as though it was nothing more than routine. You see so many netminders who catch a puck an inch off the ice and then end up with their arm over their head. Not Kowalski, his glove would just flash out, catch the puck and his hand would stay there. I think the definition of Craig Kowalski came when he got a shutout. There was no wild celebration; in fact there was hardly any reaction at all. It was job done for him. He was there to stop the puck crossing the line and he’d done that. It looked like it was nothing more than a good day at the office.

Anyway, that’s enough eulogising, back to the matter in hand. Shirt retirements can be a bit of a contentious issue. Panthers have only retired five but I disagree with two of them and think there should be at least one perhaps two more but we’ll get to that later. So, what should the criteria be? For me a key part of the selection process has to be longevity. These retirements shouldn’t be given away like sweets, they have to be earned and earned over a long period of time. I’d say five years as a minimum and I’d look more favourably on those who had served the club for longer than that. If you watch the Cats Whiskers’ interview with Gary Moran from 2013 ( he suggests that he would like to see the likes of Jimmy Paek and Barry Nieckar honoured. I’m afraid I can’t agree purely on the length of time either of them spent at the club.

It has to be more than longevity though. There has to be something about the player as well that sets them apart from the rest. Take Paul Adey. When he came in to replace Bruce Thompson Adey was a cut above what we’d had in the past. He ended up being our top point scorer, topping the team’s scoring most years with an energy and will to win that led the team by example if not as captain. Frankly retiring his shirt was a no brainer.
There are, of course exceptions to these rules. Times when the team can use a shirt retirement to commemorate a player cut down in their prime. The retirement of Gary Rippingale’s shirt following his tragic and untimely death was absolutely the right thing to do and ensures that his name lives on.

Even these simple criteria mean that the rate that shirts get retired at is probably likely to dwindle over time. At least it should, I get the feeling some teams will continue to retire them at the same rate of knots because they think that is what the fans want. Even if the rate does drop there are obviously only finite amounts of numbers that are available and this will continue to shrink. It may be a very long way off and I know that players seem to be choosing stranger and stranger numbers as time goes on (or new netminder Miika Wiikman appears to have worn 62 in the past, 62! And I thought Rasto wearing 4 was odd for a nemtinder) but there seems to be something a bit odd about a first line wearing 57, 96 and 48 or some such.

But, I hear you ask, what can be done about this? What? You weren’t asking? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge name and number combinations rather than retire the number itself. The Toronto Maple Leafs does it that way and if it’s good enough for one of the Original Six then it should be good enough for a team like the Panthers. If you don’t retire the number then it ensures that players in future generations can wear the number five (the next number/player to be honoured in my opinion) if they want to. It also means that the club has the chance to honour the players that have been “missed” in previous years. I said earlier that when it comes to the Panthers the omissions are as important as those who have been honoured. These suggestions, like everything else I write, are up for debate but for me the number nine should be hanging up there with 3, 10, 11, 22 & 77. But if it had been retired for Terry Kurtenbach (as it should have been) then David-Alexandre Beauregard wouldn’t have been able to wear it. I said there was possibly a second and for me that’s Simon Hunt – he may not have played as many games as Randall Weber or scored as many points as Paul Adey but he epitomised what being a Panther was back in the late 80s and 90s (he once knocked a couple of Les Millie’s teeth out which is probably enough to get him in there on its own). And that’s only the modern era, what about the likes of Chick Zamick or Les Strongman? If you honoured a name then shouldn’t Zamick’s name be up there alongside Randall Weber’s? What about non-players? Is there anyone in Panthers’ history as important as Gary Keward?

There will be people who disagree with some of these suggestions and the criteria I’ve stated, that’s the way it is and the way it should be. One fan’s meat is another fan’s poison but I would hope that rather than disagreeing people would come up with additions to the list (anyone for Gav Fraser?)

The problem in Nottingham is that even if additional players from the past or present were celebrated there wouldn’t really be much point. OK, we’ve got the current retired numbers on the banner at the stage end of the arena but why don’t we have individual banners commemorating each player and major trophy? When someone asked they were told that it was because the arena is a multi-purpose venue which made it impossible. That was some years ago and I still can’t work out what that actually means. For me it’s more likely to be down to cost. Panthers pay to hire the arena and part of the cost is likely to be preparation to make it suitable to be an ice hockey rather than a concert venue. The same, albeit, the other way round is going to be the same for concerts. Part of that preparation has to be the raising and lowering of the banner at the stage end. Why couldn’t other banners be hung from gangway above the ice for from the lighting gantrys (I think that’s the right word) at the opposite end of the ice. What about on the walls around the arena concourse? OK, the arena needs room to advertise upcoming events but they don’t cover all the walls. I guess it just comes down to money again – someone has got to foot the bill.

It saddens me really, that we’re in this situation. This club has a huge amount of history that should be celebrated rather than ignored if only someone had the interest of insight to do it.


4 Responses to “You Raise Me Up”

  1. 1 Matt May 27, 2015 at 7:39 am

    Why not have a hall of fame instead with inductees being put on a board (cricket style) in the entrance to the arena? Won’t take up too much space and honours everyone that deserves it

  2. 2 Mick chambers May 31, 2015 at 2:21 am

    Not a fan of this retirement thing and just let’s leave it at that. But if its going to happen lets do it properly. Longivity, excellence or statistically emence. Keep the number as has been said but get it sorted and up to date…

  3. 3 ianbraisby June 1, 2015 at 11:52 am

    For me it has to be some combination of longevity and contribution to the club. I think Kowalski should have his number retired. He has been our most valuable player in the most successful period in the club’s history and has won more silverware in a Panthers shirt than any of the other players whose numbers have been retired. Retirement should recognise loyalty and spirit, but surely on-ice honours have to be part of it too and nobody who has ever pulled on a Panthers shirt can match K-Wall in that department except Clarke, who surely will be having his shirt up there as and when he calls it a day.

  1. 1 "Nothing but good things…" | Nothing but good coverage of UK ice hockey Trackback on July 7, 2015 at 4:03 pm

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