Dear Hockey Ombudsman -
I need your help. My girlfriend is a big Coyotes fan, but I don't know anything about hockey. Her birthday is coming up soon, and I want to get her a jersey. (What can I say? When you're whipped, you're whipped.)
So, my question is: do I go with a name/number on the back? If so, should I get the name/number of a player (she thinks that Shane Doan is hot - I, obviously, want to pull his spleen out of his nose with a hot fire poker for this)? Should I get her last name? No name or number? What do hockey fans like?
Dumbfounded in the Desert
Believe it or not, I get this question a lot - but you are the first guy who has asked it. To be honest, the first thing we should discuss is why your ladyfriend is so much cooler than you are, but that's a different letter I suppose.
There are a couple things to consider here.
First, with all due respect to Mr. Doan (who is a lovely little player), there's at least a good chance he won't play his entire career in Phoenix. So, unless your girlfriend is absolutely, positively, 100%, without a doubt unable to love another player ever, she may not want a Doan jersey in her closet five seasons from now when he's with the Rangers (his contract with the Coyotes runs through the '11-12 season).
Second, when I consulted with Wally LaFrange (who's sort of the Emily Post of hockey), he expressed to me that "Having a name or number of a player on the back of one's jersey is like wearing a t-shirt with the face of your favorite actor silk screened on it to the premiere of his or her new movie. In a word: low-brow."
Third, I personally don't like putting one's own name on the back of a jersey. One exhibits one's support of a team simply by wearing that team's sweater in public. Putting your own name on it is just excessive.
Fourth, the only circumstance in which putting a name or number on the back of a jersey is considered to be acceptible is if the name or number is of an old-school, famous player (preferably a Hall of Famer) from your team's history. If you're a Red Wings fan, for example, you can't go wrong with a #9 or a "Yzerman" on the back of a sweater. But a #22 or "Lebda" might not draw the kind of attention you'd want. Now, what do you do if you (or your girlfriend, ahem) is a fan of a newer team? In the case of the newer expansion teams, you wait. In the case of the Coyotes, you could go with a "Hawerchuk" but I get the feeling that a lot of Coyotes' fans would just assume your girlfriend's last name was Hawerchuk.
Hope that helps!