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The Chain Gang

By John King, 12/07/15, 11:15PM CST


Danny Hendrickson showing off his keepsake to Game On

An ode to an underrated hockey tradition

Creation No. 0012

Throughout hockey, old-school elements are universally appreciated and celebrated. Many customs have been carefully preserved throughout the years. Hockey hair is a mainstay (even a 43-year-old Jaromír Jágr is regrowing his epic mullet again this season with the Panthers), fans still revere the Original Six, and every spring the playoff beards come back again.

But there is one hockey custom, one proud tradition that isn’t given nearly enough respect. Today we’ll shine a spotlight on perhaps the most underappreciated of all hockey customs—the chain necklace. Current White Bear Lake Senior Captain Mason Fiddle estimates that over 50% of his teammates currently wear a chain necklace. “Mine is plain silver,” he said, “I think it’s from Kohl’s or Macy’s. It was a Christmas gift.”

Danny Hendrickson, a true patriot

Even 25 years ago the chain was a central ingredient in the hockey god package. There wasn’t a bare neck in the house. “I had three of them,” said former Hill Murray star Mark Strobel. Confessing that while he never really felt comfortable wearing them when he played, he did own three different chains:  one with his number, one with St. Christopher, and a plain gold one. “I think one was from a girlfriend, one was a birthday gift, and the other was given to me by my family as a symbol of protection.” Strobel estimated that the vast majority of his high school and college teammates in the ‘90s rocked a chain. “I remember a lot of hockey sticks with numbers and initials,” said Strobel, “The guys bought their chains from Things Remembered, that cheap little store next to Spencer’s Gifts in the mall,” said Strobel. “That place was booming!”

Now an assistant coach with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Strobel has a theory about why the hockey chain isn’t quite as big a deal today. “I wonder if guys didn’t trade chains for tattoos,” said Strobel. “Nowadays it’s rare to see a player who doesn’t have some ink. I think the chain turned into something more permanent.”

Richfield star Danny Hendrickson also wore a chain when he played for the Gophers, a gift from his girlfriend. “Over half the guys wore chains at the U. Most common was the gold chain and number, but I went big and got the hockey stick” said Hendrickson.

While Hendrickson graduated high school in ’93, he was both a chain man and an early adopter for tattoos as he picked up a nifty bit of ink on his shoulder featuring a flying eagle carrying a hockey stick in its mouth. “I got the tattoo on my left arm because I used to have an old black truck with no air conditioning and I wanted the girls to see it when I was driving around with my windows down and my shirt off” said Hendrickson.  If you’re perplexed why a former Spartan and Gopher would choose an eagle tattoo, Hendrickson explained his motives. “I’m a patriot as you can tell because I have a tattoo of an eagle on my arm” said Hendrickson.

If you look closely, a couple of these cowboys are rocking the chain (Mike Crowley, far right)

Former Mr. Hockey and Hobey Baker winner Brian Bonin had a chain but took it off before games. “It was all about the number” said Bonin, adding “and the chains just kept getting bigger and thicker. It went from nice necklaces to you were a rapper, but that was that era, that nonsense.”

Another Minnesota hockey icon, Mike Crowley, admitted to “charm changing” as he had to update his chain from his high school to college number. “I would wear my chain on the outside of my shirt so people could see it,” Crowley confessed.  

Personally I find it a little upsetting that the chain necklace is rarely included in the puck pantheon or celebrated and respected like great flow or a solid celly. When I asked Fiddle if the hockey chain was part of the full package for a hockey player today, he said, “I wouldn’t say so” before reluctantly adding, “Yeah, maybe.” Many years later, for Hendrickson there was no doubt, “Growing up in Richfield when you have a tattoo of an eagle and wear jean shorts, there is no better accessory than a gold chain with your number on it. It’s all about fashion.”  

So if you’re a hockey player reading this, by all means ask your girlfriend for a chain necklace for Christmas. It’s good for the game, and I’m pretty sure it will be good for your game too. Oh, and I looked. There are Things Remembered stores in Blaine, Duluth, and Saint Cloud. 

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