Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Guy Lafleur Autographed Card

It's been a while, but my desktop computer (with over a hundred scans of possibly upcoming features as well as mouse and everything I liked writing on) has failed me, and it took me a while between work (day job as a translator and gigs playing music), sleep and Life to set my laptop up to post. But I think I'm good to go, and I want to start with a bang: Hall Of Famer Guy Lafleur, who lost a civil lawsuit against Montréal police earlier today.

I had previously featured him with the Montréal Canadiens and Québec Nordiques, as well as a book (an autobiography) he's signed and sent me a couple of years ago, but I thought I could go with a card showing the entirety of his NHL career:
It's card #403 from Score's 1991-92 Score (American) set that shows him in the Habs' classic bleu-blanc-rouge uniform (right), the Nordiques' home (white) uniform (left), and the New York Rangers' white (then-home) uniform, the team he came out of retirement to play for in between stints playing for teams from La Belle Province.

As it stands, Lafleur is the Canadiens' all-time points leader with 1246 (from 518 goals and 728 assists) in 961 games, forming the best line of its era with Jacques Lemaire and Steve Shutt on what was perhaps the best team of all time. He won a Conn Smythe Trophy in 1977, three consecutive Art Ross trophies, three consecutive Lester B. Pearson Awards (MVP as voted by the players, now known as the Ted Lindsay), and two consecutive Harts (while finishing top-5 in voting for five straight seasons) to go with five straight Stanley Cups.

Ironically, it was Lemaire's turn to coaching who forced the six-time 50-goal scorer into an early retirement, as the hard-line defensive coach was unhappy with his two-way play (or lack thereof) resulting in him getting relegated to third-line duties and scarce playing time.

Four years after retiring, following his induction into the Hall Of Fame, he managed to put up 18 goals and 45 points in 67 games with the 1988-89 Rangers, followed by 24 goals, 38 assists, 62 points and an All-Star Game appearance in 98 games spread over two seasons with the Nordiques to cap off a legendary career that also saw him suit up for Team Canada at two Canada Cups (winning in 1976 and finishing runner-up to the Soviet Union in 1981), as well as the 1979 Challenge Cup (losing the series 2-1 to the Soviets) and at the 1981 World Championships.

He signed that card for me at the Bell Centre, a year and a half ago, during the 2013 playoffs, around the same time he heavily criticized (current Habs captain) Max Pacioretty's failings at stepping up in the postseason.

These days, Lafleur operates a helicopter and transportation company and acts as a Canadiens ambassador, but always speaks openly and honestly about the team, often criticizing them when he doesn't like where they're headed. He has also operated restaurants once his playing career was actually over.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Nicole Loum Autograph Card

Ealier this summer, I received Benchwarmer's 2015 Fathers' Day set with a few added inserts, and this was one of them:
It's card #60 from BW's 2015 Signature Series set featuring Canadian model Nicole Loum (it also acts as her de facto "Rookie Card" seeing as it's her first presence in a full set, but she'd appeared in special-edition mini-sets prior to this one); she signed it in black sharpie and appears to have made a mistake in doing so, judging by the smudge in her signature.

Loum hails from Sainte Catharines, Ontario (currently actually lives in Toronto) and burst onto the modeling scene in 2014 with a bunch of photo shoots of very proud photographers and onto a few red carpet events with Benchwarmer CEO Brian Wallos, as well as a few card collectors' events in Las Vegas.

I anticipate her popularity to blow up in the coming years, as she's quickly becoming a BW staple and will soon grace magazine ads and covers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Paul Kariya Jersey Card

Remember when a player scoring 50 goals in a single season happened enough for card companies to have complete sub-sets of them in their card collections? Last season, only Alex Ovechkin reached that milestone, marking the sixth time he's reached it; there are only seven other active NHLers with 50-goal seasons, and they are: Jaromir Jagr (1995-96, 2000-01, and 2005-06), Jarome Iginla (2001-02 and 2007-08), Vincent Lecavalier (2006-07), Sidney Crosby (2009-10), Steven Stamkos (2009-10 and 2011-12), Corey Perry (2010-11), and Evgeni Malkin (2011-12), it in addition to Ovi (2005-06, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2013-14 and 2014-15), as well as Dany Heatley (2005-06 and 2006-07) and Ilya Kovalchuk (2005-06 and 2007-08), who will be playing overseas this year. That doesn't make for a huge set.

The following card comes from Upper Deck's 2002-03 Series 2 collection's Reaching Fifty sub-set, which included the likes of Brett Hull, Peter Bondra, Iginla, Jagr, Wayne Gretzky, John LeClair, Joe Sakic, Keith Tkachuk, Mario Lemieux, Mike Modano, Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, Steve Yzerman, and this one, #50-PK in the set, Paul Kariya:
It shows him wearing the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim's purple (then-away) uniform, though the consecutive white and grey lines were actually from the white (home) jersey. Unlike the previous time I've featured him, though, he has actually worn this one in an NHL game.

He has never won the Stanley Cup, but does have two Lady Byng trophies at home and made the First All-Star Team three times and Second All-Star Team twice, in addition to being nominated for the Hart a couple of times and playing in seven All-Star Games. He has suited up for Team Canada several times, winning gold medals at the 1993 World Juniors, 1994 World championships and 2002 Olympics, and silver at the 1991 Phoenix Cup (the then-name of the U-18 tournament), 1994 Olympics and 1996 World Championships.

He had to retire after 15 seasons due to concussions, and has since been outspoken about the dangers of players returning from them too soon - though he doesn't do so in hockey-related environments, having even shunned his good friend Teemu Selanne's jersey retirement ceremony.

His 989 points in 989 games are a big achievement, particularly the fact that most of it occurred in the Dead Puck Era. I've very happy I got this card in a trade for a couple of Eric Lindros cards, and a double of a Peter Forsberg jersey card I'll get to here eventually.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Eric Weinrich Autograph Card

It's a hard day for the hockey world with the passing of Todd Ewen, yet another enforcer falling to depression and suicide. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the gentle giant who once held the NHL lead in goals with 4 in the first 7 games of the 1992-93 season (from a 4-goals-in-3-games streak), ahead (or tied with, I'm not sure anymore) Brett Hull; because of Ewen, at the beginning of every season, I look at the scoring leaders to identify that given year's recipient of the "Todd Ewen Award" as the player with the unlikeliest odds of keeping the pace and finishing with a breakthrough/statistical anomaly-type of season.

He will be missed, and he's yet another argument not only against the role of the enforcer in today's NHL but hockey fights in general, and of increasing research into CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, i.e. the study of how multiple concussions affect how the brain functions and causes depression so bad that suicide is pretty much the most usual outcome).

That being said, there was also a smaller news item making the rounds today, as Eric Weinrich, the New Jersey Devils' second-round pick (32nd overall) at the 1985 draft, will go back to his roots as the team's development coach for defensemen.

I had written about his career as a player last February, but it bears repeating that he knows the game and rigors of the NHL through-and-through, having himself been an elite prospect, a decent offensive defenseman, and then evolved into a defensive specialist over time. He's been traded during the summer and at the trade deadline, and even knows what it's like to get drafted ahead of time, as the Buffalo Sabres had initially selected him in 1984 when he was too young to even be eligible.

He also knows how to deal with adversity, as he was a member of the Devils when they were still a joke (the early 1990s), the Chicago Blackhawks when they were irrelevant (most of the 1990s) and the Montréal Canadiens in their worst three years ever (1998-2001), when people didn't even try to remember the organization's good old days. He knows a thing or two about dark times, so he'll be able to tell the kids more than just "hey, at least you're not playing for the Arizona Coyotes".

I wish him the best, and am confident he'll do a fine job (though having the kind of depth on D that the Devils have, they'll make him look good as much as the opposite, I'm certain).

Here he is rocking the Hawks' classic red (then-away) uniform, about to enter back-checking mode, from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set (the signed insert version of card #30, autographed in thin black sharpie):
It's the more common "Silver Version" of the card.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Brian Elliott Autographed Card

The St. Louis Blues just cannot catch a break in net; this time, their "goalie oft he future" Jake Allen has been taken out of training camp with back spasms, an issue that has a tendency to become chronic with athletes over time.

That means Brian Elliott gets to be top dog again, though with GM Doug Armstrong and head coach Ken Hitchcock, who knows how long that'll last. We are, after all, talking about a team whose goalie made it to the All-Star Game, was confirmed as a starter two weeks ahead of the playoffs, then was stuck to the bench when they came along. The same team that wasn't content with having playoff hero Jaroslav Halak because he'd never played over 60 regular-season games in a single season (and who has since made the New York Islanders into contenders).

Here's the thing with Elliott: is he one of the 10 best goalies in the world? No. But do you need a top-10 goalie to win the Stanley Cup? No. Sure, Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford do rank highly in my opinion, but Antti Niemi doesn't; neither did Chris Osgood. And Henrik Lundqvist (the best in the world), Pekka Rinne (the runner-up) and Carey Price (the best last year) have all yet to see their names engraved on the famed salad bowl.

Do I think Elliott is good enough to be a starter in today's NHL? Absolutely. Here's a list of teams for which he'd be the clear #1 in my opinion: the Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs, Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres, Winnipeg Jets, Carolina Hurricanes, and Minnesota Wild. And it'd be a close battle with the Detroit Red Wings and maybe even the Anaheim Ducks. He can stop pucks well, is what I'm saying.

I got this card in the mail at my old place, but I'm not sure who sent it to me (it's not a TTM return):
It's card #7 from In The Game's 2008-09 Between The Pipes set (part of the Future Stars sub-set), showing him wearing the Binghamton Senators' red (away) uniform. He signed it on-card in blue sharpie.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Max Pacioretty Autographed Card

I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate Max Pacioretty on becoming the 29th captain in Montréal Canadiens history, the second consecutive (after Brian Gionta) and third overall (Chris Chelios had shared the title with Guy Carbonneau in the late 1990s) American to have that honour.

In a weird turn of events, this now makes both the Habs' first-round picks from the 2007 draft as captains, as Ryan McDonagh is doing the same with the New York Rangers; the Canadiens' second-round pick that year, P.K. Subban, would have been another very good choice. Needless to say, it was a very good draft for Montréal, as they also selected Yannick Weber that year.

Here's a card I got last year, from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee (#315 in the set):
It's signed in blue sharpie and shows him in the Habs' classic red (now-home) uniform, with the Centennial patches on each shoulder. It also enables him to take the #67 spot in my Habs Numbers Project.

I had written him back in 2010, care of the Hamilton Bulldogs, when the Habs sent him back there to finish in the 2010-11 season and never heard back, so I assume he doesn't do TTM, but he seems open to signing after games.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Brad Winchester Jersey Card

After Simon Gagné yesterday, it's now time to bid farewell to another retiree, Brad Winchester, who I had featured last November.

The 35th pick of the 2000 NHL draft, he wrapped up his career after playing in 390 regular-season NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks. Not only are the Blues the team he's played the most games with, they're also the only team he's scored over 10 goals in a season with (13, in fact, in 2008-09).

He had spent the last 3 seasons playing exclusively in the AHL, with five different teams - the Milwaukee Admirals, Rockford IceHogs, Iowa Wild, Norfolk Admirals, and Oklahoma City Barons. By finishing with the Barons, he book-ended his career with stints in the organization that had initially drafted him, the Oilers.

The 6'5'', 230-pound winger's career AHL numbers are pretty good, with 74 goals, 58 assists and 132 points in 232 games, with an astonishing 460 penalty minutes, meaning his contributions came with relatively limited actual ice time...

He had led the Edmonton Roadrunners in goals in 2004-05 with 22, and had 26 more (and 40 total points) in 40 games the next year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, a season in which he finished the year up in Edmonton, where his burly play and all-effort game-winning goal against the Detroit Red Wings in the playoffs turned many a head and led some to believe he might turn into an elite power forward.

This is what he looked like when everything seemed so promising, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 1 set (it's card #RT-BW from the Rookie Threads sub-set, featuring a photo shoot-worn dark blue jersey swatch):
He himself is wearing the team's late-1990s, early-2000s white (home) uniform, with the "oil driller" shoulder patches.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Simon Gagné Autographed Card

Today we tip our hats to one of the most prolific scorers of the Dead Puck Era, Simon Gagné, who retired yesterday after taking a leave of absence from the Boston Bruins midway through last season to be by his father's side, as he was dying of cancer. He'd actually earned a contract from the Bruins after coming to training camp on a PTO, a feat that only a couple of players achieve each year.

The two-time NHL All-Star had reached the Conference Finals twice with the Philadelphia Flyers and once with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and earned a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012. Factoring in the Bruins and Tampa's then-uniforms, he only played for black-suited teams in his 14-season career.

He reached the 40-goal plateau in both 2005-06 and 2006-07 and has suited up for Team Canada on five separate occasions, winning two gold medals (2002 Olympics and 2004 World Cup) and two silvers (1999 World Juniors and 2005 World Championships), and was also on the hugely disappointing 2006 Olympic squad that failed to medal in Italy.

As he was taking a break from competition last year, he did show up at a few events and LHJMQ games at the Colisée Pepsi (home of the Québec Remparts, his former Juniors team) late last season, where he signed this card:
It's #270 from Upper Deck's 1999-2000 Series 2 collection, showing him in the Flyers' classic black uniform, which he signed in thin blue sharpie.

To me, this will always be the way I remember him; the Flyers are the one team I'll always associate him with, despite liking the Kings and his winning the Cup in L.A. It's fitting that his most memorable moments to me are from the 2010 playoffs, where he almost single-handedly orchestrated the Flyers' historical comeback, as they were trailing the Bruins 3-0 and won the series in 7 games; he'd missed the first three games due to injury, scored the overtime game-winner in Game 4 keeping his team alive, scored two goals in Game 5, had the assist on Mike Richards' game-winner in Game 6, and scored the winning goal himself in Game 7.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ken Wregget Autograph Card

Full disclosure: I was never a huge Ken Wregget fan.

It has nothing to do with him per se, it's that he started out with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they're the only team I really have no respect for. And he played for the Leafs in the 1980s, their worst decade ever (though 2005-2015 is pretty bad as well). Also, in the packs of O-Pee-Chee cards I collected, the Leafs were represented by Allan Bester, whose equipment was blue and white compared to Wregget's brown gear, so Bester seemed more modern, like more money was spent on him, like the true leader (give me a break, I was less than 10 years old).

After the Leafs came a short stint with the Philadelphia Flyers backing Ron Hextall (a reversal of the roles they had while playing with the WHL's Lethbridge Broncos in Juniors), then a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins where he was behind Tom Barrasso, winning the Stanley Cup in 1992. I didn't like the stacked Pens team of the early 1990s, as I preferred Wayne Gretzky's calculated efficiency over Mario Lemieux's natural abilities, and they also had too many former Hartford Whalers (Ulf Samuelsson, Ron Francis). These days, my nostalgia includes the Whalers, but back then, I saw them essentially as I see the current San Jose Sharks, losers who'll never amount to anything and shouldn't ever get near the Cup.

After the Pens, with which he did finish fifth in the Vezina race in 1994-95, he went to the Calgary Flames - a team I like, except that I didn't follow the NHL much in the late 1990s, so it fell under the radar for me - before a final season with the Detroit Red Wings in 1999-2000. He retired after spending the 2000-01 season with the IHL's Manitoba Moose, playing in front of his hometown crowd.

It's a career path I wish I'd had, for sure, and I do love myself a good journeyman goalie story, so here he is, wearing the Flames' turn-of-the-millennium red (away) uniform, from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set (card #169 in the collection, the gold variant of the signed insert version, with an on-card thin black sharpied autograph):
The fact that he wore Brown and Excel gear bothered me as a kid as well, and before that, he was still using Cooper gloves and blockers when the rest of the world was more aptly protected by Brian's and Vaughn - it didn't scream "#1" to me.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Happy Birthday Tim Wallach: 3 Autographed Cards

Famous people born on September 14th include singer Amy Winehouse, rapper Nas, actors Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Tyler Perry (Gone Girl), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), and Callum Keith Rennie (Californication), wrestler Maurice "Mad Dog" Vachon, and comedian Mike Ward.

Also, myself, and former baseball star third baseman Tim Wallach. When I was a kid, most years, there was a Montréal Expos game at the Olympic Stadium on that day, and I'd go, and they'd say it was his birthday, and I felt special because it was mine too. There was even one year where my name appeared on the scoreboard, and I got to meet him and have him sign cards for me.
I'm not sure if any of these cards are from that day, because as is the case with my favourite player (Tim Raines), I have a ton of Wallach-signed stuff. He, Raines and Gary Carter are my Holy Trinity of baseball players, though I never got to meet Carter.

Wallach was usually among the league leaders in Game-Winning RBIs, and twice led for doubles, with 42 each time. The Expos were always a run-first team, putting emphasis on doubles and stolen bases (of which Raines was the champion) instead of raw power, and #29 also holds the team record for inside-the-park home runs, both in a single season and over a career. He did have some power to his game, however, surpassing the 20-homer mark five times (with a high of 28 in 1982).

He was also a three-time Gold Glove winner, in the Mike Schmidt, Terry Pendleton and Matt Williams era, no less.

Here are the three cards I chose to feature today, all of them signed in blue sharpie, starting with card #685 from Topps' 1986 Topps set:

He's shown from the side of the field near the bench, in his regular batting stance (upright), sporting the team's classic powder-blue (away) uniform, as is the case in the following card, from Fleer's 1990 Fleer set (card #364), except there he's shown mid-swing:
There's also this one where he's wearing the team's 1990s grey (away) uniform, watching a ball he hit go deep into center field:
It's card #570 from Topps' 1993 Topps collection, one of the last baseball sets I tried to complete.