Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pascal Leclaire Jersey Card

If you want to make these current NHL playoffs player-centric, we could go with Pascal Leclaire and how the team that drafted him - the Columbus Blue Jackets - is now eliminated and the team that traded for him - the Ottawa Senators - is still in the running, as the highest seed in the Atlantic Division no less. And neither team existed when I was growing up in the 1980s, if I want to make this Seb-centric.

It's so hard to fathom that Leclaire's been retired since the end of the 2010-11 season and that he's still just 34 years old. Those hip injuries not only took a toll on his body, they ruined the best years of his life.

Sure, he never achieved what an 8th overall pick (2001) is expected to, but no one can take away his two silver medals (2002 World Juniors and 2008 World Championships) with Team Canada, both times falling to Russia.

He played with the Jackets more, so it's fitting that this card shows him wearing their blue (home) uniform:
That's card #HM-PL from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Fleer Hot Prospects set and Hot Materials sub-set, with a matching blue game-worn jersey swatch.

I used to love his TPS pad designs, which you can see a bit of on the card but even better below:
They just seem to be perfect at redirecting pucks to the corner, one of the moves I always try to teach young kids first.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Jeff Huson Autographed Card

Jeff Huson was an infielder who was active mostly in the 1990s, starting out with the Montréal Expos in 1988 and 1989, and retiring after spending the summer of 2000 with the Chicago Cubs, which is probably when I got this card signed (seeing as he signed it in fading blue sharpie, something I didn't own in the 1990s):
That's card #69 from Score's 1989 Score collection and Rising Star sub-set, though it just says so on the back of the card:
In 12 years with seven teams in the Majors, Huson participated in 827 games and went to the plate for 2127 at-bats, for a batting average of .234. Although the card says he's got good speed, he only stole 64 career bases, with a high of 18 with the Texas Rangers in 1992. Honestly, having been replaced in the Expos' system with Delino DeShields, there was no way history would be kind to him regarding speed; it's akin to comparing me, present-day, 6'2" and over 250 pounds, with The Flash.

Nowadays, he is a post-game and color analysis commentator of the Colorado Rockies for Root Sports. He, uh, is not universally-acclaimed in that position.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Colton Teubert Autograph Card

My (remaining) childhood team - the Edmonton Oilers - has eliminated last year's Western Conference finalist San Jose Sharks in a tiring, tight but predictable series and will now face the tougher, bigger, faster and meaner Anaheim Ducks.

The Oilers' defense has not looked this good in at least an entire decade, and team chemistry is at its most cohesive since the 2005-06 Stanley Cup Final run. Even the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade is looking great (addition by subtraction in team spirit and cleaning up the air, adding a quality defensive defenseman, and making room to sign a more physical top-six left winger in Milan Lucic are three huge victory points for Edmonton).

Such a trade would not have been necessary, however, had Colton Teubert panned out as the team expected him to when they traded for him with the Los Angeles Kings (along with first-round and second-round picks, for Dustin Penner). The Oilers took a chance on the 6'4", 210-pound former first round pick (13th overall in 2008) because he'd previously been teammates with Jordan Eberle with the WHL's Regina Pats, making the All-Star Game and having Regina mayor Pat Fiacco proclaim January 8, 2010 as "Jordan Eberle and Colten Teubert Day". Yeah, that happened.

However, the Oilers were pretty bad, and their AHL affiliate Oklahoma City Barons weren't great either, and his development stagnated; he fell into the minuses, took a lot of penalties, and ultimately was forced to sign in Germany to pursue his dream of playing professional hockey. And he's actually doing fine there:
from HockeyDB.com
He has won gold (2008 World U-18 Championships and 2009 World Juniors) and silver (2010 World Juniors) medals playing for Team Canada and, at age 27, seems to have found his groove.

Here he is as a tough Oilers prospect, wearing the classic blue (now-home) uniform on the Bronze variant of card #MM-30 from Panini's 2013-14 Titanium set and Metallic Marks sub-set:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Marcel Dionne Jersey Card

Congratulations are in order for the New York Rangers, who have eliminated the Montréal Canadiens in 6 games and will now likely face the Ottawa Senators in the Atlantic Division Final.

We are nearing the end of Henrik Lundqvist's prime, and he has precious little time to finally earn his first Stanley Cup, which brings me to a former Ranger whose name does not appear on hockey's most sacred chalice, Hall Of Famer Marcel Dionne.

For a long while, the Rangers were the team where old stars made their final big-contract stop before retiring, from Mark Messier's second run to Wayne Gretzky to Doug Harvey to Pavel Bure, and almost Jaromir Jagr, too, had he remained exiled in the KHL instead of coming back across the pond.

Dionne had requested a trade from the Detroit Red Wings, claiming he did not want to be part of a rebuild; in two and a half seasons with the Rangers, he was ousted twice in the first round and failed to make the playoffs once - they didn't rebuild or tank, they just sucked and underachieved. He wasn't so bad himself, posting 42 goals, 56 assists and 98 total points in 118 games in New York, but those aren't the type of numbers that got him an Art Ross, two Lester B. Pearson and two Lady Byng trophies, as well as a Canada Cup title (1976) and three World Championship bronze medals (1978, 1983 and 1986), including the Best Forward award in 1978.

Here he is in Ranger Blue, with a matching game-worn jersey swatch:
That's the "Black" version of card #M-41 from In The Game's 2010-11 Decades - The 1980s set.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Shawn Lalonde Autograph Card

The Chicago Blackhawks should have read my playoff predictions so as to not be disappointed at the outcome of their playoff series against the Nashville Predators, who swept the three-time champions in what many are calling an upset.

What better time to feature Cologne Sharks defenseman Shawn Lalonde, the Hawks' 2008 third-round pick (68th overall), showing him wearing the team's white (away) uniform:
It's the Black version of the signed insert variant of card #336 from Panini's 2013-14 Prizm collection (and Dual Rookie Class sub-set), which also serves as his rookie card in the series.

He's in the mold of Mark Streit and Yannick Weber - and, to a lesser extent, Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Burns - as an offensive defenseman his NHL coach had no idea how to utilize, even spending some time as a forward. In Germany, while manning the blue line, he still gets to finish in his team's top-3 for both points and penalty minutes.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Steffon Walby Autographed Card

Steffon Walby was a minor-league player for 11 seasons, which included decent AHL seasons with the St. John's Maple Leafs (1993-96), Hershey Bears (1996-97, 1999-2001), Rochester Americans (1998-99) and Kentucky Thoroughblades (1998-99), a fine, quick turn with the IHL's Fort Wayne Komets (1997-98) and a dominating turn in the ECHL with the Mississippi Sea Wolves (2001-04), earning First Team All-Star honors each year:
Courtesy of Hockeydb.com
Following his retirement, he turned to coaching, becoming the first head coach of the Mississippi Surge of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), winning the 2009-10 Coach of the Year trophy in his inaugural season and the 2010-11 SPHL championship before losing his job over internal politics related to new ownership.

After serving as interim head coach for his son's prep school's team for the 2013-14 season, he was named full-time head coach in April 2014 when he righted the ship at the end of the year.

He had also served as an amateur scout for the Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning.

He never played an NHL game but had initially been signed as a free agent by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Here he is on card #97 from Classic's 1993-94 Pro Hockey Prospects set, showing him in AHL's St. John's Maple Leafs' blue (away) uniform:
He signed it in large blue sharpie, which leads me to think he signed it around the 2004-05, where he was an associate coach with the Sea Wolves.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Jaroslav Balastik Autograph Card

One team I expected to win more in this year's playoffs is the Columbus Blue Jackets, who currently trail their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1. They had finished the season 4th overall on the strength of team defense, team toughness, the goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky, the coaching of John Tortorella and the rise of defenseman Zach Werenski.

The Pens, however, just seem to be able to pull rabbits out of their collective hats every game - and that's saying nothing of Bobrovsky, the heavy favourite to win the Vezina Trophy this season, allowing upwards of 3 goals per game (3.61 average).

Which brings me to a failed Jackets experiment from a decade ago, Jaroslav Balastik, featured here in the team's white (then-home) uniform, on card #JB from Upper Deck's 2005-06 SP Authentic set and Sign Of The Times sub-set:
Balastik was a star in the Czech Extraliga, its best forward for the 2004-05 season and two-time league leader for goals (29 in 2003-04, a mark he replicated in 2007-08, and 30 in 2004-05), as well as playoff goals (9) and points (18), both set in 2003-04, when he led is team to the league championship.

He also won a silver medal with the Czech Team at the 2006 World Championships, which makes it harder to conceive that he only managed to put up 13 goals, 11 assists and 24 points in 74 NHL games over two seasons, and 5 goals, 6 assists and 11 points in 20 games with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch over the same span.

He retired following the 2014-15 season, having spent most of his career with PSG Zlín (parts of 15 seasons), finishing with 277 goals (6th all-time) and 202 assists for 479 points (15th all-time) in 725 games in the best Czech league.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dan Blackburn Autographed Card

Congratulations are in order for the New York Rangers, who have tied their first-round series against the Montréal Canadiens on the strength of a 2-1 win tonight. The Habs did play lights-out in the third, but just couldn't solve Henrik Lundqvist, who was royal for the third time in the series.

Speaking of strong Rangers goaltending, Montrealer Dan Blackburn used to be the man-in-waiting between the pipes for the red, white and blue at the turn of the millennium until a shoulder injury forced him to choose between retiring or attempt playing with two blockers and no catching glove, because nerve issues had him incapable of rotating his would-be glove hand; an MCL strain at the Rangers' training camp then put him in a difficult position: he could either retire and receive $6M in insurance money, covering the end of his contract and a bit more, or forfeit any chance of future insurance and try to earn a spot upon recovery. He wisely opted to retire at age 22, his final game a 5-4 loss at the hands of the Canadiens, the team against which he won his first NHL game as the Rangers' second-youngest goalie of all time.

Here he is wearing the Rags' blue Lady Liberty former alternate (one of my favourite alternate uniforms in hockey history) on card #123 from Topps' 2002-03 O-Pee-Chee set and Topps All Star Rookie sub-set:
Most goalies in the set were pictured horizontally. He signed his card in black sharpie in 2002-03.

Injuries are always the ultimate "What If?", but in Blackburn's case, after winning the WHL Playoff MVP award, the CHL's Goalie Of The Year award and leading his Kootenay Ice to a berth in the Memorial Cup,  then making an NHL roster at just 18 years old - the fifth-youngest of all-time in the NHL - the sky was the limit. That, or nerve damage.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mark Borowiecki Autographed Custom Card

After initially having been thought of as a two-way defenseman, Mark Borowiecki has found a niche on the Ottawa Senators' bottom-two pairs as a defensive-minded blue-liner who dishes out punishing hits, earning the nickname "BoroCop" as well as upwards of 100 penalty minutes in the past three seasons, including a career-high 154 in 2016-17.

He will not be suiting up against the physical Boston Bruins tonight, however, as he suffered a leg injury in the last game; 22-year-old rookie Ben Harpur will take his place, bringing a bit more skill to his game and having reportedly worked on adding some aggressiveness to his play with the Binghamton Senators this year.

Borowiecki, also a Sens home-grown player, won the Calder Cup with the Baby Sens in 2011. Of note that after a four-year exile, Binghamton is now coached by Kurt Kleinendorst, the same man who brought them their AHL title back when BoroCop was manning their blue line. Full Circle, I like that.

Borowiecki slots in perfectly as #74 in my Sens Numbers Project with this custom signed card from Ottawa-area collector BG's 2015-16 Custom Set:
It shows him wearing the Senators' white (away) uniform, fighting for positioning and puck control along the boards.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Émile Poirier Autograph Card

Back when he was drafted (22nd overall by the Calgary Flames in 2013), I thought expectations towards Émile Poirier needed to be tempered a bit; this was not top-level, top-line talent, but would have been a very nice second-round pick.

He's 6'1", 185 pounds and gaining weight, and has proven he can score in the LHJMQ with 32- and a 43-goal seasons for the Gatineau Olympiques, and he had a fine rookie season in the AHL in 2014-15, posting 19 goals and 23 assists for 42 points in 55 games with the Adirondack Flames, playing in the AHL All-Star Game in the process. He fell to 29 points in 60 games the following season and 17 (6 goals) in 43 games this year.

Where does his real potential lie? As a middle-six left winger. He's still learning, still growing, still just 22 years old.  Imagine a three-power-forward line comprised of Sam Bennett, Matthew Tkachuk and Poirier, each playing a heavy-hitting game and garnering between 40 and 60 points apiece... that would be nice. I'm no longer certain Bennett will hit that peak, but I'm pretty sure Tkachuk will develop nicely. All three need grooming, that's for certain.

I have at least two more cards of his to showcase, so I'll be keeping you abreast of my impressions throughout his development. In the meantime, here he is sporting the Flames' red (home) uniform, wearing the #57 jersey that slots him perfectly in my Flames Numbers Project, on the signed insert version of card #234 from Upper Deck's 2015-16 SP Authentic set:
It's signed on-card in blue sharpie, part of the Future Watch sub-set and numbered 762/999.