Monday, October 20, 2014

Ryan Kesler Swatch Card

Ryan Kesler might be on a new team this year, but he still gets people talking; this time, it was for a dirty/late hit at 19:59 of the third period of the Anaheim Ducks game against the Minnesota Wild:


He didn't get suspended because he glided those 25 feet across, and delivered a shoulder-to-shoulder hit, but the Wild's Zach Parise - an Olympic teammate of Kesler's with Team USA - called it ''stupid'', and I tend to agree in this case.

I think it's too early in the season to try to pick up on trends regarding teams, such as winning or losing streaks, or individual players' statistics - I usually wait 10 to 30 games before passing judgement. But there is a trend towards less supplementary discipline than in years past, as many moves that were borderline legal but showed a clear malicious intent have not been further punished, when just one game would have sent the message that the league's at least paying attention; instead, Milan Lucic got fined for simulating masturbation because, well, the kids, I guess.

But going back to Kesler, the one positive about his end-of-game check is that I get to feature this card, from Panini's 2011-12 Titanium set, #24 of the Game-Worn Gear sub-set, showing him in the Vancouver Canucks' white (away) uniform, with matching jersey swatch:

I'm not the biggest fan of blue-meets-green in general, but the thing I dislike the most about the Canucks' uniforms is the word VANCOUVER on them. If they just had the logo, it probably wouldn't be so bad. Though I preferred their uniforms from the mid-1980s and all of those from the 1990s.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Jaden Schwartz Autograph Card

One of last year's most expensive set on a per-card basis was without a doubt Panini's 2013-14 Playbook set, with packs going for $85-100 for three cards (many stores have since discounted them to $75, which still makes for a whopping $25 per card, made out of cardboard, without any gold or diamonds incrusted in it). There was no way I could afford or justify spending that kind of money on paper, but a dealer was offering to get in on his opening a case (12 packs, 36 cards in total) provided he could keep the jersey cards of superstars and all booklet cards - and I was fine with that.

Arguably my ''biggest pull'' was this card of the St. Louis Blues' Jaden Schwartz, #FD-JSC of the First Draft sub-set:


Schwartz was chosen with the 14th overall pick in 2010, ahead of teammate Vladimir Tarasenko (14th), Beau Bennett (20th), Jarred Tinordi (22nd), Brock Nelson (30th), Justin Faulk (37th), Tyler Toffoli (47th) and Brendan Gallagher (147th). All told, a wise pick by the Blues.

He'd been breaking records and awing onlookers since his bantam years, leading his school to a Saskatchewan championship, then in midget when he broke Vincent Lecavalier's 39-goal record, as well as Brad Richards' 72-assist mark.

He was either a Rookie Of The Year or scoring leader until he reached the NCAA, where he still led his team in scoring - just not the league - in both years he played.

He also dressed for Team Canada twice at the World Juniors, with a silver medal in 2011 and bronze in 2012; he was the captain of the 2012 squad.

He decided to forgo his final two seasons of College hockey to play with the Blues immediately after signing his entry-level deal in March of 2012, and scored on his first shot, in his first NHL game. He seems to be the perfect fit for the Blues' system, as a dependable two-way forward who can be counted on to eventually crack the 30-goal barrier (he had 25 last season in his second full year), and he should crack the 60-point on a regular basis (he had 56 last year).

He's quick and has a great set of hands; he just needs to bulk up a bit to be more effective in the long run and come playoff time, when opposing defensemen use their size and the lax application of the rule book to their advantage.

He took a while to sign his most recent contract with the Blues, but eventually agreed to a two-year bridge deal with the team; he currently has 7 points in 4 games so far in 2014-15, including his first career hat trick last night.

You'll notice on the card his hard-signed autograph, in thin blue sharpie, with the number 9, which was his jersey number until this season; he has since changed for 17, in honor of his late sister Mandi, who wore that number at Yale.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

P.A. Parenteau Swatch Card

There are a lot of story lines heading into tonight's NHL games and events that transpired in recent ones, but I decided to go for one of the more positive ones, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau's first regular-season home game with the Montréal Canadiens against his former team (Colorado Avalanche) and former coach (Patrick Roy).

Parenteau scored twice in his home debut against the Boston Bruins last Thursday, and his line with Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais - another long-time minor-leaguer - has been on fire to start the season. The Habs' newest winger has two goals and three assists for 5 points in 5 games so far.

Like the card I featured earlier this summer, this one sees him wearing the Avs' white uniform, and showcases a burgundy swatch:
It's from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set (#TC-PAP in the red ''regular'' jersey sub-set).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Delone Carter Swatch Card

Delone Carter was considered a top running back prospect at the 2011 NFL Draft, and yet dropped to 119th place as the Indianapolis Colts took a chance on the diminutive (5'9'') and bulky (232 pounds) tough runner.

Carter ranks third of all time in rushing with the Syracuse Orange, with 3104 yeards, and played in the NFL with the Colts for two seasons, and a few games with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year. He had been a free agent until last week, when he signed with the CFL's Hamilton Tiger -Cats, who are in a playoff race with my hometown Montréal Alouettes at the moment.

If he stays out of trouble, he could make some serious damage on the field.

I didn't know much about him when I pulled this 2011 Certified card by Panini (#274 in the set, part of the Freshman Fabric sub-set, numbered 4/50) in a multi-sports re-pack last year, but it fit right in to start the weekend:


When a card mentions ''MVP'' twice in the same paragraph, you've got some skill. Also, notice in the fine print how while they mention the swatch is from an event (NFL Rookie Premiere), they specify the exact date it was worn; I really like that about football cards, they're specific and accurate.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mark Stone Autograph Card

When the Ottawa Senators drafted Mark Stone in the sixth round (178th overall) in 2010, they saw him as a ''project''. He was already huge (6'3'' and 200 pounds as an 18-year-old), with deft hands and a good shot, and liked to get dirty in the corners to retrieve the puck. He also had a history of leading his teams to finals, from Midget AAA to Major Junior. Injuries were a concern, but his foot speed was the main reason why he wasn't picked in the first three rounds.

He was part of Team Canada's bronze-medal 2012 squad at the 2012 World Juniors, leading the team with 7 goals and 10 points.

And now here he stands, entering the final year of his entry deal, playing on the Sens' first line with Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur, scoring his first goal of the season with his father in attendance against the Tampa Bay Lightning's Ben Bishop.

He'll probably never win a race for the puck against Blake Wheeler or Nathan MacKinnon, but he can score a bunch of goals from the slot, like a cross between Michael Ryder and Guillaume Latendresse. I can see him scoring 30 some day, in the right context.

Here he is in a close-up shot, sporting the Sens' white (away) uniform, from Panini's 2013-14 Crown Royale set (card #SO-MST of the Sovereign Sigs sub-set, die-cut and signed on a sticker in thin blue sharpie):


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Simon Gagné Jersey Card

Congratulations are in order for Simon Gagné, who signed a one-year deal with the Boston Bruins yesterday. You'll recall he'd been on a training camp try-out offer...

A long-time member of the Philadelphia Flyers and part of the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup-winning team in 2012, Gagné is no stranger to aggressive and bruising teams with black uniforms, so he should fit in nicely with the Bruins, provided they forgive him for netting the series-clinching goal in 2010, when the Flyers came back from a 3-0 series deficit to eliminate the Bs.

The former two-time 40-goal scorer will start on the fourth line, but may get powerplay time - and might move up should rookie Seth Griffith falter on the first line; however, Gagné just wants to play:
''My conversation with (the team) was: whatever it takes; I'll be whatever. If I have to be the extra guy, if I have to be on the fourth line or a guy that will replace others when things aren't going well, or injuries, playing the penalty kill, the power play - whatever it takes. I'm here to help the team win, and I'm really happy that I have a chance to get back into the League with a good team. So I'm open to everything.''
He'll make yet another good leader on a team that already has plenty; he's also good buddies with Patrice Bergeron, so that helps.

This news gives me a chance to feature him wearing a pre-Reebok Flyers black (away) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Ice set (card #CT-SG of the Cool Threads sub-set), with a white swatch and simple, effective design:


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Rick Nash Jersey Card

In perhaps an unprecedented move on Sunday, New York Rangers forward Rick Nash left the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the third period to be with his wife, who was expected to give birth. Her water had broken in the afternoon, and Nash had been questionable to even dress for the game, which ended up being a blow-out loss.

I like the values of hockey players and hockey teams: family comes first. It's how a team works best, because then the work group becomes an extended family, and stick together through thick and thin. And it keeps guys grounded, which makes their interactions with fans easier as well.

The only thing I found weird about a player leaving at two-thirds of a game is, essentially, it's akin to giving up. A three-goal lead is surmountable - particularly against the lowly Leafs defense - and Nash is a capable scorer. He'd scored in that game, and is off to a fine start this season with 4 goals and an assist through three games so far.

Of course, Nash having won the Rocket Richard Trophy in just his second NHL season with 41 goals - his career high - in 2003-04 might have put unfair expectations on him. He scored 26 in 65 games last year, so 30 isn't out of the question, and the five-time All-Star has attained it 7 times in 11 seasons so far. He never has too many assists (never reached 40 in a single season) and thus has only flirted with the point-per-game plateau three times, but in his defense, he did spend most of his career as the only legitimate first-line forward with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I don't think I ever would have built a team around the 6'4'', 213-pound gentle giant, but as an add-on to an already solid line-up, he can definitely be put in a position where he will enjoy success, as can be attested by his resume with Team Canada internationally: three gold medals (2007 World Championships, 2010 and 2014 Olympics), and three silver (2002 World Juniors, 2005 and 2008 World Championships). He had a goal and 2 assists in 7 games with the Junior team, and has 26 goals and 54 points in 60 games with the men's teams.

He hasn't enjoyed so much success as a team leader, though, having captained the Jackets in tough times, and Canada to a fifth-place finish at the 2011 Worlds.

Despite his size, he plays more of a skilled game than as a power forward. He's quick and has deft hands, and his deking abilities are phenomenal. He also has less than a penalty minute per game in his career.

So when I pulled this card from a pack of Upper Deck's 2013-14 SPX (card #WM-RN of the Winning Materials sub-set), I had mixed feelings: I do consider him a star player of high caliber, but just a notch below elite and ''superstar'' status; I don't think he has much trade value out there, and would maybe have preferred a more ''common'' player from one of my favourite teams instead. Still, it's a nice card:


It shows him wearing the Rangers' white (away) uniform, but both swatches are black. Because the back of the card specifies it was worn in a NHL game, I have to assume it's from the Blue Jackets' alternate uniform from the 2003-07 era, the only one he's worn that has black on it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Brent Severyn Autograph Card

I wrote about enforcer Trevor Gillies last night in my post about William Carrier, and went so far as to call him a ''goon''; with what he's done in the past apart from fighting - the dirty hits that resulted in suspensions - I still think he deserves it.

And I still feel ''staged fights'' don't belong in hockey, nor players who are just there to do just that. I have nothing against tempers flaring up and two superstars and captains like Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier going at it, but the days of having designated fighters take up a roster spot should be done.

And it's not just the damage done, and the brain disease from concussions, and the suicides of Wade Belak and Rick Rypien, and the drug addictions that took the lives of Derek Boogard, Bob Probert and John Kordic; it's also about the increasing frequency of tell-all autobiographies like that of Dave Morrisette a few years back, or in this case, this Sports Illustrated article about and interview with Brent Severyn.

It contains too many gems of truth, including these:
It was my dream to be playing in the NHL and I was willing to do anything to stay there. Being an enforcer was the toughest job I had to do. Protecting your teammates by fighting is a physical and mental battle waged daily with opponents and within your own head. The actual fight on the ice is not the worst part. It's thinking about the fight. A mental vise grips you at training camp and doesn't let go until the end of the season. Fighting permeates every aspect of your thoughts. A slow boil of fear is always under the surface of your life.
Fighting was not enjoyable, but it had always earned me respect and room on the ice.(...)

(During training camp), I had to fight a couple of times and I sensed players on other teams would use me to make an impression on their coaches. I felt their eyes burning the back of my head during the warm-up skate before games.(...)
An enforcer must also have a feel for how a game is unfolding and continually take stock of his team's emotional state. Are the guys skating well? Do they seem up? If they need a wake-up call, you fight. If the other team has the emotional edge, you fight. The score also determines when you apply your trade. The minute the other team gets a two-goal lead, it's time to dust off your knuckles as your coach may put you in to stop your opponents' surge. Up three or more goals, you get more ice time as you have to be out there to keep the peace.
Being an enforcer was exhausting emotionally. I was always mentally taking note of my upcoming dance card - the guy I had to fight next. I lay awake at night and tried to remember what he did in our last fight, his strengths and weaknesses, and how to protect myself.(...)
A typical road trip scenario from my years as a fighter: I'm on a plane to Toronto. Their enforcer is Tie Domi. He throws both hands and loves to chirp. Man, he's so strong. If I release my grip too early, I'm done. I've got to throw for his chin as he has a very hard head. After Toronto, we play Ottawa and Dennis Vial: unpredictable, a big-time gamer. Then it's two games from hell. In St. Louis, Kelly Chase challenges anyone and will not tolerate anything out there. Tony Twist is big and strong with devastating punches that can cave your face in a second. After that, Detroit: Bob Probert (legendary tough guy with stamina, strength and power) and his sidekick Joey Kocur, whose right hand is the size of an anvil. Didn't he break some guy's helmet in two?
Sitting on the bench during those games, a sick feeling washed over me. My stomach churned with fear, anxiety and anticipation. I felt my teammates' expectations as they looked at me. They knew I was going to stand up for them, and I had a sense of pride in my role and responsibility.
Once the gloves are off, the pressure, tension and mental energy explode in a huge release of violence. Your instincts and strategy take over. I fought so often that I could feel my adversary's movement and tell you what hand he was throwing, I didn't have to look. When your punch connects, you feel it in your hands and through your body. I also knew if I was throwing wildly. (...) Sometimes when I really got tagged I would see a bright starburst in my head, almost like lightning. I thought I was soft and it was a sign of weakness until I interviewed Ultimate Fighting champion Matt Hughes years later and he said he felt the same thing when he was hit hard.
If I lost a fight, I felt terrible that I let the team down. Embarrassed and pissed off, I'd stew in the penalty box. I'd hear it from friends at home. My mom would call to make sure I was all right. But coaches, the other players, and management aren't concerned that you just got your ass handed to you. It doesn't matter that you have a broken nose and lacerations on you cheek. You're expected to smile and like it. Your job is to keep everyone else up and it makes no difference if your hands are busted up so bad that you can't hold a soda can.
If I really beat up a guy, I was happy I got away unscathed, but I felt bad. I knew he'd have to handle the same embarrassment and dirty looks from his coaches and teammates, and hear from fans about how he'd had his clock cleaned. I felt oddly emotional if my opponent had to be carted off because he was injured. We fight as part of our living, but we do not want to interrupt or ruin anyone's career. It's a crazy fraternity.
In 1998, I was with Anaheim when we played Dallas and tensions were rising to a boiling point. Defenseman Craig Ludwig took out his frustration by running our star, Teemu Selanne, in a 5-1 game the Stars were leading that was essentially over. I heard our coach call my line and took the ice with our other ruffians. We lined up for the face-off in Dallas's end of the ice. I looked at who Dallas had sent out and tried to get their coach's attention - I knew he did not recognize what was about to happen and had the wrong lineup on the ice.
The puck dropped and we launched our attack. I got paired with Stars defenseman Darryl Sydor, but that didn't matter to him. He was a warrior in his own right. I threw him to the ice and tried to find their enforcer. Darryl got up and jumped on my back. I got him off and fired one of the hardest lefts I have ever thrown and it hit the side of Darryl's head. The fight was over. Darryl was helped off the ice and the game came to a merciful end with only two players left on the benches. To this day, people in Dallas approach me and want to discuss that fight.
I sat on the bus after the game and thought about what I had done. I'd lost it and hurt someone. I was literally sick to my stomach. I can still see and feel that punch connect. I did not sleep well for several nights. Still, I could not let anyone know how I felt. I followed up to make sure that no permanent damage had been done to Darryl and prepared for my next bout.
As fate would have it, I played for Dallas the next season (1998-99) and my seatmate on our plane was Darryl. In your first introduction after something like that, you smile, make light of it, say you're sorry, but it hurts you. The memory of our fight made me feel even worse when I got to know what a great guy he is. The person you try to beat on one occasion becomes your teammate and friend the next. It's a crazy job!
 I was a bit of an enforcer myself, in Juniors, as the third-string goalie on a team of ruffians. I only got thrown in to start fights before a face-off, which is probably why I can't find myself on HockeyDB or Hockey-Reference: technically, I may have had over 150 penalty minutes, but I played in zero regulation minutes - I don't exist in time. Yet the coach never once asked if I was up for it, or even how I was doing that day. You get the tap, you go and ''protect your teammate'' or ''exact revenge on the guy who hurt your teammate''.

But look at those paragraphs again: the fear taking over the fighter's life, the sleepless nights, the anguish, the deception and humiliation of defeat, yet the churn of stomach and depression of victory. There's a lot more in the SI article, including the recollection of a game against Georges Laraque and the Edmonton Oilers - look it up.

Some of these guys go overboard, but most of them are just trying to cling to their dream of playing in the NHL. They are physically and mentally broken by the end of their playing careers, and play in just half the games their more talented counterparts do, and yet many of them don't regret a thing and would do it all over again. Because The Dream.

Severyn got out at the right time for him, his body was too worn down for his head to have enough time to turn to mush, so his brain seems to work properly. He now owns and operates Severyn Sports, a Dallas-based company that provides training to amateurs and professionals who want to get into sports of all kinds: hockey and MMA of course, but also figure skating.

As a Québec Nordiques (and later Colorado Avalanche) fan, I had been under the impression that he'd played more than 35 games in Québec, because of his 3 years with their AHL farm club Halifax Citadelles. He played for 6 NHL teams and belonged to 8 in all, and he won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1998-99, though he did not suit up in the playoffs.

All told, he played in 328 NHL games and scored 10 goals, with 30 assists and 40 points, and a whopping 825 penalty minutes, plus 8 playoff games (and 12 PIMs). His AHL stats are even more incredible: 297 games, 46 goals, 112 assists (158 points not bad) and 899 penalty minutes. He accrued no penalties in 3 IHL games, and he seemed less aggressive in his two years in Germany, with 8 goals and 26 points in in 74 games as a stay-at-home defenseman... with 155 penalty minutes, which amounts to barely a minor penalty per game.

And so In The Game featured him in their 2013-14 Enforcers II set (card #A-BS of the Autograph sub-set), showing him with the Nordiques' classic blue (away) uniform:


Sunday, October 12, 2014

William Carrier Jersey Card

William Carrier played his first professional game on Friday, one in which his team won 6-1. But folks will remember it because Trevor Gillies - the former New York islanders goon, now playing with the AHL's Adirondack Flames - slammed his head on the ice after he refused to fight him. Gillies got 27 penalty minutes on the play, and an automatic one-game suspension.

Gillies once was suspended for 9 games in the NHL for an elbow to the head of Eric Tangradi. In his first game back, he tried to break Cal Clutterbuck in half by cross-checking him head-first into the boards, which resulted in another 10-game suspension. He obviously hasn't learned his lesson.

Ironically, the Flames are, obviously, linked to the NHL's Calgary Flames, whose President is Brian Burke. While a fan of rough, tough hockey and ''truculence'', Burke is also the man who once said: ''I think it's a marginal player going after a superstar with a headhunting hit.'' He was then referring to Steve Moore's hit on Markus Naslund, which later prompted the Todd Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore. And Moore was less ''marginal'' than Gillies, no matter how you slice and dice it.

I'm happy Carrier seems fine at first glance, protected by his helmet and visor. He's a fine prospect, which the Buffalo Sabres acquired in the trade that sent Steve Ott and Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues at last year's trade deadline. At 6'1'' and 200 pounds, the point-per-game producer in Juniors could end up being a 60-point, 35-goal power forward in the NHL. He likes playing in the slot, and is good at getting the puck in the corners, not afraid to take a few bad hits in the process; this has caused him a few injuries so far, and is the main reason why the Blues picked him 57th overall when he was slated to be a first-round pick.

I wrote to him last March (with 4 custom cards I made) care of his new Juniors team Drummondville Voltigeurs, but haven't heard back. I was hoping to start collecting him more seriously, around this card, from In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects set (card #SSM-27 of the Subway Super Series Game-Used Jersey sub-set):


It shows him wearing the CHL Stars' white uniform, with the LHJMQ logo in front, as each regional league faced a group of junior-aged Russian players.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Derek Roy Swatch Card

The season started out ok for Derek Roy, as he recorded an assist in his first game with the Nashville Predators. The former Buffalo Sabres captain looks poised to produce at the same rate as he had with the Sabres and Dallas Stars (0.75 points per game), rather than with the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues (0.5).

When a team's general manager says his $1M contract offer is your ''last chance at getting top-6 ice time'', like David Poile did in July, one must feel at least some amount of pressure. Playing with Colin Wilson and Craig Smith gives the diminutive and skillful Roy (5'9'', 184 pounds) a playmaker and a shooter to manage and match his own skill set with, and it could very well lead to great things for him personally.

For a guy who had four straight 20-goal seasons (with a peak of 32 in 2007-08) and four straight 60-point seasons (peaking at 81 the same year), getting back into point-producing mode after a sub-par 9-28-37 season in the defensively-minded Blues' system will be a relief.

He has two silver medals playing for Team Canada internationally, one at the World Juniors, and one at the World Championships. At 31 years of age, it would require quite the rejuvenation (coupled with an early playoff exit) for him to be able to represent his country again in the future.

During his time in Buffalo, it seems like the team was changing uniforms on a yearly basis; the one depicted on this card is a decent one - except for the logo/lettering - inspired by their original 1970s/1980s garbs:


The card is from Panini's 2011-12 Certified set (card #20 of the Fabric Of The Game sub-set, numbered 74/399), and features a seemingly black swatch (at least in person), which would mean it's from the team's turn-of-the-millennium away uniform.