Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gary Suter Autograph card

Gary Suter is a polarizing figure in 1980s and 1990s hockey. He won the Calder Trophy as Rookie Of The Year in 1985-86, was a Second Team All-Star in 1987-88, a Stanley Cup winner in 1989 and garnered some Norris votes until the mid-90s, playing in 4 All-Star games in the process. He was part of the edition of Team USA that won the inaugural 1996 World Cup; he also won silver at the 2002 Olympics, wearing the star-spangled uniform seven times in his career.

On the other hand, he was one of the dirtiest players of his era, as can be attested by these four events, three of them related to international competitions, two occurring in the NHL.

He passed the 50-point mark 7 times in his first 8 seasons, all of them with the Calgary Flames. He then had a top-4 role with the Chicago Blackhawks and played his last three seasons with the San Jose Sharks.

So it's no real surprise that In The Game featured him wearing the Flames' classic red (then-away) uniform in their 2012-13 Decades - The 1990s set:

It's card #A-GSU in the Autograph sub-set, signed in black sharpie directly on the card. ITG didn't use a high-resoluton picture, but it works anyhow.

All told, the rugged blue-liner played in 1145 regular-season games, scoring 203 goals with 642 assists and 845 points to go with his 1349 penalty minutes (plus 17-56-73 in 108 playoff games) to play his way into the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Anze Kopitar Jersey Card

As I was unpacking my cards last May, getting ready to post all summer long, I realized the one player I have the most jersey cards of is Anze Kopitar, the two-time Stanley Cup-winning giant center of the Los Angeles Kings.

The best Slovenian player in the history of the NHL has 33 points in 30 games with Team Slovenia (despite not playing alongside players of his level and facing the opposition's best lines) in addition to his success with the Kings. In each of his seasons in the NHL so far, he garnered votes for hardware, first the Calder Trophy, then becoming a staple for the Selke, and for Hart and Lady Byng voters as well. He's that good, and that important in all aspects of the game.

He had left Sunday night's game with an upper-body injury and was a game-time decision to suit up tonight - first it was said he would sit out, then reports indicated he would play. In the end, he didn't, and GM Dean Lombardi was irate for having to play shorthanded due to Slava Voynov's suspension and its impact on the Kings' salary cap.

Unlike the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings managed to win both of their Stanley Cups without even losing a handful of players, but the cost of that was a salary structure that flirts dangerously with the cap and gives very little leeway. Such are the risks, but you'd rather be affected by that type of situation and still have the roster you have in October, rather than in April when the players might be a bit tired.

We'll see how it plays out in the long run, but for now I'm happy to feature Kopitar wearing the Kings' black current-day uniform, from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 2 set (card #G2J-AK of the UD Game Jersey sub-set), featuring a big silver swatch, probably from the arm:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jeff Beukeboom Autograph Card

As the Edmonton Oilers have beaten the Montréal Canadiens tonight, I thought I could revisit my Oilers Numbers Project for a post about #6, Jeff Beukeboom, the first of two about him this Fall.

A member of three Oilers Stanley Cup-winning teams (1987, 1988 and 1990), he was the team's first-round pick in 1983, 19th overall. At 6'5'' and 230 pounds, he was a force to be reckoned with on defense.

He was part of the transaction that sent Mark Messier to the New York Rangers, and both helped the ''New York Oilers'' win the 1994 Cup. His time in the Big Apple made him famous, as he was paired with superstar Brian Leetch on the blue line, and wore the alternate captain's ''A'' for most of his tenure in NYC.

Playing a bruising, hard-hitting game, Beukeboom went the Eric Lindros/Chris Pronger route, though, suffering multiple concussions that ended his career, with the ironic last few coming off hits he himself had initiated.

Still, he has left an indelible mark on two organizations, and today I pay tribute to his time in Edmonton with this card from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers Collections (card #FI-JB of the Franchise Ink sub-set), showing him in the team's classic white (then-home) uniform:
It sports a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph with a scrambled scribble.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Anthony Duclair Jersey Card

After being a healthy scratch two games, Anthony ''The Duke'' Duclair was back in the line-up last night as the New York Rangers faced the Montréal Canadiens; playing in front of friends and family in his hometown, Duclair was named the game's third star, not really having dominated the game, but having played well enough in it, displaying speed and impressive abilities.

As a matter of fact, Duclair's force is that he can make jaw-dropping plays at his amazing speed - not unlike Nathan MacKinnon, whose talent for that has been praised recently. Their paths have crossed many times since they both entered Major Juniors at the same time at the tender age of 16, and their confrontations against one another were memorable even then. Put them on the same line - say in an All-Star context or on Team Canada at a World Championship - and you will see some of the fastest, most beautiful plays ever in adult hockey.

And yet he still fell to 80th overall at the 2013 NHL draft, teams fearing he may have ''behavioral issues'', like so many gifted players from the ''Q'' before him (oh, hello, Mike Ribeiro). But 17-year-olds will be who and what they are; the kid still managed to score 50 goals in 59 games last season, and you can watch them all right here.

I don't want to over-sell him or put undue pressure on his still-frail shoulders (he stands at just 5'11'' and 180 pounds but looks much bulkier on the ice), but in an era where the NHL has never been so quick, he's still one step ahead of almost everyone else. That alone should keep him in the league for the next 15 years.

I had actually pulled the same card as this one in a pack of In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects (#M-26 of the Game-Used Jersey sub-set), but with a one-colour swatch, which I traded for this one - which has additional red and stitching from the sleeve - by adding a couple of extra cards to the deal:
The vertical line in the middle is from the penny sleeve, the swatch itself is pristine.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Vincent Damphousse Autographed Card

Tonight, as a nice gesture of solidarity in honour of the two soldiers slain in separate events in Canada this week, the Montréal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs will band together via video link and observe a simultaneous minute of silence followed by showing the national anthems sung in Ottawa.

I figured I could do my part by featuring a player who had a distinguished career in two of those cities, Vincent Damphousse. I had previously featured Damphousse in 2011 with cards of his with the Habs, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks I'd sent him at the spa facilities he owns; I hadn't sent one of him with the Leafs because I already had this one:

It's from Upper Deck's 1990-91 Series 1 set (card #224) that he signed for me (in thin black sharpie) in the early-to-mid-1990s when he was dating one of my mom's friends... and several other women.

As far as skills go, Damphousse was a heck of a talent. He scored 38 goals or more four times (reaching 40 in 1993-94), hit the 50-assist mark six times (with a high of 61 in 1989-90), reached the 90-point mark four times (with a high of 97 in 1992-93) and the 80-point plateau another two times, including an 89-point season in 1991-92. He played in 4 All-Star Games (1991, 1992, 2001 and 2002) and was the Game MVP at the 1991 on the strength of 4 goals, tying an NHL record.

As far as being a team player, he captained the Habs from 1996 until 1999, and won the Stanley Cup with the team in 1993. He was also on Team Canada at the 1996 World Cup, a depth center behind Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Eric Lindros and Steve Yzerman. Also centers on that team but usually playing out of position were Joe Sakic, Trevor Linden, Keith Primeau, Rod Brind'Amour and Adam Graves.

When he was with the Habs, though - and especially after he got the captaincy - something started bothering me about his play. Despite finishing 4th in Selke voting in 1995-96, I noticed every time he would move on the opposing team's center or defenseman when they had the puck, he would slash them with his stick, right above their gloves, essentially trying to injure their wrists. It wasn't very sportsmanlike, and was probably the main reason why he garnered 559 penalty minutes in 519 games in Montréal. But on a team with historically gentlemanly captains such as Jean Béliveau, Henri Richard, Émile 'Butch' Bouchard and Guy Carbonneau (and, later, Saku Koivu and Brian Gionta), I deemed it unacceptable.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cam Ward Jersey Card

I'd hinted back in August that I thought Cam Ward might finish the season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, reunited with Jim Rutherford, the GM who gave him his current contract, but it hasn't happened so far. Plus, I have another card I can show if and when that happens.

He's currently in his 10th NHL season - all with the Carolina Hurricanes -  and, while he has struggled so far this year on a weak team, he did win the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup in his rookie season, and twice finished in the top-10 in Vezina Trophy voting. On the other hand, that last time was in 2010-11. And his save percentage has been in steady decline ever since, from .923 to .915 to .908 to .898 to .829...

I'm not sure I would trade for him if I was a general manager myself, but I will say this: he's an option I'd consider way before Martin Brodeur if I were a contender in need of an insurance policy as my backup. But I'd call Ilya Bryzgalov first, who would come much cheaper and would be a fun distraction for the media and fans, taking the pressure off my star players.

And so here's card #FE-CW of Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits collection, part of the First Exposures sub-set featuring a white swatch from a photo shoot-worn jersey; the card shows him in the Canes' original red (away) uniform:

Because he plays on a team that usually doesn't contend come playoff time, he has represented Team Canada at three World Championships, earning gold in 2007 and silver in 2008; Canada lost to Slovakia in the quarterfinals in 2012.

I had written him and sent 4 cards (care of the Hurricanes) in March 2012, but never heard back.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Slava Voynov Autograph Card

The talk of the hockey world of late has been the alleged charges against the Los Angeles Kings' Slava Voynov, his subsequent suspension by the NHL, his lawyer's preictable affirmation that Voynov is innocent, and the media and fan speculation.

I'm one to let the justice system run its course. We'll see when all the facts are out.

In the meantime, we know this much: the 32nd pick of the 2008 draft is a heck of a hockey player. He is a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Kings, and holds the team record for most playoff goals by a defenseman. He was in his fourth season, and had two points in 6 games so far.

I have this on-card autographed insert of his, signed in blue sharpie, from Panini's 2011-12 Donruss Elite set (#252 in the collection, similar to his regular Rookie Card, but with an airbrushed space for him to sign in, with a blue foil border that hints on rainbow-y colours):

We'll see his situation plays out, but for now, we live in a system where all are equal, and innocent until proven guilty.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mike Ribeiro Jersey Card

What does Mike Ribeiro usually do when facing his old teams? He steals the show. And he was at it again last night, as the Nashville Predators were facing the Arizona Coyotes, who had bought him out then made a public spectacle of it last summer. Have a look:

Ribeiro is by no means a ''complete'' player like Jonathan Toews or Tomas Plekanec; perhaps he isn't even ''elite'' anymore. What he is, however, is one of the best 5 passing centers in the league, perhaps top-15 all positions considered; he is also clutch, and extremely cocky - a mix which enables him to always elevate his level of play when it counts, in this case when playing against a former team.

He's also the type that, when slotted as a second center, will out-perform the first-liner. It has led him to two All-Star Games (one YoungStars), a Team Canada bronze medal, and the scoring lead with the Montréal Canadiens and the Dallas Stars (as well as the whole CHL in Juniors).

Here's another blast from the past, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 2 set (card #J2-MR of the Game Jersey sub-set), showing him wearing the Habs' white (then-home) uniform, accompanied by a red swatch;

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Daniel Brière Autographed Card

I had meant to write Daniel Brière last season, when he was a member of the Montréal Canadiens, but as early as New Year's Day the trade rumours began due to the limited ice time he was getting from head coach Michel Therrien, and I didn't want the mail to get lost in the shuffle should he indeed have to change teams again. Also, I had already knocked off #48 from my Habs Numbers Project with Jean-Jacques Daigneault and James 'J.T.' Wyman, so I felt I could wait a bit.

The trade came this summer, and I wrote about my feelings toward it here. We'll see how he fares with the Colorado Avalanche, but for now head coach Patrick Roy is trying to give him top-9 minutes by slotting him on the right wing, although he'll be counted on for leadership more than his total points; chances are he'll see more ice time in the playoffs in Denver than he did in Montréal, though.

The Avs were in town last weekend, and I had the chance to tell Brière my appreciation of his patience while he was in town; I didn't have anything for him to sign, but he did remember having signed for me back in his days with the Philadelphia Flyers, so I thought I could feature that card here:

I didn't have a card of his with the Flyers at the time (it must have been in his first year with the team in 2007-08), so instead I brought this 2002-03 Rookie Update card by Upper Deck (#15 in the set), showing him in his first season with the Buffalo Sabres, wearing the team's white (home) turn-of-the-century uniform. He signed it in blue sharpie.

A first-round draft pick (24th overall) of the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, Brière had been a star player in Juniors with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, racking up seasons of 123 points (including 51 goals, in 72 games) in 1994-95, 163 points (on 67 goals, in 67 games) in 1995-96, and 130 points (thanks to 52 goals, in just 59 games) in 1996-97.

He spent the 1997-98 season with the AHL's Springfield Falcons, scoring 36 goals and adding 56 assists for 92 points in 68 games, then spent the following three seasons hovering between the AHL and the NHL, finally settling with the Coyotes in 2001-02 (with 60 points in 78 games), but the team dealt him to Buffalo at the tail end of the following season.

He had tremendous success with the Sabres, with 230 points in 225 games in the Dead Puck Era despite his diminutive stature (5'10'', 180 pounds), sharing the team's captaincy with Chris Drury from 2004 until 2007.

Both left in the summer of 2007, being the highest-coveted free agents that summer; Drury signed with the New York Rangers, while Brière went to Philadelphia. With 283 points in 364 games with the Flyers and an 'A' on his jersey, Brière was definitely an impact player in the City of Brotherly Love; he was even more of a monster come playoff time, with 72 points in 68 post-season games with the team, including a league-leading 30 in their 2009-10 Stanley Cup bid, which was also a team record.

He also has four gold medals in four tries with Team Canada. That's winner and clutch, right there. I wish him the best with the Avs, and here's hoping he's found enough stability for me to write to him this year...

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.