Saturday, April 19, 2014

Donald Audette Autograph Card

I made my predictions for the first round of this playoff season on my regular blog, and I followed my heart for all of the series except one (I'm rooting for the Detroit Red Wings against the Boston Bruins, who I believe are a stronger team with a much better goalie). That means I'm rooting for the Los Angeles Kings in their series against the San Jose Sharks, so I thought I'd feature a card that referenced them:

It's from In The Game's 1999-2000 Be A Player Millennium Signature Series (card #121 in the set), a beautiful silver foil autographed insert card signed in thin black sharpie of Donald Audette, one of the consistent 25-30 goal scorer of the Dead Puck Era.

Oddly enough, in the year and a half he spent in L.A., he had a great impact, finishing second on the team in both goals and points in his lone full season with the team in 1998-99 despite playing in only 49 games. His 18 goals were a long way from Luc Robitaille's 39 (in 82 games), but two ahead of Glen Murray's total of 16 (in 61 games); his points total of 36 was far behind Robitaille's 74, but one ahead of Rob Blake's 35 (in 62 games) and two ahead of Jozek Stumpel's 34 (in 64 games).

He would have his best offensive output with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2000-01, with 32 goals, 39 assists and 71 points in just 64 games, which was his second-highest games total, behind only the 77 he played with the Buffalo Sabres in 1993-94. He never once played a full season.

All told, he finished his career with 735 NHL games played with 6 different teams (two stints with the Sabres), 260 goals, 249 assists, 509 points and 584 penalty minutes in the regular season. He also has 21 goals and 48 points in 73 career playoff games. He wasn't a Hall Of Famer, but his All-Star Game appearance (in 2001) wasn't a fluke either, he was a solid performer for most of his career.

These days, he's an amateur scout for the Montréal Canadiens, and I sent him a fan letter (through the team) earlier this season.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Jacob Markstrom: 3 Autographed Cards

Jacob Markström is a 24-year-old Swedish goalie who already comes with an impressive pedigree, having dressed for Team Sweden 5 times thus far: at the U18 once (4th place), the World Juniors twice (silver in 2009 when he was also named the tournament's top goalie, bronze in 2010) and the World Championships twice (gold in 2013, bronze in 2010) - and probably another appearance at the Worlds this year.

He has a good butterfly and the perfect size (6'3'' and just under 200 pounds) for his style, a good glove hand, good agility and covers his angles well. With a proper goaltending coach to look for the best angle to put his legs in, he'll be able to cover up the five-hole and reach the space next to the post accurately enough to only have to work on his blocker-side and lateral push for the next decade or so.

The first player selected in the second round in 2008, he was the third goalie drafted but already has achieved a lot more than the two chosen ahead of him, Chet Pickard (18th) and Thomas McCollum (30th); as a matetr of fact, Jake Allen (32nd), Braden Holtby (93rd), Dustin Tokarski 122nd), Kevin Poulin (126th) and Anders Lindback (207th) are the only other goalies in his draft class to have made the slightest impact in the NHL so far.

Like all of them, Markström has proven to be too good for the AHL (his save percentage in the minors is above .920 over 4 seasons) and just needs to find his groove behind a capable NHL defense, which his original team - the Florida Panthers - could not provide. He was traded from the Panthers to the Vancouver Canucks on March 4th (with Shawn Matthias) for Roberto Luongo and Steven Anthony, but it remains to be seen if the Canucks can rebound and provide him with better stability.

Ironically, if nothing changes in front of the crease, he'll be sharing the net with Eddie Lack, who served as his back-up in 2009-10 when both were with Gävle Brynas IF.

I had sent Markström a fan letter and four cards on March 17th, 2014 and received three back, signed in black sharpie, on April 16th (2014), a 30-day return. He kept the card showing him with the Rochester Americans, but sent back the three of him with the Panthers.

I'll start with the best-looking uniform, the newest version of the red (home) one, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set (card #83):

And now, the white (away) uniform:

The card on the left, from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Series 1 set (card #122) shows the Reebok Edge version of the white uniform, with the ugly blue piping in front, whereas the one on the right, from Panini's 2012-13 Score set (card #213) shows the jersey as it always should have been.

Though it would have been nice to have him in the Americans' uniform, I'm more than happy with this return as is. If anything, I'll try him again in a couple of years with cards of him with the Canucks. This brings my reception total for letters sent in 2014 to 12/70.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Darryl Sutter: 2 Autographed Items

Darryl Sutter was a heck of a hockey player, and is proving he's also a heck of a coach, losing in the Stanley Cup Finals with the Calgary Flames in 2003-04 and winning the Grail with the Los Angeles Kings in 2011-12.

Born the same year my mom was (1958) and drafted the year I was born (1978), Darryl Sutter spent his entire career with the Chicago Blackhawks, whom he also coached for three seasons. He played parts of 8 seasons with the team, captained it from 1982 until 1987 (with Bob Murray taking over for 30 games while he was injured in 1985-86), and finished his career with 161 goals, 279 points and 288 penalty minutes in 406 regular-season games - and an even better 24 goals and 43 points in 51 playoff games.

I had sent Sutter a fan letter and two cards (one wearing each of the Hawks' uniforms, home and away) on March 30th, 2014, care of the Kings (the team he's currently coaching), and got one back, signed in red sharpie, along with a signed index card, on April 16th (2014) - a 17-day return. The card he returned is the one depicting him in the Hawks' red (away) uniform, from Topps' 1985-86 Topps set (card #100):

It shows him getting ready for a face-off, with the same stoic face he still has today. After Brent (once and twice) and Ron, he is the third of the first-generation Sutters I have gotten to since starting this blog; I also have a swatch card of Brandon's (Brent's son), who is part of the second generation of hockey's Royal Family.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gary Leeman: 6 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

So my last three returns involve former Calgary Flames... I had sent Gary Leeman these 6 cards on April 1st, 2014, and got them all back, signed in blue sharpie with his jersey number (11) tagged at the end, Tuesday, April 15th (2014) - a 14-day return!

Leeman had an extraordinary career in which he played just about every possible role on the ice (though fairweather fans always ''blamed'' him for not repeating his high-scoring prowess from his days with the Toronto Maple Leafs).

And I get that, really I do. I mean, improving from 21 goals (52 points) in 1986-87 to 30 goals (61 points) in 1987-88 to 32 goals and 75 points (in just 61 games!) in 1988-89 to an astonishing 51 goals and 95 points in 1989-90, Leeman looked like he could compete with Brett Hull for a long time. But after struggling through injuries and an ever-changing cast of teammates for the following year and a half, he was sent to the Flames in the largest trade of all time, as 10 players changed teams, with Doug Gilmour, Jamie Macoun, Kent Manderville, Ric Nattress and Rick Wamsley headed to Toronto, and Leeman, Alexander Godynyuk, Jeff Reese, Michel Petit, and Craig Berube going to Calgary.

But the Flames only gave Leeman two half-seasons before shipping him off to the Montréal Canadiens to finish off the 1992-93 season, and his 18 points in 20 games were impressive, particularly when one considers he wasn't even on the team's top two lines. As a matter of fact, on that Stanley Cup-winning team, he came after 40-goal right winger Brian Bellows, center-turned-winger Denis Savard, checking winger Mike Keane, 97-point center Vincent Damphousse, 94-point center Kirk Muller, sniper Gilbert Dionne, and future 50-goal man John LeClair on the depth chart. Oh, and the best defensive center of all time in Guy Carbonneau, who needed his 20 minutes of ice time per game to check the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mats Sundin and Pat Lafontaine.

So Leeman succesfully went from go-to sniper to ''cog in the machine'', but too many people still wanted him to be the 50-goal man even well into his 30s, so the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues miscast him themselves, forcing him to expatriate himself to Germany to end his career; he did end up with 15 goals and 56 points in 54 games with the Hannover Scorpions over two seasons to finish in style.

All in all, we're talking about a guy who played nearly 700 NHL games, played for three different Canadian teams (and two more in the AHL - the St. Catharines Saints and Fredericton Canadiens), was one goal short of the 200 mark, put up 466 points and 24 more in 36 playoff games, and has his name on the Cup. He can be proud of himself every time he looks in the mirror, because he has accomplished a lo during his career. Enough to warrant my featuring three cards of his with the despised Leafs...

And here they are, all showing him wearing their classic blue (away) 1970s-1980s uniform:

On the left, from Pinnacle Brands' 1990-91 Score (American) set (card #40); at center, from Upper Deck's 1990-91 Series 1 (French Canadian Version) set (card #243); and on the right, from Topps' 1989-90 O-Pee-Chee (card #22), during a pre-game warm-up with Ken Wregget behind him.

                           (continued in the following post)

Gary Leeman: 6 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

               (continued from the previous post)

And now, for three cards depicting him with the Calgary Flames, all of them taken during the NHL's 75th Anniversary season (as can be attested from the patch on the font of his jersey) and all of them with a mustache proving he's a natural redhead, first with the classic red (then-away) uniform, from Upper Deck's 1991-92 Series 2 (French Canadian Version) set (card #528):

And finally, wearing the Flames' seldom-seen-on-cards white (home) uniform:

On the left, making a swift change in direction in front of the Boston Bruins' bench and back-up goaltender Daniel Berthiaume in particular, from Pro Set's 1992-93 Parkhurst set (card #254 of the French Canadian version); on the right, from Pinnacle Brands' 1992-93 Score (card #171 of the French Canadian version), we have Gary Leeman back-checking.

It's funny, because at the time, I didn't purposely collect the French-Canadian versions of sets even though they were readily available to me; but in 2003 or so, I came across a bunch of unopened 1992-93 boxes that went for under $5 each at a discount store and stocked up - and most of them were of either the bilingual or all-French kind, and the fact that those were rarer on Ebay or for American traders in general - and perhaps also to the players themselves - made me appreciate them a bit more.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Joel Otto: 4 Autographed Items

I got mail at my old place on Monday, one that made it there despite there not being enough postage on the envelope (thanks, Canada Post employees, some of you have a heart!) and that only took 21 total days round trip. I'd written Joel Otto a fan letter that I sent along with these 4 cards on March 24th, 2014, care of the WHL's Calgary Hitmen - where he is an assistant coach - and got them all back on April 14th (2014), signed in black sharpie, with the clearest signature I've seen in a long time:

In today's NHL game, Otto would have been a prized commodity: a 6'4'', 220-pound right-handed centerman who played tough, won face-offs and was among the top-3 of his generation in shutting down the opposition (second perhaps only to Guy Carbonneau, in my opinion, with Bobby Carpenter in third place). If neither of them rings a bell, picture Tomas Plekanec's shut-down ability, Patrice Bergeron's ability in the dot, and Ryan Getzlaf's size - in one mean player.

A two-time Selke nominee, he won the Stanley Cup in 1989 as a member of the Calgary Flames, with whom he spent the first 10 years of his career before moving on to the Philadelphia Flyers for the final three. Except for his last season, he was always good for 40-60 points, close to 20 goals and over 150 penalty minutes a year, and his playoff statistics are also impressive: 27 goals, 47 assists, 74 points, and 205 PIMs in 122 career games, and astonishing stats when his team went deep in the postseason: a 5-10-15 output in 20 games in 1985-86 as the Flames lost the Cup to the Montréal Canadiens, and 6-13-19 in 22 games in 1988-89 as the Flames took their revenge on the Habs.

A Minnesota native, he represented Team USA many times internationally, including at two World Championships, the 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups (he was team captain for the latter), the 1996 World Cup (which the U.S. won), and the 1998 Olympics.

Let's have a look at the cards, first those showing him wearing the Flames' classic red (away) uniform, starting with this 1990-91 Score (American) card (#128 in the set) by Pinnacle Brands, with the 1989 Cup Finals patch on his left shoulder, entering the offensive zone in control of the puck:

Next up is this Pro Set 1991-92 Series 1 card (#37 in the set), sporting the alternate captain's 'A', which was pretty much a fixture on his chest:

And a sticker from Panini's 1992-93 Panini set (#43 to stick in the collector's album), sporting the NHL's 75th-anniversary patch that all teams wore that year, fighting for prime in-slot real estate in front of the New York Rangers' Joe Cirella:

And finally, showing him in the Flames white (then-home) uniform, from Pro Set's 1992-93 Parkhurst set (the French Canadian Version, card #253 in the collection), sporting both the 'A' and the 75th patch in a weirdly-cropped picture that barely shows Los Angeles Kings goalie Kelly Hrudey:

Again: what a tremendous return!

I am fairly confident that he will be on the Calgary Flames' coaching staff before long, as an assistant (possibly associate) coach in charge of both the powerplay and the penalty kill - in which he both excelled.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Kitana Baker Prop (Baseball Cap) Card

Kitana Baker's career has really taken off since first being ''discovered'' through Playboy's Girls Next Door contest, gaining major fame through her Miller Lite commercials in 2002 as one of the ''Catfight Girls'' with fellow model Tanya Ballinger, enough to start hosting shows on E! and The Playboy Channel, and to have cameos on WWE programming.

She has had small parts in such films as Auto Focus, Intolerable Cruelty and The Scorpion King, as well as in the 2008 flop B-movie-with-decent-actors-in-it Toxic, alongside Tom Sizemore, Susan Ward, Dominique Swain, Danny Trejo, Bai Ling, Lochlyn Munro and rapper Master P.

She was a Benchwarmer regular from 2003 until 2010, and this card is from packs of the brand's 2008 Signature Series collection:

As stated on the front of the card and obvious because of its colour, this ''Prop Card''  (#PC 7 of the 15 in the set) features a piece of the baseball cap she's sporting in the picture, possibly the largest item of clothing she has on. It just might be the thickest card I own, at nearly half an inch.

It is one of two BW swatch cards I own (unless I have another one hidden somewhere that I'm forgetting about) and is probably the one with the highest ''book value'' though, like most of my cards, I don't plan on ever selling it.

I do still have unopened boxes of this set, though; I might sell those some time in the future.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Eléni (Lane Brody) Autographed CD

Lane Brody has been an active songwriter since 1982, and has been nominated for an Oscar (1984, for Over You) and an Emmy (the theme song to The Yellow Rose, which she co-wrote and sang with Johnny Lee and became a #1 country hit).

She had started single jingles in tons of radio TV ads, for brands such as McDonald's, 7Up, Juicy Fruit, and Beatrice Foods for their 1984 Olympics run (''You've known us all along!''), and made her way back to TV by guest-starring in Taxi, then in Heart Of The City.

I corresponded with her briefly before and at the turn of the millennium, and she was kind enough to send me autographed items once in a while. I came across this promo-version of her self-released 2001 album Familiar Places (through her self-owned label Records Records) while unpacking today; the album's original artwork was this:

She released that album under the name Eléni, which is the Greek root for the names Helen, Ellen, Elaine, and Lynn. The album mentions it was her given (birth) name, but her Wikipedia page instead says she came into this world as Lynn Voorlas, and is also known as Lynn Nilles. Then again, she always has been rather mysterious.

Another thing she always has been is an amazing musical talent with a rich voice. She transcends styles, though she has kind of gone back to country after flirts with jazz, traditional pop and Big Band-type songs. I expect a couple more quality releases from her in the future.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vlastimil Kroupa Autographed Card

Ironically, what had NHL teams salivating at the prospect of drafting Vlastimil Kroupa was ultimately what ended up costing him his job in North America: the fact that he was huge, standing at 6'5'', but weighing ''only'' 200 pounds by the end of his career, 175 in the mid-1990s.

Teams who had only seen him play with kids his age couldn't know he'd rather play a skilled game than a robust one, and at the dawn of the clutch-and-grab era, the San Jose Sharks thought they had the rare beast that could mix grit with good vision and puck-carrying abilities when they chose him 45th overall (second round) in 1993.

Playing against character, he nonetheless ended up with 23 career points and 66 penalty minutes in 105 NHL games over the course of 5 seasons (the first four in the Sharks' organization, the final one in the New Jersey Devils system).

The bruises from the North American rugged style of play and the tedious 8-month, 80-some-game schedule eventually took their toll on him, and he moved back to Europe at the turn of the millennium, first in Germany to finish off the 1999-2000 season, then back to his native Czech Republic until he retired in 2011. He did play for the Czech Team and earned a bronze medal at the 1997 World Championships.

I do believe, with his skill set, that he could have been a 25-35-point defenseman in the NHL - a top-4 on most teams - had they let him play his own game.

This card, from Classic's 1993-94 Pro Prospects set (card #4), shows him wearing the then-Sharks' IHL affiliate Kansas City Blades' red (away) uniform:

He signed it in blue sharpie with his jersey number (28) tagged at the end, after a Kentucky Thoroughblades (when the Sharks moved their minor-league affiliation from the IHL to the AHL) game against the Fredericton Canadiens - my hometown team's own farm club - in 1996-97.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Réjean Lemelin: 4 Autographed Cards

Réjean ''Reggie'' Lemelin was a consistent #1 goalie for all of the 1980s and the first couple of seasons of the 1990s, until he was almost 40 years old and the Boston Bruins decided to hand the reigns to Andy Moog alone.

But from the days where he dominated in Juniors in the LHJMQ (for the Sherbrooke Castors, i.e. ''Beavers''), his subsequent draft by the Philadelphia Flyers (125th overall in 1974) and his start with the Atlanta Flames, it was clear he would play hundreds of NHL games (he ended up appearing in 507), winning a ton (246, with a career high of 30 in 56 games with the lowly 1984-85 Calgary Flames, while his backup Don Edwards went 11-15-2).

His goals-against average (in the high 3s) may look bizarre nowadays, but he shared the Jennings Trophy with Moog in 1989-90 with a 2.80 - they were just different times. He also played for Team Canada at the 1984 Canada Cup (now referred to as the World Cup).

He reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice, in 1988 and 1990 - both times with the Bruins, both losses to the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers. For Lemelin, Moog, Raymond Bourque and Cam Neely, and because the Oilers had traded Wayne Gretzky and were now led by Mark Messier, I wouldn't have minded if Boston had won it in 1990.

Lemelin was more of a stand-up goalie, like many of his contemporaries pre-Patrick Roy. He had a decent glove hand and covered a fair amount of net. While he was with the Bruins (1987-93), I was in the minor hockey circuit, doing my best Roy imitation (all butterfly and glove), and my main competitor in my region was a kid named Yan Lemelin, whose idol was his namesake and had the same playing style. We would always meet in the neighbourhood finals at the atom, pee-wee and bantam levels... and I would always end up victorious, of course. But since the Bruins would also face the Montréal Canadiens often in the postseason even back then, it was like a double rivalry going on, with Lemelin (or Moog) versus Roy at the pro level, and Lemelin versus Hell in our age range.

And because I knew a guy who really liked the ''real'' Lemelin (Yan and I were acquaintances off the ice), I kind of didn't hate him either. I even followed his coaching career when he was the Flyers' goaltending coach upon retiring (on and off from 1997 until the end of the '00s), but it was a bit weird to see him around so much orange. Black suits him so much better, and so he looks right at home playing for the Bruins' alumni team these days.

I had sent a fan letter and these four cards to his home address on March 31st, 2014, and got them all back today - April 11th, 2014, a mere 11 days later - signed in black sharpie with his jersey number tagged at the end - 31 for the Flames, 1 with the Bruins - wrapped in... my fan letter (I guess it didn't resonate with him that much).

Let's look at the Flames cards first, both showing him with their red (away) uniform:

The card on the left is from O-Pee-Chee's 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set (card #50), unmasked during a pre-game warm-up; the card on the right is from Topps' 1984-85 Topps set (card #25).

As for the ones showing him with the Bruins' beautiful, classic black (away) 1980s uniform:

The card on the left is from Topps' 1989-90 Topps set (card #40), making snow in front of his net to start a period, while the card on the right is from the company's 1990-91 Bowman collection (card #32), sitting on the bench as the evening's back-up, watching the game.

A great return by an important goalie of an Original Six team, one I got to see a lot of as an Oilers, Habs and Québec Nordiques watcher as a kid.