Monday, March 27, 2017

Tim Brown Autographed Card

It's a done deal: the Oakland Raiders will move once more, this time to Las Vegas. With the NHL having approved of an expansion franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, who will begin play next season, Las Vegas is definitely aiming to make its mark in the sports field. It remains a tourist town, with only 600,000 permanent residents in its core, but there are no other cities like it. It's an experiment, albeit one that has a better chance of working out than, say, hockey in Arizona or Atlanta.

It's the franchise's second move out of Oakland, as it spent 1982-1994 being known as the Los Angeles Raiders, before moving back into its original NFL home, Oakland-Alameida County Coliseum (1966-1981, 1995-2018). Prior to that, as a member of the AFL, the team played at the San Francisco 49ers' Kezar Stadium (1960), the San Francisco Giants' Candlestick Park (1961) and Frank Youell Field, a stadium named after a mortician that was later bulldozed to make additional parking space for Laney College.

Pretty unstable and bush-league for a franchise that holds an AFL championship and three Super Bowl championships, eh?

I don't know what the future holds for the team in Vegas; perhaps they'll move back to Oakland in 15 years. What I do know is the stadium they're building for them will be packed and will host at least one Super Bowl. It's revitalized the team's image and reshaped Vegas once more as a family-friendly spot.

Growing up in the 1980s, I was a fan of the Raiders and 49ers. Still am, always have been. My admiration for the Niners wavered when they sent Joe Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs, and I never took to Steve Young - but I stuck to the Raiders no matter what they did, even when they anointed Carson Palmer as their QB; I didn't believe they'd win with him, and I disapproved of the decision, but I kept wearing my cap, my windbreaker or my tuque, depending on the season.

The 1990s in L.A. were about Wayne Gretzky on the ice, Mike Scioscia behind the plate and Tim Brown on the field. Luckily, I got to meet Brown at a signing when I was in high school, probably circa 1993, and again upon his retirement in 2005; it was then that he signed this card for me in blue sharpie:
That's card #150 from Pro Set's 1990 Series 1 collection; the first series contained cards #1-377, the second one encompassed #378-769, and the Final Update portion went up to #800O and #800D, for the offensive (Emmitt Smith) and defensive (Mark Carrier) Pro Set Rookies Of The Year, which was originally supposed to be a single title. There were also five ridiculous inserts found in packs of the Series 2 set, of which I had two, Santa Claus and commissioner Paul Tagliabue; I was missing those of Miami Dolphins founder Joe Robbie, failed comic-book superhero SuperPro, and golfer Payne Stewart.

I seem to have lost the card I had Brown sign in '93, which pains me a bit. The 2015 Hall Of Famer was special from the start. He was the first wide receiver to ever receive the Heisman Trophy, back when he was with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He then set the NFL rookie yards records and proceeded to appear in nine Pro Bowls and make the NFL's All-Decade 1990s team - in a decade that included such receivers as Jerry Rice and Michael Irving. He spent his first sixteen seasons with the Raiders but played his final season, 2004, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a falling out with management and ownership.

He had been eligible for the Hall in 2013, but was not admitted right away; that's too bad, because that's the year I went:
I'm in the middle, flanked by my current stepdad and brother. It was freezing; it felt like I hadn't left Montréal. I have a knack for that, as it was also the case when I went on a Vegas/Arizona trip in November 2015 and caught bronchitis (and a snowstorm). There are ways in which I would prefer avoiding feeling like home...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Zachary Boychuk Autographed Card

In the midst of turbulent times at Hockey USA, I thought I could feature another IIHF team - Team Canada - and revisit a player I last wrote about in 2012, Zach Boychuk.

Boychuk has since become the Charlotte Checkers' all-time leading scorer, which doesn't mean the Carolina Hurricanes have given him a fair shot at playing with NHLers of his skill level to demonstrate what he can contribute. As a matter of fact, after eight seasons in the Canes organization (albeit with a brief, two-month interruption in 2012-13 for 7 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins and 5 games with the Nashville Predators), he attended training camp with the Arizona Coyotes last September on a tryout basis, only to not be offered a contract after a decent camp.

And so he set his sails for the KHL, signing a one-year deal with Novosibirsk Hockey Club Sibir Oblast, a.k.a. "The Siberians". In a low-scoring league, he has 15 points (7 goals and 8 assists) in 35 games so far, seventh on the team but first among full-time centers. It should be noted that he has played at last 14 fewer games than anyone else above him, which makes his point-per-game average among the top-5 on the team.

Internationally, he has gold medals from the 2008 and 2009 World Juniors as well as the 2006 Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament. This card shows him wearing the red Canadian uniform at the 2007 U-18 Worlds, where he posted 7 points (4 goals and 3 assists) in a fourth-place finish, trailing only Steven Stamkos (10 points) and Jamie Arniel (8 points) on his team:
That's card #20 from In The Game's 2007-08 O Canada set, which he signed in blue sharpie in 2010 or 2011.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Éric Fichaud Autograph Card

Sometimes, a player's career is one of opportunities and a string of luck - both good and bad.

Case in point: Éric Fichaud. A classic butterfly goalie in Québec's Patrick Roy era (1986-2001), LHJMQ scouts were high on him because of his perfect technique; he had moderate success in Midget AAA, but it was believed that increasing his reflex speed by upping his competition would mold him into an ideal starter - which he became, leading the Chicoutimi Saguenéens to a league championship and a Memorial Cup berth, which it lost to the Kamloops Blazers, but enabled Fichaud to nab top goalie honors.

The Toronto Maple Leafs jumped on the opportunity to draft him, despite having Félix Potvin in the fold, possibly thinking that having two Sags alumni in the crease would make for better teamwork. However, they couldn't pass up the opportunity to trade his rights to the New York Islanders the following season, for Benoît Hogue and a fifth-round pick; the trade shook Fichaud, however, and his play suffered, enabling Chicoutimi teammate Marc Denis to make his own mark and earn his time in the spotlight.

He had respectable numbers of an awful Islanders team, one so bad that Tommy Soderstrom just left the team in 1996-97, enabling Fichaud to back up Tommy Salo full-time and appear in 34 games himself.

Everything changed in 1997-98, when Fichaud suffered a shoulder injury that would first sideline him for six games, then hurt enough to warrant an operation, forcing him out for the remainder of the season. He would never again have a save percentage above .900 in the NHL and it, essentially, relegated him to "good AHL goalie" status, though his nine-game stint in Germany in 2001-02 with the Krefeld Penguins was particularly spectacular (1.64 GAA and .944 save percentage).

For the two years prior and the two after that season - which he split with the AHL's Manitoba Moose, who at the time were the Vancouver Canucks' top affiliate - he was on the Montréal Canadiens' depth chart, first with the Québec Citadelles, then the Hamilton Bulldogs.

From the 2004-05 season until 2007-08, he played in the semi-professional LNAH, first with the Québec RadioX team, then a single season with the St. Georges CRS Express.

Today, I look back at the 1998-99 season, which he split between the Nashville Predators (9 games, 3.22 GAA and .895 save percentage) and their AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals (8 games, 3.13 GAA and .90 save percentage) with the signed (silver) version of card #227 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, signed in thin black sharpie:
I wasn't a fan of Koho equipment growing up, which I found to be too stiff and bulky. You may recall from earlier posts that despite my idol Patrick Roy making the switch to Koho from 1992-93 onward, I was mostly a Brian's guy myself.

Nowadays, Fichaud is a hockey analyst on TV. After a stint at Radio-Canada, he can now be seen and heard on TVA Sports.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dwight Foster Autographed Card

The Detroit Red Wings will most probably miss the playoffs this year, after 25 consecutive postseason appearances. It's been so long since then that we tend to forget just how awful they were in the 1980s, despite being saddled in the weak Norris Division with the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs and dismal St. Louis Blues teams, the cheap Chicago Blackhawks and the up-and-down Minnesota North Stars. Failing to make the playoffs back then in the weakest division in the league was like losing a one-number lottery; 16 out of 21 NHL teams made the playoffs back then. Only five were eliminated after 80 games.

Imagine what it meant when, in 1983-84, Dwight Foster's defensive play and four players hitting the point-per-game mark (Steve Yzerman with 87 in 80, Ivan Boldirev at 83 in 75, Ron Duguay with 80 in 80 and John Ogrodnick at 78 in 64) helped the Wings make the playoffs for the first time in six years, earning third-place in the division... with a 31-42-7 record. Yes, eleven games under .500.
from HockeyDB.com
Foster was a Boston Bruins fist-round pick (16th overall in 1977) who had led the OHL in scoring with 143 points in 64 games but whose scouting report claimed he was a "a strong defensive forward with marginal offensive ability"... for the record, the first round was pretty hit-and-miss, with the most impactful players being selected 6th and 15th:
In later rounds went enforcer Dave Semenko (25th), prolific point-producer John Tonelli (33rd), Hall of Fame defenseman Rod Langway (36th), long-time goalie Glen Hanlon (40th), not-that Alain Côté (43rd), 1000-game defenseman Gordie Roberts (54th), masked marvel Murray Bannerman (58th), Mario Marois (62nd), Mark Johnson (66th), Greg Millen (102nd), Bob Gould (118th), former Québec Nordiques and Montréal Canadiens wearer of #33 Richard Sévigny (124th), All-Star goalie Pete Peeters (135th), and Craig Laughlin (162nd).

All told, Foster put up 274 points (111 goals and 163 assists) in 541 NHL games split between two stints with the Bruins, a few years with the Wings and some time with the Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils franchise. Only the Bs had decent teams during his career.

Here he is sporting Detroit's classic red (the-away) uniform, on card #14 from Topps' 1985-86 Topps set:
He signed it in black sharpie at a Red Wings alumni event in Windsor, Ontario, roughly five or six years ago. He charged less for his signature than others did ($10 instead of $50-75), but I did have to purchase the card for a dollar because I didn't have one handy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Jason Sweitzer Autograph Card

Today I decided to feature a former OHL player from the Oshawa Generals, Jason Sweitzer, who retired after going undrafted. His statistics weren't bad at all, but he produced a lot less than his team's star player, Marc Savard:
Courtesy of EliteProspects.com
You'll notice the Generals made it to the Memorial Cup Final, which they lost to a Hull Olympiques team that was coached by Claude Julien and included the likes of Martin Biron (as Christian Bronsard's backup!), Francis Bélanger, Jonathan Delisle, Matthieu Descoteaux, Christian Dubé, Mario Larocque, Donald MacLean, Pavel Rosa, Colin White, and Peter Worrell.

And, well, that's it. He didn't get drafted, he didn't pursue a career in Europe nor was he a career minor-leaguer. He just became an adult.

Here he is sporting the Generals' alternate (blue) uniform, on a signed insert card from The Score Board's 1997-98 The Score Board collection, which I got in a re-pack box:
He signed it on-card in thin blue sharpie.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ron Tugnutt Autographed Card

Today marks the 26th anniversary of one of the most impressive sports feats of my lifetime: Ron Tugnutt's breathtaking 70-save performance against the Boston Bruins in a 3-3 tie, including 12 in the five-minute overtime period alone. The Bruins edged the Québec Nordiques 73-26 in shots, a record 19 of them coming from their star defenseman and captain Ray Bourque.

That game should have finished 10-3, but Tugnutt salvaged a point all by himself - literally.

Nowadays, he's the owner, governor and head coach of the Kemptville 73's of the CCHL, a Junior "A" league. Notable alumni include Calvin de Haan and Ben Hutton.

Here's Tugnutt wearing the Nordiques' beautiful blue (away) uniform, with a terrific red Fleur-de-lys mask to go along with it:
It's card #277 from Upper Deck's 1991-92 Series 1 set, which encompassed cards #1-500, while Series 2 (featuring more rookies and players who'd been traded mid-season) had #501-700.

If you think his pads look beat-up then, there are far worse pictures out there; he was a workhorse, finishing fourth in minutes played in 1990-91 with 3,144 in 56 games. That year, he stopped 1639 shots, finishing tenth in Vezina voting despite a 12-29-10 record.

In his entire professional career, spanning 1987-2004 including both the NHL and AHL, he made 16,466 saves. He has let in 1954 goals in 679 total games; he fared much better playing for Team Canada at the World Championships (1993 and 1999), finishing with a combined 2.25 GAA and .913 save percentage in 11 games, stopping 119 out of 130 shots, for a 4-3 record.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monetizing The Site

You may have noticed at times, recently, that team names - which, for a while were simply in italics throughout - now include links to Amazon products pertaining to said team.

That's my attempt to try to monetize the site, seeing as I no longer have a full-time day job and want to keep being able to write nearly daily - and delve deeper into the stories I write, be they historic, statistical, analytical or just fun - always pertaining to or coming back towards collectibles.

I had previously attempted to do the same in 2009-10 and am trying it again, partly because there had been no complaints at the time.

I will limit this to teams and team merchandise. I will not go "full native ad", and the links to players will still lead to former articles/posts written on this very blog, and news stories will still always link to the actual source material.

Hopefully it doesn't piss you off too much. At best, it might lead folks to products they're interested in; at worst, they're just another link not to click on.

Thanks.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Niklas Backstrom Swatch Card

The Minnesota Wild are currently mired in what seems like their worst slump of the season, at the worst time possible. For a while, as the team was on top of the Western Conference standings, all the talk was about how Bruce Boudreau is an amazing regular-season coach, how acquiring Eric Staal gave the team the best depth in the league - and perhaps the best center line in the NHL as well. And Devan Dubnyk was the leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy.

All that got me thinking about the history of goaltending in Minnesota. With his second Vezina-caliber season in three years, Dubnyk is showing signs of eventually becoming the best goalie in franchise history, a spot that is currently reserved for Niklas Backstrom.

Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson also deserve some credit, and José Theodore's season in Minny wasn't too shabby (15-11-3, 2.71 GAA and .916 save percentage in 32 games), but all things being equal, Dubnyk and Backstrom rule the Wild era of hockey in the State of Hockey. They come out ahead of the likes of Sebastian Bach's brother Zac Bierk, a soon-to-be-retired Ilya Bryzgalov, John Curry, Wade Dubielewicz, Derek Gustafson, Matt Hackett, Josh Harding (he who had multiple sclerosis), Anton Khudobin, Dieter Kochan, ego-driven Darcy Kuemper, and Jamie McLennan.

Lest we forget, however, that the Minnesota North Stars have had some decent netminders as well, including Miracle On Ice goalies Jim Craig and one-gamer Steve Janaszak, All-Stars Gump Worsley and Don Beaupre, Stanley Cup finalists Gilles Meloche and Jon Casey, Canadian Olympian Ken Broderick, Gary Edwards, Gilles Gilbert, WHA superstar Jean-Louis Levasseur, franchise record-holder Cesare Maniago, Roland Melanson, and a list of lesser-known athletes such as Gary Bauman, Daniel Berthiaume, Brian Hayward, losses specialist and record-holder Pete LoPresti, Markus Mattson, Lindsay Middlebrook, Jarmo Myllys, minor-league minute-muncher Fern Rivard, Mike Sands, Gary Smith, Finnish Olympian Kari Takko, Darcy Wakaluk, and Carl Wetzel.

And before all that was Hockey Hall Of Famer Frank Brimsek.

In addition to Brimsek, the following goalies from Minnesota are in the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame: Sam Lopresti, Jack McCartan, Larry Ross, Willard Ikola and Mike "Lefty" Curran.

So, in the grand scheme of things, my all-time ranking of Minnesota goalies would look like such:

1. Brimsek
2. Backstrom
3. Dubnyk (would move into #2 with a Vezina win or upon setting Wild career records)
4. Maniago
5. Beaupre

Which brings me to this beautiful card of Backstrom's, from Panini's 2011-12 Pinnacle set and Threads sub-set:
It's #71 in the series, showing him wearing the Wild's white uniform, beautifully capturing the uniform's red and green highlights; it contains a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chris Drury Autographed Card

Only one player in NHL history can claim to have won the Calder Trophy ahead of future Hall of Famer Marian Hossa, and that's Chris Drury. He's also the only player in history to win the Calder after the Hobey Baker... so far.

Nearly half a decade removed from his last NHL shift, we tend to forget just how good and clutch he was; during his tenure with the Colorado Avalanche, which included a Stanley Cup in 2000-01, he was pretty much the best third-line center in the league, behind Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. And, beause Forsberg had a knack for getting injured, Drury had many chances to shine on the Avs' second line, like when he scored 11 playoff goals on route to the 2001 Cup, which also happened to catch the eye of Team USA, who named him to the 2002 Olympic team, where he won the silver medal.

He was dealt to the Calgary Flames in exchange for defensive depth, in the form of Derek Morris; after one sub-par season in Calgary (23 goals, 30 assists, 53 points), he was sent to the Buffalo Sabres (with Steve Bégin, for Rhett Warrener and Steven Reinprecht), on a team that didn't make the playoffs, enabling Drury to compete in the World Championships and earn a bronze medal.

He was so important to the Sabres' success that he was named the team's co-captain with Daniel Brière, a title both held together until they left as free agents the same summer Drury with the New York Rangers, Brière with the Philadelphia Flyers. He would win another Olympic silver medal at the Vancouver Games in 2010.

Here he is as captain of the Sabres, wearing the team's black-and-red "prequel to Buffaslug" uniform:
That's card #31 from Pacific's 2004-05 Pacific set, which he signed in (someone else's) silver sharpie. It was the final year that Pacific would produce an NHL product, as the league signed consecutive exclusivity deals with Upper Deck after each of the last two lockouts. Panini was the only brand who took advantage of a small window between both deals to produce a few years' worth of sets.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Steve Sullivan Autograph Card

The Chicago Blackhawks are currently in the conversation as to who will finish first in the Western Conference, with the San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild also in the mix. The Hawks are firing on all cylinders, with all their stars - Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin - scoring, and rookie Nick Schmaltz filling in for the injured Artem Anisimov; Corey Crawford and Scott Darling are also doing their part keeping the puck out of their own net.

As the NHL is preparing for its 100-year celebration, the Hawks are currently in their 91st season. Unlike the Toronto Maple Leafs, which started out as the Toronto Arenas and were also known as the Toronto St. Patricks before taking on the Leafs moniker, the Hawks' only name change was its spelling, as they were known as the Chicago Black Hawks from 1926 until 1986, when they combined the words to become the Blackhawks.

For many of its formative years, the Hawks were comfortable sharing last-place with the New York Americans and New York Rangers. Things turned even worse during the James E. Norris era (1944-1966), as the Detroit Red Wings' owner - who also owned Chicago Stadium and had the Hawks as tenants - bought the franchise, essentially making it a farm club for his Wings... and one less adversary to bother with, essentially cementing their playoff position every year by winning against their own B team.

Things got better upon Norris' death, as Arthur Wirtz and son Bill orchestrated the Hawks' move to the weaker Western division and plowed through the expansion teams for most of the 1970s. Sure, the WHA dealt the team a serious blow when the Winnipeg Jets hired Bobby Hull (and, to a lesser extent, André Lacroix), but they still won seven division titles in the decade. However, when it came to championships, the team could not compete with the Eastern Division come playoff time - especially not the mighty Montréal Canadiens.

The 1980s brought forth Denis Savard, Steve Larmer and Doug Wilson, so, again, the team was competitive enough to make the playoffs, although it was never a true contender. The decade was all about the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets out West, and the New York Islanders, Habs, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and Québec Nordiques (for the first half) in the East.

The franchise peaked with a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1991-92 for the first time in 19 years, powered by the likes of Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour, but it was all downhill from there. Bill Wirtz saw his team trade away all of its stars and finish near the bottom of the standings from 1997-98 until 2008-09, with the sole exception of their first-round exit in 2001-02.

In 2004, ESPN even named the Hawks the "worst franchise in sports", as their arena was empty - partly because the team was so awful, but also as a protest towards Wirtz' media blackout where the team's local games were not televised.

In 2007, Rocky Wirtz took over the franchise after his father's death and revised many of the team's policies, including that of the TV blackout. GM Dale Talon had built the foundation of the team's depth and drafted Toews and Kane as the franchise's offensive cornerstones. They hadn't necessarily tanked prior to building their contender - they just sucked - but they were on a definite upswing, one that remains to this day, as Chicago can proudly claim to be this generation's dynasty team, with three Stanley Cups to date with the same core, supported by a bunch of two-time winners.

In speaking of the Hawks' history, I decided to feature a card that showed them celebrating their 75th anniversary; granted, it was during a bleak period in their history, but one they had to get through to become what they are today. And so I present you the signed version of card #83 from In The Game's 2001-02 Be A Player Signature Series set, it of the ''gold'' variant variety:
It features hard-working nearly-point-per-game winger Steve Sullivan, wearing the team's classic red (then-away) uniform, with the 75th anniversary patch on his chest. It was signed on-card in thin black sharpie.

These days, Sullivan is an Arizona Coyotes player development coach.