Even though he brought me terrible news (i.e. a tax audit), Mr. Postman still made my day today by bringing me a special package that contained these 3 autographed items from Jaroslav Halák, who once again this season is the main reason why the Montréal Canadiens are in playoff contention. And just like last time, when he was with the Hamilton Bulldogs, he was kind enough to return a signed item to me in no time at all. Well, three, actually.
I sent them on January 29th (the same day as these two Brent Sutter cards) and received them today, March 31st - and I'm told that's a great turn-around for active players. Surprisingly, I had included a self-addressed stamped envelope, which he used, but he also used one of those ''company machine-stamps'' over it, which was weird, and it's postmarked yesterday, meaning Canada Post was actually effective with this one letter.
After starting off 10-6-0 with a 2.89 GAA and .906% in his rookie year, he only played 6 games in 2007-08 (the rest of the time being spent in Hamilton waiting for Cristobal Huet to be traded), going 2-1-1 with a spectacular 2.11 GAA and .934%. Last season, he finished the season at 18-14-1, 2.86 GAA and .915%.
This year, though, he has really kicked it up a notch: 24-12-3, 2.43 GAA, .923%, and 3 shutouts for the Habs so far (despite a losing streak of late), but also starting every single game for Team Slovakia at the Olympics, leading them to their best finish ever - 4th overall - including a 36-save performance (on 37 shots) against the offensively-stacked Russian team, a performance that seemed to single-handedly kill the Russians' confidence for the rest of the tournament. Oh, and he has only let in 3 of the 18 shoot-out shots he's faced so far this year, resulting in only one loss.
It can be said of some players that they are ''on the verge of great things''; Halák has actually accomplished great things so far when playing against men, even more than he had when he was in junior hockey and playing against teenagers.
Now, about the cards themselves: the top one is from the Montréal Canadiens 2009-10 Team Postcard set (they are now identified by season in the back, which helps a lot), an in-action shot showing him making one of his trademark pad saves; its picture was taken during last season's Centennial year, as can be attested by the patch on his jersey. We also have a clear shot at the right half of his mask from last season, depicting part of Montréal's cityscape, as well as the demonic figure in front. I like how he signed it on his pad - it kind of adds to its design.
Then come two regular-sized cards, both by Upper Deck: first, in the team's red jersey, a 2007-08 Victory Rookie card. I hate asking for autographs on rookie cards, as a collector once told me: ''an autograph is a defect you add onto a card, like bending its corners, and rookie cards are usually the most valuable cards an athlete can have.'' While I know this is no longer true and I'd rather have cards I care for - like meaningful autographs - than cards I'll leave in a shoe box or folder, I still tend to shy away from having them signed, but this time I had to, because not only does it give me a Halak home-jersey card, but also one where his first NHL mask is very clear - Patrick Roy hoisting the Stanley Cup as a Hab, from the 1993 conquest, my favourite goalie ever in the most meaningful Cup of my life. With the trademark demonic head on the forehead and the Slovakian flag on the chin - and I have a soft spot for Slovakia and the way they acquired their independence, too, so it all fits wonderfully.
The third card, the white jersey, is from the 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set, a throwback set with uncoated, plain cardboard backs and semi-retro feel in front. While I'm not particularly fond of the set itself, I really like the guy on the card, and it's probably the only card I have of him wearing the white road jersey. It's also the only one I have of him wearing a blue mask, one where the usual demonic figure in front actually looks more like a metallic anaconda.
In my fan letter, I had inquired about the different masks and didn't get a reply - but I got 3 of 3 items back, all signed with the same black sharpie - you can tell because the O-Pee-Chee card seems to have killed it - so, really, all's good. And leaving things to my imagination is alright with me, too.