Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Vladislav Namestnikov Autographed card

Here's the second of five cards I got in a trade that was a year in the making, this time of Tampa Bay Lightning young gun Vladislav Namestnikov, seen in his London Knights - winners of the Memorial Cup last weekend - beautiful white (home) uniform:
That's card #178 from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects set, which he signed in blue sharpie.

Many people see the 27th overall pick at the 2011 draft as an Evgeny Kuznetsov-type of player in the making. He already dominated in the AHL in 2014-15, scoring at a point-per-game pace leading to a recall in time for the Bolts to make a deep playoff run and dressed for 80 games in 2015-16, scoring 14 goals and posting 35 points.

As he and Jonathan Drouin develop, perhaps Tampa no longer needs Steven Stamkos the way they did in the last three of four seasons after all.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Adam Graves Autographed Card

It's the Stanley Cup Final, so I thought I could start the week with a card of Adam Graves, a two-time winner with the 1990 Edmonton Oilers and 1994 New York Oilers Rangers:
It's card #84 from Pro Set's flagship (and initial) 1990-91 Series 1 collection, showing him wearing the Oilers' classic blue (then-away) uniform, with the 1990 Cup Final patch. This pencils him in as #12 in my Oilers Numbers Project as well.

A winner of the Bill Masterton Trophy and the King Clancy, the Rangers retired the one-time All-Star's #9 uniform, both proof positive that his time with the team was memorable and that the team probably over-values its Cup-winning team a tad too much.

He scored 280 goals and had 507 points in 772 games in Manhattan, for a total of 329 goals, 287 assists and 616 points in 1152 regular-season NHL games, plus another 65 points in 125 playoff games.

Not necessarily jersey-retiring numbers, but extremely solid nonetheless.

I got this card in a trade that was nearly a year in the making, with my sending ten Ottawa Senators signed cards (a lot of them of Curtis Lazar and Matt Puempel) for cards I'll be featuring in the coming week.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ben Bishop Autographed Card

How much faith did I have in the Tampa Bay Lightning facing off against the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final? Obviously, way too much. I was keeping this card up my sleeve for a Ben Bishop return, which I expected to be a Game 7 shutout for some reason:
It's card #78 from Panini's 2010-11 All Goalies set, showing Bishop back when he was playing for his hometown Blues. It's signed in blue sharpie, and I got it in the mail last winter.

Trade rumours are currently clouding his future in Tampa Bay what with up-and-comer Andrei Vasilevskiy successfully taking over for the Bolts when Bishop pulled something in his leg in the first game of the Conference Finals, but I wouldn't trade him unless you got equal value for him, which, with Marc-André Fleury also rumoured to be available soon, might not be possible.

We are, after all, talking about a two-time Vezina nominee and Team USA representative, here. You would need a first-liner (of which the Lightning has plenty already), a first pairing defenseman or a top-20 first round draft pick to come out even in such a trade.

Although losing a Steven Stamkos to free agency wouldn't hurt so much if a Sam Bennett came along... but if I were GM Steve Yzerman, I'd aim for a T.J. Brodie for my back end or a Carey Price to give myself an extra year to ponder Vasilevskiy's future..

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Scott Stewart Autographed Card

Well, it finally looks like summer's here, which is the perfect time to induct the first of at least two more representatives of uniform #51 in my Expos Numbers Project, Scott Stewart:
That's card #U222 from Fleer/Skybox's 2002 Fleer Tradition Update set, which he signed in blue sharpie.

Stewart was originally a 20th round pick of the Texas Rangers and toiled around in the New York Mets' system for a few summers before signing with the Montréal Expos as a minor-league free agent.

He played in Montréal for three of his four years in the MLB, from 2001 until 2003, appearing in 62, 67 and 51 games as a reliever, with a 10-4 record and 20 saves, 17 of them in 2002 as the Expos' closer, although eight pitchers combined for a total of 39 that year.

His 2004 wasn't up to par, though, splitting his time between the Cleveland Indians (0-2 record, 7.24 ERA in 23 games) and Los Angeles Dodgers (1-0, 5.84 ERA in 11 games). He fell off the grid after being let go by the San Diego Padres in 2005.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Martin St-Louis Jersey Card

So the World Cup of Hockey rosters were completed today, and there were a few surprises: Phil Kessel left off Team USA, P.K. Subban, Brent Seabrook, Corey Perry (who a week ago captained the World Championship-winning team) and Kris Letang left off Team Canada, John Klingberg left off Team Sweden and Alex Galchenyuk left off the Young Stars team.

Subban's omission comes as the Montréal Canadiens' GM, Marc Bergevin, stands as one of Team Canada GM Doug Armstrong's assistants, which is reminiscent of when Steve Yzerman didn't select his own Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin Saint-Louis for the Olympics in 2014... which brings me to this card:
It's card #WC-ML from Upper Deck's 2004-05 Series 1 set and World Cup of Hockey Tribute sub-set, featuring a black game-worn Lightning jersey swatch.

Tampa had just won the Stanley Cup and the league was hosting just its second World Cup (the continuation of the former Canada Cup, whose name was stained by Alan Eagleson's legacy) as a cash-grab just before getting into a lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season entirely. Three of Tampa's players made the team that year: Saint-Louis, the reigning Art Ross winner; Brad Richards, the reigning Hart Trophy winner; and then-captain Vincent Lecavalier, who was named the tournament's MVP.

The Lightning officially had the three best forwards in the game. Game breakers. That the salary cap eventually broke apart: Richards was the first casualty, as a not-quite-point-per-game player in the regular season though truly efficient in the post-season, followed a few years later by Lecavalier being bought out. St-Louis asked to be traded after Yzerman's snub, and led the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final that year and the Eastern Conference Final the next - against Tampa, ironically.

And, thus, what "could have been" never was.

I rarely root for Team Canada in international competitions because it doesn't represent me and people like me. I usually root for an underdog, like Slovakia, or a nice story, like Russia at the Sochi games. In this iteration of the World Cup, however, countries like Switzerland and Slovakia have been merged as one "sub-Team Europe" that makes little to no sense (the Swiss don't care about losing to the Czechs as much as the Slovaks, I guarantee you) if you're going to make it an actual international competition.

And I say this as a kid whose best live hockey experience was the 1991 Canada Cup and 1996 World Cup. Plus, all games are being held in Toronto. This tournament might not even exist to me come September.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Gilles Meloche: 2 Autographed Cards

We have all seen the San Jose Sharks make their way to this year's Stanley Cup Final, on the strength of the strong play of Logan Couture, Marc-Édouard Vlasic and the impressive leadership of Joe Pavelski (yes, I admit it).

But did you know the Sharks have roots that date all the way back to the 1960s, namely the California Seals? Indeed. Though the Seals were founded by Barry Van Gerbig and first sold to Charles O. Finley, it was the Gund Brothers (George and Gordon) who were the first to really take the team to heart.

So much so that when it became impossible to continue operating in the Bay Area, they relocated it to their hometown, forming the NHL iteration of the Cleveland Barons before merging with the Minnesota North Stars. The North Stars' minority owner Howard Baldwin threatened to move the team to California claiming poor attendance record, and in a twist that only the Bronze Era NHL could come up with, decided to mediate the ownership's power struggles by awarding the Gunds a new expansion team - the San Jose Sharks - and half the North Stars' roster as further compensation.

As a mark of respect for the organization's roots and their own history with the league, they decided to use teal as the team's main colour, just like in their days manning the Seals (under Finley's watch, the team had temporarily been renamed the Golden Seals and were mostly using an Oakland Athetics-style yellow as their main colour, matching his other team).

The Seals were god-awful; they had one good forward (Carol Vadnais) and one of the best goalies of his era in Gilles Meloche; the rest were pretty much AHLers, which explains why the team has one of the worst records in league history.

Meloche has an All-Star Game on his resume, and when sharing the net with Don Beaupre in Minnesota formed one of the best tandems in the league, reaching the Cup Final and semi-finals in a short period of time.

Here he is in two of his three most memorable uniforms (I couldn't get my hands on a card of his with the Barons), from In The Game's 2011-12 Between The Pipes set, first with the Seals on card #182 (part of the La Belle Province sub-set):
And here he is sporting his classic North Stars mask - which he had re-made for the Minnesota Wild/Stars' alumni game this winter - on card #132, from the Decades: The 1970s sub-set:
He signed both in thin black sharpie.

Upon retiring, after playing three seasons for the franchise, Meloche spent nearly 20 years as the Pittsburgh Penguins' goaltending coach, winning three Stanley Cups in the process. He's now a part-time special assignment scout for the team.

In another ironic twist, Baldwin owned the Pens as well... he was the team's chairman when it elected to go to bankruptcy in 1998.

George Gund died in January. The Sharks honored him as a builder on the night they played the Montréal Canadiens

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Caroline Ouellette Autographed Card

Team Canada defeated Team Finland to win the World Championships in men's hockey this weekend, a month and a half after the women's team lost their final (in overtime) to Team USA in Kamloops.

The CWHL's fourth-leading scorer this season, Caroline Ouellette, was not on the team, leaving room for younger players and spending time with her charitable activities - she's the Canadian ambassador for Right To Play and Carrément Rose/the Québec Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as 60 Million Girls.

Last winter, she coached the third ever all-girl entry at the Québec Pee-Wee tournament, competing in the AA category. They won their first exhibition game by a shutout, so there's that, then they lost their first "real" game to Mark Messier and Mike Richter's New York Americans, before winning and losing 1-0 shutouts leading them to the quarterfinals.

You all know my opinion of Ouellette, one of - if not the - best CWHL players of all time thus far. And so it was an honour to meet her once again at the tournament, where she signed this card in blue sharpie with her jersey number (13) tagged at the end:
It's card #CB-CO from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set and Canadian Heroes sub-set.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Alex Killorn: 2 Swatch Cards

Oh, man, did the Tampa Bay Lightning ever play with my emotions tonight! Trailing 2-0, tying the game up, the Pittsburgh Penguins going up 3-2 in the final minute of the second, the Bolts tying it near the end of the third and winning on a Tyler Johnson goal less than a minute into overtime - whew!

And the first Tampa player to score was my chouchou (positive French term for favourite, or teacher's pet), Alex Killorn, who now has 13 points in 15 playoff games this year, and 33 in 45 for his career.

When playing EA Sports' NHL 16 (or any iteration thereof, from 2014 onward), my first move as GM of the Montréal Canadiens is to trade Carey Price to Tampa Bay for Ben Bishop, Killorn and a first-rounder. And I keep winning the Stanley Cup, and those guys keep proving me right in real life time after time as well.

I usually try to trade away my doubles of jersey cards, but in this case, I couldn't. One of the reasons is that I want to start collecting Killorn more seriously, but also because Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified cards often didn't come in the most pristine conditions, often with at least one banged corner, or - as is the case for one of these two - imperfect sides; still, it's a beautiful card, both of mine featuring blue event-worn jersey swatches:
It's card #RR-AK or the Rookie Roll Call and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets, showing him wearing the Bolts' white (away) uniform.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Terry Labonte Skidmarks Card

Summer is nearly upon us and, with it, sports I care less about, such as baseball, track and field, and auto racing.

Which brings me to this kind of great card I got in a multi-sport repack a few years ago, #SK 1/9 of Press Pass' 2002 Eclipse set (and Skidmarks sub-set) of Terry Labonte:
Here's the twist: everything that's black on this card is... "authentic race-used tire material to artistically accent the design". How cool is that? You can really feel the rubber, too.

As for Labonte, the 2016 NASCAR Hall Of Fame inductee is a two-time NASCAR champion (what is now known as the Sprint series was called the Winston Cup when he won it in 1984 and 1996). The twelve years between championships is a NASCAR record for longest time between championships, though he did win the 1989 and 1993 International Race of Champions titles - basically the All-Star Game or Champions League of oval racing.

He raced for Hendrick Motorsports - the Kellogg brand was their main sponsor, which is why Tony The Tiger's face can be seen on the hood of his car; here's a clearer image:
Hendrick Motorsports is owned by Rick Hendrick, who co-owns a Chevrolet dealership in North Carolina with Labonte.

Labonte's first and last wins came on the same track: the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, a.k.a. The Lady In Black and The Track Too Tough To Tame; his final race was at Talladega.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mitch Webster: 3 Autographed Cards

Here's me checking off #23 from my Expos Numbers Project with these three cards of outfielder Mitch Webster:
I don't know about you, but to me, despite being from cards two years apart, the pictures seem like they're from the same at-bat, or at the very least the same game, judging by the shapes and colours of the people behind him compared to where he's at in his swing...

Webster played in the majors for 13 seasons, and was specifically with the Montréal Expos from 1985 until 1988; he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Dave Martinez when Hubie Brooks took over right field duties. Webster may have led the National League in triples (with 13) in 1986, but The Natural never batted for .300, and it was believed that Martinez might (and did twice with the Chicago White Sox a few years later) - and Martinez was more dependable defensively.

I keep forgetting Webster started out with the Toronto Blue Jays. That's icky. He's a scout for the Kansas City Royals nowadays - the Midwest Regional Scouting Supervisor, in fact.

But back to the cards. Here's card #523 from Leaf's 1986 Donruss set, of which I only bought singles (usually commons) in 1989-1991:
And here's card #257 from Leaf's 1988 Donruss collection, of which I bought tons of wax and cello packs while vacationing in Florida that summer:
As I said, the pictures are eerily similar, both showing him in the team's powder blue classic away uniform. He signed them in different blue sharpies, which dates them around 1995 to me - while he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers - and means he was using someone else's pens, probably during pre-game warmups.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

B.J. Johnson Sweet Spot Helmet Autograph Card

Here's another card from my favourite insert set of all time, Upper Deck's 2004 Sweet Spot collection - in this case, card #238 from the Signatures Tier Two / Rookie Signatures sub-set, B.J. Johnson of the Denver Broncos, numbered 396/699:
It features an embedded tiny plastic helmet replica, which he signed in silver sharpie.

Johnson was a star player for the University of Texas Longhorns, but injuries started taking their toll in his draft-eligible year, but the Broncos took a chance on him nonetheless. After two injury-filled seasons, he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, often falling to injury as well - and he promptly retired after just his third NFL season.

Now, with fellow UT alumnus Roy Williams, he owns a distillery where he primarily makes wheat-based vodka. Just the thing to make all matters of pain go away...

Perhaps the Super Bowl Champion Broncos could order a few cases from him...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tony Granato Autograph Card

Congratulations are in order for the San Jose Sharks, who tied their series with the St. Louis Blues tonight thanks to a 4-0 shutout win. I predicted this series would go the full 7 games, and as of now, it seems like it will - I just thought the Blues wouldn't have to rely on Brian Elliott being perfect to get there.

I am underlining this win with this card of Tony Granato's, the signed insert version of card #272 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, signed on-card in thin black sharpie and showing him in the late 1990s white (home) uniform:
The reason why I'm featuring Granato is that he recently left his position as an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings to coach his university alma mater, the famed University of Wisconsin Badgers. He'll be joined by his brother, Don Granato, and former NHLer Mark Osiecki - both fellow Badger alumni.

Best of luck to them.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Margot Kidder Autograph Card

By now you've probably witnessed the hate-on for Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice; coming out of the movie, having just seen Deadpool right before, I will admit to being slightly disappointed in the film, and I agreed with most commenters and critics that the two best features of the movie were Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

But the following week, after reading and watching dozens of hours of bitching and unrepentant criticism, even I was taken aback, ready to defend its qualities against rampant negativity.

For the second time, however, Amy Adams was "just there" as Lois Lane, not stealing any scenes, not hindering any, but pretty much not doing anything except get into more trouble than Elisha Cuthbert in 24.

Perhaps it's because she's already a household name, whereas Margot Kidder used that role to parlay herself into a very successful career that included such credits as The Amityville Horror (1979), Heartaches (1981) and Pygmalion (1983).

She went through a breakdown in 1996 which slowed her career down, but she rose back to the spotlight touring with The Vagina Monologues (2002-2005), which led to some fine TV appearances such as The L Word, Smallville, and R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour, earning an Emmy for the latter.

She's involved politically, supporting Liberal causes such as the environment, fracking regulations, increased financial regulations and is famously anti-war.

And she's on card #A-MK2 from In The Game's 2011 Canadiana set:
It's the Black Version variant, which features a black-sharpied on-sticker autograph.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Patrik Elias Jersey Card

Patrik Elias' future in the NHL has come into question for the past three summers and this year will be no different, as the New Jersey Devils announced two days ago that the 40-year-old had undergone surgery on his right knee.

Injuries have cost the Devils' all-time leading scorer no less than 96 games in the past three seasons, limiting him to 19 games in 2015-16, though he did produce 8 points. If I were the team's GM, I would bring him back for a final season if he understood he'd be playing bottom-six minutes with second-unit powerplay time, so around 12-14 minutes per game where he could still contribute offensively but where he would have a sheltered role.

The two-time Stanley Cup champion does deserve the respect of ending his career with the only NHL team he's ever known and not have to Martin Brodeur it elsewhere for a sad half-season. With over 400 career goals, 600 career assists, 1000 points and 1200 games played, he has no milestone to set his sights on and can concentrate on just being a good team player, showing leadership and helping the team's youth develop.

Here's card of his from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Series 1 set (card #GJ-EL of the UD Game Jersey sub-set):
It's a bust shot showing him wearing the team's white jersey, with a matching swatch.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Francis Bouillon Autographed Card

I ran into Francis Bouillon yesterday as we were taking turns talking to a radio station about hockey in general (though he talked mostly about the Montréal Canadiens - saying he thought the Habs were on the verge a winning a Stanley Cup - I talked CBA and cap space, some regarding the Habs, but also of the Detroit Red Wings' options should Pavel Datsyuk choose not to play another season though he's owed $5.5M and will account for $7.5M on the cap).

I'm of the opinion that Bouillon will end up working for the Habs, sooner rather than later, probably as a player development coach, replacing the position left vacant from Patrice Brisebois' departure two years ago.

He's the ideal guy for it: he communicates well, had a lengthy career - 80% of it in Montréal, so he knows the market as well - and became everything scouts thought he'd never be: a rugged, punishing checker in the defensive zone who improved his skating speed almost until the end and developped offensive skills, not stealing his second-unit powerplay time when he got it.

He was deemed too small to ever play a single NHL game - yet he suited up for 776 in the regular season, 55 in the playoffs, and six more as a member of Team USA at the 2003 World Championships, logging more than 20 minutes per game over his career. So, yeah, here's to silencing his critics.

He signed this card for me in blue sharpie:
It's #262 from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Parkhurst set, showing him wearing the Habs' then-home white uniform.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Doug Soetaert Autograph Card

Honestly, I didn't know much about Doug Soetaert until I landed this card a few years ago.

He was the goalie wearing #1 on Montréal Canadiens team pictures in 1984-85 and 1985-86 - I know that because I'm a Montrealer, because I have a thing for goalies, and because I've been looking at those pictures pretty much my entire life, as they are the first ones of Patrick Roy.

I knew he'd signed with the New York Rangers afterwards, having a sub-par outing for them going 2-7-2 with 14 penalty minutes in 13 games - yes, that's more than a minute per - and a whopping 5.16 GAA and dismal .842 save percentage, after which he retired.

What I didn't know was that he spent the second half of the 1970s with the Blueshirts, followed by three seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. You can find a profile of his career here.

Post-retirement, he was VP and GM of the WHL's Everett Silvertips, then assistant GM with the Calgary Flames, scout with European teams falling under the Red Bull (you read that correctly) banner in Austria and Germany, and has been on the Arizona Coyotes' scouting staff since last summer.

He had a pretty cool mask whilst with the Rangers, too, as can be attested on card #A-DS from In The Game's 2011-12 Between The Pipes 10 Anniversary set (part of the Decades - The 1970s and GoalieGraphs sub-set):
It features a black-sharpied on-sticker autograph that is extremely subtle, as is was often the case with ITG. I speak in the past tense, of course, because ITG will cease to exist once it releases its Final Vault product in a few weeks, after an unsuccessful merger with Leaf.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Paul Stastny Jersey Card

There was much chatter when Paul Stastny left the Colorado Avalanche - the organization that used to be located in his city of birth, Québec - for the team from the city he actually grew up in, the St. Louis Blues.

In Game 7 against the Dallas Stars, Stastny's line has totally taken over, paving the way to the team's first Conference Finals berth since the 2000-01 season. That's two teams thus far making it when I would have preferred their adversaries win - the Pittsburgh Penguins have also eliminated the Washington Capitals. My last hope for 50% happiness would be seeing the Nashville Predators dispose of the San Jose Sharks tomorrow.

But back to the Blues, whose depth was superiors to Dallas', and whose goaltending was also far better, with oft-underrated All-Star Brian Elliott besting both Kari Lehtonen (who did have one great game) and Antti Niemi.

Captain David Backes and Team USA defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk both seem poised to leave the Blues, and both seem to want to do it by procuring the team its very first Stanley Cup, leaving the Toronto Maple Leafs as the lone team to not have won it since the late 1960s.

This may have been the first regular-issue card to feature Stastny as a member of the Blues, #42 of Upper Deck's 2014-15 Masterpieces collection and Memorabilia (Jersey) sub-set:
The seemingly hand-painted card features a dark blue game-worn jersey swatch, likely from his days with the Avs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Réal Cloutier Autographed Card

A lot of people forget just how amazing Réal Cloutier was. And looking at his numbers, it's plain dumbfounding...

As a 17-year-old Junior with the Québec Remparts in 1973-74, he scored an astonishing 75 goals (along with 123 assists and 216 points) in just 69 games, plus another 26 goals and 50 points in 26 postseason games (!!!), leading his team to the Memorial Cup final for the second straight year, losing to Clark Gillies' Regina Pats 7-4 in the decisive game.

From then on, he was drafted by the Québec Nordiques, who were part of the WHA at the time. In five seasons in the "other league", Cloutier put up 283 goals, 283 assists, and 566 points in 369 games. He had four consecutive 100-point seasons, winning two scoring titles - in 1976-77 with 141 points and in 1978-79 with his second consecutive 129-point season - and his 75 goals (in 77 games) in 1978-79 were the third-most in pro hockey history at the time, and remains the second-highest total in WHA history to Bobby Hull's 77).

He also led the Nordiques to the Avco Cup (the WHA championship) Final in both 1975-76 and 1976-77, losing to Gordie Howe's Houston Aeros the first time and winning against Hull's Winnipeg Jets the second.

He also had an impact when the team was absorbed by the NHL in 1979-80, scoring a hat trick in his very first game on his way to a 42-goal, 88-point season (in 67 games). He also had a 97-point season in 1981-82 (in 67 games as well), but he grew depressed from the endless comparisons to Guy Lafleur, the constant losing on a team that the league had depleted of many of its star players as a "penalty" for entering through the back door of the WHA folding, and a slew of debilitating injuries.

With depression came a drop in his interest in the game, heightened alcohol consumption and a bit of a statistical regression, not just of his own fault, but also as punishment by his coaches, who were less lenient and took away some of his ice time when he'd show up to practice hung over.

He was traded to the Buffalo Sabres prior to the 1983-84 campaign, and while he did okay with them with 24 goals and 60 points in 77 games, the team elected to send him to the minors the following season, which prompted him to retire at the age of 28.

He was inducted in the LHJMQ Hall Of Fame in December (along with Mario Marois, José Theodore and Daniel Brière), signing this beautiful card in blue sharpie in the process:
It's card #279 from O-Pee-Chee's 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him wearing the Nordiques' beautiful blue (away) uniform; he is now immortalized as #9 in my Nordiques Numbers Project.

Cloutier ranks fourth of all time in WHA scoring, though he only suited up for five of the league's seven seasons.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Anthony DeLuca: Two Autographed Cards

Anthony DeLuca is exactly the type of player lower-level leagues chew up and spit out on a yearly basis. He played three seasons for the Rimouski Océanic in the LHJMQ, improving his regular-season points totals from 40 (on 22 goals) to 78 (35 goals) to 91 (44 goals) and was a point-per-game player in the postseason for his final two seasons as well, but remained undrafted because he's small at 5'9", though bulky at 205 pounds.

Last summer, his rights in the "Q" were traded to the Drummondville Voltigeurs, but he wanted to try his trade in the ECHL, playing 46 games with the Alaska Aces (and obtaining 20 points in the process); the Voltigeurs had told him they'd kept a roster spot open for him in case he didn't like his professional experience, and around the Holiday break, he signified his intention of returning home... but Drummondville reneged on their promise.

He ended up playing another 16 games in the ECHL, with the Wichita Thunder, with a single goal and 6 points to show for it as he felt homesick and betrayed.

I met him last summer, a 20-year-old who'd been told time and time again that his efforts would be rewarded, that he was good enough to make it, that he was one-of-a-kind, that hockey was his calling...

I saw him suit up against grown men, NHLers and AHLers alike, for unofficial shinny games, and he looked like a kid who knows how to play the game; who, given time, could compete with them. But I did not think he was AHL-ready. And the "A" is a good league, he might never reach that level and might need to consider playing in the LNAH for most of his thirties.

Still, he signed two copies of this card, #41 in In The Game's 2012-13 Heroes And Prospects collection (and CHL Rookie sub-set) in blue sharpie:
It features him in the Océanic's white (home) uniform.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Victor Hedman Jersey Card

So... how about that Victor Hedman, eh?

Just as I'm about to enter the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa to see Pearl Jam for the second time in four nights, the Tampa Bay Lightning have eliminated the New York Islanders in five games, on the strength of yet another series-clinching shutout by Ben Bishop (his fourth in two seasons, which already ties him for second-most of all-time) and two goals from their star defenseman.

Hedman's the real deal and was an early Norris favourite (along with Mark Giordano) in 2014-15 until an injury limited him to 59 games (and Giordano to 61), but he suited up for 78 this year and had 10 goals and 47 points to show for it. At 25 years of age, he's smack-dab entering his prime and should get his hands on the coveted award for best defenseman at least once in the next five years - they'll likely give it to Drew Doughty this year so the Los Angeles Kings and West Coast media will shut up about it, but after that, we can get back to rewarding players for their accomplishments on the ice in a specific season rather than reputation and/or making up for past transgressions.

Ironically, I traded a double of this Doughty card (and a dozen regular-issue Doughty cards) to land this one of Hedman's:
It's card #GJ-VH from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Series 1 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set, showing him wearing Tampa's white (away) uniform, but featuring a blue game-worn jersey swatch.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Nicklas Jensen Autograph Card

Nicklas Jensen was a Vancouver Canucks first-round pick (29th overall) in 2011, but a change in general managers was all it took for him to go from a projected top-six forward to a player who, at best, would be malleable enough to move up and down the lineup.

And so it wasn't really a surprise when he was traded to the New York Rangers organization in early January, along with a third-round pick for former Anaheim Ducks prospect Emerson Etem; he had decent stats with the Blueshirts' AHL affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack post-trade, with 15 goals, 10 assists and 25 points in 41 games.

Here he is wearing the Canucks' white (away) uniform, from on card #718 of the Hot Rookies and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets of Panini's 2013-14 Score set:
He signed it in-person in blue sharpie after a game against the Ottawa Senators or Montréal Canadiens in 2013-14.

He's still just 23 years old, and usually players of his size (6'3", 190 pounds) take longer to reach their potential. He also helps me check off #46 from my Canucks Numbers Project.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Mike Fisher Jersey Card

Thursday night was an amazing night.

I saw Pearl Jam play live in Québec City, on stage for just a little over three hours spread over 35 songs in a very energetic and generous performance; I also got this jersey they'd made especially for the show, a take on my favourite hockey team:
Oh, and the NHL playoffs were happening. I really don't like the San Jose Sharks, and I really like Mike Fisher, so it was great that he scored two goals - including the triple-overtime winner - to help the Nashville Predators even up their series at two games apiece.

After a 23-point season as the Preds' third-line center, Fisher's risen to the rank of second-liner in these playoffs and has proven to be a clutch player, with 6 points in 11 games.

Here he is wearing the Ottawa Senators' white (away) uniform with the alternate captain's "A", on a card that contains a black game-used jersey swatch:
It's card #14 from the Boys of Winter subset of Panini's 2010-11 Donruss collection.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Thomas Hickey Autograph Card

Thomas Hickey was a huge factor in tonight's game between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning, first with a monster hit that kept Jonathan Drouin out of nearly half the game, then as a recipient of a Brian Boyle hit leading to the Bolts' giant scoring the overtime winner.

Hickey's obviously a huge part of the Isles' defense, what with over 21 minutes of ice time in these playoffs and 5 points in 9 games to show for it. I've said time and time again, however, that the team from Brooklyn cannot compete with Tampa without Jaroslav Halak in nets, particularly when Ben Bishop is sharp in from of his own net.

Here is Hickey as the captain of Team Canada, from the 2009 World Juniors where he won his second consecutive gold medal at the tournament, which also happened to be Canada's fifth straight:
It's the signed insert version of card #90 from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Team Canada set, which features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph. It shows him wearing his country's white (when playing as the "home" team) uniform.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Michal Rozsival Jersey Card

Michal Rozsival won two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks, but it's the team that initially drafted him - the Pittsburgh Penguins, 105th overall in 1996 - who are still in the running this year.

He'll be an unrestricted free agent for the third time in his four seasons with the Hawks, but they probably need him back, as his 16-17 minutes of ice time are pretty much the only thing stopping Duncan Keith from averaging over 30 himself, as he did when Rozsival broke his leg in last year's playoffs; sure, it enabled Keith to star in one of the most impressive performances in NHL playoff history, but it's not something one can replicate every year.

The Czech defender has lost a step, however, but can be counted on for steady defensive play with a good partner and 10-15 points in 45-55 games on a second pairing, probably for one more year, before becoming a third pairing player for his last season or two, health permitting.

Here he is wearing the Pens' turn-of-the-millennium black (then-away) uniform, from Pacific's 2001-02 Private Stock set (card #83 of the Authentic Game-Worn Jersey / Game-Used Gear sub-sets):
It features a white game-worn jersey swatch.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Ty Conklin Autographed Card

The Edmonton Oilers may not have won the first overall pick in the NHL's lottery last night, but that won't stop me from checking off #1 from my Oilers Numbers Project with this card of Ty Conklin's:
It's card #284 from In The Game's 2002-03 First Edition set, showing him in the team's turn-of-the-millennium white (away) jersey, with the "oil driller" shoulder patches. He signed it in blue sharpie in January 2012 in his second stint with the Detroit Red Wings.

Though he was undrafted, he was a star goalie for the University Of New Hampshire Wildcats from 1998 until 2001, prompting the Oilers to sign him as a free agent. He was a huge part of their future in nets until he went unprepared in Game 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final after an injury to Dwayne Roloson, making a huge mistake letting in the game-winning goal in an empty net, essentially giving the puck to Carolina Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour.

He never again suited up for the Oilers.

He did have two pretty good seasons in his NHL career, notably in 2007-08 with the Pittsburgh Penguins, going 18-8-5 with a .923 save percentage and 2.51 GAA, playing in the Winter Classic against the Buffalo Sabres, earning the Second Star.

He also had a decent 2009-10 season as Chris Mason's backup with the St. Louis Blues, playing in 26 games, going 10-10-2 with a .921 save percentage and 2.48 GAA.

Essentially, however, he'll be remembered as a goalie who had six seasons with a save percentage under the .900 barrier, suiting up for six different NHL teams interspersed with stints in the AHL and in Germany.