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.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Wade Dubielewicz Autographed Card

The New York Islanders had initially gotten away with sending Jaroslav Halak to their AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers, but shoddy goaltending has been an issue for the past two weeks, while Halak's thriving on his own:
from HockeyDB.com
Thomas Greiss is showing definite signs of fatigue and Jean-François Bérubé isn't ready to be a full-time NHLer, so the Isles need Halak to step in and save his team's playoff hopes the same way he did for the Montréal Canadiens for most of his tenure there.

Those are the facts.

It wasn't too long ago that the Isles were a dismal team, bottom-feeders with the likes of the Phoenix Coyotes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers. They had the worst arena in the league, no free agents wanted to play there, they were on every player's no-trade list, and the end result was that it iced teams made up of second-tier players.

From 2003-04 until 2007-08, one of their backup goaltenders was Wade Dubielewicz; sure, he mostly played in the AHL and his statistics regressed every year, but he still had a .919 save percentage in his final season with the team. Unfortunately, he was cast aside in favor of Rick DiPietro and Yann Danis, so he opted to play in the KHL the following season, signing with Kazan Ak-Bars.

21 games in, he wanted back, so he signed on with the Islanders when DiPietro got injured, but had to clear waivers first; of course, the Columbus Blue Jackets claimed him. And regretted it, as did the Minnesota Wild for signing him as a free agent the following year:
from Hockey-Reference.com
There are some players who are expected to remain with one team, who fit best in just one specific spot. I believe the Isles were the team for Dubielewicz. Which is why whenever I think "Islanders goalie problems", this is the card and picture that pops in my mind:
It's card #372 from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Series 2 set, showing him wearing the Islanders' white Reebok Edge (away) uniform with a mask featuring the infamous Fisherman that uniform geeks like myself remember fondly. It's just such a perfect card.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

David Aebischer Jersey Card

Seeing as how Peter Budaj revived his career after injuries to Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff, perhaps another former Colorado Avalanche and Montréal Canadiens goalie could pull it off next year. No, not José Theodore, I meant David Aebischer.

Then again, the Swiss goalie hasn't played since an awful stint in the second-tier Swiss League in 2014-15, where he posted a 4.72 GAA in 5 games after a few dismal seasons in the upper-echelon of hockey in Switzerland:
Courtesy of HockeyDB.com
Those are pretty bad numbers.

Nevertheless, he looks pretty cool on this card, #FF-DA from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Ice set and Frozen Fabrics sub-set, wearing the Avs' old burgundy uniform:
It's a plastic card that has some see-through portions and features a matching burgundy game-worn jersey swatch.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Autographed Jonathan Roberge Book

Yesterday and today, I went to tapings of Piment Fort, a French-language comedy quiz show filmed at a bar (Café Campus) and hosted by Normand Brathwaite; the shows will air next Tuesday and Wednesday on TVA and will feature comedians Katherine Levac, Rémi-Pierre Paquin and Jonathan Roberge:
Roberge, Levac and Paquin
You may remember Roberge's name from the last time I featured him, in 2012, when he and a couple of other comedians (Jérémie Larouche and Martin Félip) gave me a signed diaper.

This time, I got him to sign his book Fiston in black sharpie for me, which he did, adding "Bonne lecture", which translates as "have a pleasant read":
The book is actually a written compilation of a web series he had that ran for 100 funny episodes. As you can see by the bookmark, I'm roughly a quarter of the way through.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ryan Smyth Jersey Card

At this point, most readers are aware that Ryan Smyth was one of my favourite players of his generation; he kept the Edmonton Oilers' flame lit for his entire tenure (1994-2007, 2011-14), in addition to posting decent numbers with the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings - though he was clearly not an ideal fit on the latter two, despite what the numbers say.

However, last night, he suffered an injury when he received an elbow to the head right after scoring a goal in the Chinook Hockey League final, as his Stony Plain Eagles are facing the Lacombe Generals for the right to represent Alberta in the Allan Cup championship, the Stanley Cup of senior-league hockey.

The Hockey News went so far as to suggest his assailant, Kyle Sheen, is a goon - not just an enforcer, but a brute and thug - who shouldn't even be on the same sheet of ice as Smyth. The video in their opinion piece does, indeed, seem to confirm just that.

Smyth isn't just the Eagles' captain or an Oiler alumnus; he's Captain Canada, for fuck's sake. Every single year his NHL teams failed to make the playoffs despite his giving every ounce of energy to attain that goal, he answered Team Canada's call for the World Championships and proudly wore the "C" atop the maple leaf, usually on his way to a gold medal.

The way Canada usually convinces young players (say a Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, Aaron Ekblad or Ryan O'Reilly) to join those teams after disappointing seasons is with a bit of a bribe: "come play with us, join the Hockey Canada Rolodex, and maybe we'll call on you later, such as the Olympics or something".

They didn't have to go through such lengths with Smyth, who knew he'd be passed over for the more marquee events because Canada would rather have the star power of a center such as Jeff Carter or Claude Giroux playing wing than a guy willing to get injured on the ice to prevent or even score a goal; no, Smyth just goes because of his commitment to his country and his love for the game.

The same love of the game that got him playing in a senior league at age 41, three years after having retired from the rigors of the NHL, because he couldn't not play.

Here he is wearing the Oilers' white (then-home) turn-of-the-millennium uniform with the "Oil Driller" shoulder patches and the alternate captain's "A", on card #FF-RS from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Ice set and Frozen Fabrics sub-set:
It features a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mathieu Garon Autographed Card

The Pittsburgh Penguins are on a bit of a roll, one that has them fighting the Washington Capitals not just for top spot in the Metropolitan Division but also the entire NHL, which would give the defending Stanley Cup champions home ice advantage for the entire playoffs.

GM Jim Rutherford also decided to keep Marc-André Fleury as a backup to Matt Murray at the trade deadline, which gives the Pens one of just two tandems league-wide consisting of a pair of #1 goalies, joining the Los Angeles Kings (with Ben Bishop and Jonathan Quick) in that regard.

One goalie who has played with both of these contenders is Mathieu Garon, who has also played with other teams currently atop the league standings, such as the Montréal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets. He did win the Cup with Pittsburgh, however.

He retired after a bizarre season with the Omsk Avangard of the KHL, one during which he played for a full week with a stick made for the wrong hand, because Reebok (his sponsor brand) doesn't deliver to Russia and a trip to Latvia was already in the books for the team.

Nowadays, he lives in Tampa, works for the Bolts and gives kids goaltending lessons on the side. Although he was only a #1 for two seasons, he is quite possibly the best goalie from the 1996 NHL draft, slightly ahead of Robert Esche.

He signed this card for me in blue sharpie when he was with the Bolts, so I would say around 2011-12:
It's the foil insert version of card #185 from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him wearing the Pens' alternate light blue "retro" jersey.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Aaron Ekblad Jersey Card

The Florida Panthers received some bad news earlier tonight, as both Aaron Ekblad and Denis Malgin were diagnosed with concussions following their hard-fought game against state rivals Tampa Bay Lightning.

Gabriel Dumont is the Bolts' forward who finished his check and made Ekblad's head connect with the boards. It was a play that happens a lot in hockey, many times per game; injuries like Ekblad's happen every week. The problem with Ekblad lies in the fact that this is the second time he's received such a diagnosis this season, as it had also occurred at the World Cup in September, although it was later re-classified as a "neck injury".

Be that as it may, there will always be concern when a promising 21-year-old, former Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) winner and future superstar - and quite possibly the Cats' future captain - suffers two similar injuries that are a risk to a player's career. He's the cornerstone they're building their entire defense around, and whom they awarded an eight-year contract to that carries a $7.5M cap hit annually that kicks in next season.

Of course, we wish Ekblad the best going forward.

Here he is wearing the Panthers' best (and former) red (home) uniform, on card #J-AE from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Champ's set and Relics sub-set:
It contains a dark blue game-worn jersey swatch from somewhere on the arms.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Corey Locke Autographed Card

Corey Locke was once named the CHL's 200-03 Player Of The Year and was the OHL's top points leader in 2003-04, justifying to his being drafted in the fourth round (113th overall) by the Montréal Canadiens in 2003 as an undersized center (5'8" and 165 pounds).

He never could make his mark with the Habs because they already had another such skilled, small center in David Desharnais, who happened to get along and play extremely well with captain-to-be Max Pacioretty.

He was traded to the Minnesota Wild organization in 2008, for Shawn Belle, but was unable to make the team; instead, he posted 79 points in 77 games with their AHL affiliate Houston Aeros and another 23 points in 20 post-season games, leading the team to the Calder Cup Final (he had won it with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2006-07).

He then signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers and later the Ottawa Senators, surpassing the point-per-game mark in the AHL for three straight seasons (two of which were at 85 points or better) but unable to crack the NHL line-up. He did win the Calder Cup for the second time with the Binghamton Senators in 2010-11, the same year he was deemed the AHL's Most Valuable Player. As a matter of fact, he shares the league record for most All-Star Game appearances, with six.

He then plied his trade in Finland and Germany, then briefly again in the AHL (Chicago Wolves and Abbotsford Heat in 2013-14), before going back to Europe in Germany, Switzerland, and now Austria. He's still a point-per-game player at 32 years of age, meaning he technically still has enough skill to perhaps crack an NHL line-up. He's definitely good enough to be on the Arizona Coyotes' second line, and the Colorado Avalanche or Carolina Hurricanes' third.

Here he is sporting the Bulldogs' white (home) uniform, on card #71 from In The Game's 2006-07 Heroes And Prospects set and Prospect sub-set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during a Sens training camp (2010 or 2011).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sergei Boikov Autographed Card

Currently in his first pro season with the AHL's San Antonio Rampage after signing his entry-level deal with the Colorado Avalanche last summer, Sergei Boikov is living up to the promise he had shown in Juniors, where he was known as "The Corporal" and helped Team Russia bring home the silver medal at the 2016 World Juniors with his swift skating and board-shaking hits.

There used to be a thought that his ceiling would be as high as Niklas Kronwall's - and he was a man among children with the LHJMQ's Drummondville Voltigeurs - but I've always seen his NHL potential as that of an Alexei Emelin, which in and of itself is not bad at all.

The hits may not show up as often in his rookie season - be that next season or the following one - but they will in time; it did take him a good month to stop being shy about physical contact on adults in the AHL this year, after all. His positioning is also almost NHL-ready, which means on a team like the Avs, where talent is thin on the blue line, he may get his chance at a roster spot earlier than later.

In due time (within the next five years), he should be a regular top-4 defender, one possibly looking at a shut-down role in the final minutes, with ample penalty-killing time. Some of the smaller forwards will even go out of their way to avoid facing him, opting to enter the zone on the other defenseman's side instead.

Unfortunately for him, he won't get to see his dream come true - playing against Pavel Datsyuk seems improbable now that The Magician is playing in the KHL - but perhaps he can play with him if the NHL decides not to send its players to the 2018 Olympics...

In any event, here's Boikov wearing the Voltigeurs' white (home) uniform from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set:
He signed it in thin blue sharpie and tagged his uniform number (55) at the end. He was even one of the team's alternate captains in his final two seasons in the "Q".

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Geneviève Lacasse Autographed Card

I couldn't let International Women's Day go by without featuring another lady from Team Canada, so I decided to go with the losing goalie from the Clarkson Cup final pitting Les Canadiennes de Montréal against last year's winners, the Calgary Inferno, Geneviève Lacasse.

Lacasse has been with the Canadian National Team since 2009, usually suiting up as third goalie behind Charline Labonté and Shannon Szabados; her medal count reads as follows: gold at the 2012 World Championships, silver at the 2013 Worlds, and Olympic gold in 2014.

In College, she played for the Providence Friars, pretty much writing the team's record book and captaining it in her final season, as can be attested by this spectacular picture:
Following her collegiate career, which saw her earn her Master's Degree in marketing, she was drafted by the Boston Blades, winning the Clarkson Cup twice in a three-year span, as well as goaltending titles in both her rookie 2012-13 season and 2014-15. She was acquired by the Inferno late last August in a trade that sent Tara Watchorn to Boston, and finished third in the CWHL in save percentage and fourth in goals-against average:
From CWHL.com
Here she is sporting Canada's #31 red and black jersey on card #71 from Upper Deck's 2015 Team Canada Women set, which she signed in blue sharpie:
Of note that as a child of a military serviceman, she was born in Montréal and mostly raised in Ontario; she went to six different high schools spread across two provinces and two states: École Secondaire Catholique Marie-Rivier in Kingston (Ontario), Collège Charles-Lemoyne in Ville Ste-Catherine (Québec), École Secondaire de Mortagne in Boucherville (Québec), Kingston Collegial and Vocational Institute in Kingston (Ontario), Lake Forest Academy (Chicago, IL), and Marian High School (Detroit, MI).

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mark Cundari Autograph Card

A year ago, I featured defenseman Mark Cundari, thinking he had a chance to enter the San Jose Sharks line-up; instead, not only did they send him to their AHL affiliate San Jose Barracuda, but they even went so far as to loan him to the Lake Erie Monsters, the Columbus Blue Jackets' farm club, on March 7th, near season's end, where he had 6 points (3 goals and 3 assists) in 7 games.

That wasn't enough for another crack at an NHL line-up this year, not even when Monsters head coach Jared Bednar was hired in the same capacity by the Colorado Avalanche, who had a glaring hole on D that remained gaping all year, to the extent where the Avs are dead-last in league standings, with a record far worse than laughingstock franchises Arizona Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes.

Thus, he signed on with the German team Augsburg Panthers last summer and has 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points in 48 games in the DEL, who were happy to count a two-time Memorial Cup (2009 and 2010 with the Windsor Spitfires) and 2015 Spengler Cup (Team Canada) winner to provide their group with some leadership.

At 26 years old, it's not too late for Cundari to earn a permanent roster spot, be it in the NHL or abroad; heck, if Bednar can convince the Avs to give him another year, maybe he'll ask for Cundari to bolster up their defense on the cheap. He certainly cannot be much worse than the likes of Patrick Wiercioch, Fedor Tyutin, Cody Goloubef and Éric Gélinas...

Here's Cundari from his days with the Calgary Flames, on the signed insert version of card #728 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set and Hot Rookies and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph and shows him wearing the Flames' white (away) uniform.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Charline Labonté: Two Autographed Cards

As mentioned yesterday, Les Canadiennes de Montréal won the Clarkson Cup last night in Ottawa against the previous season's champion Calgary Inferno. The game was meaningful for many reasons, chief among which asserting Marie-Philip Poulin's clutchness once more, giving returning legend Caroline Ouellette one more title and proving Les Canadiennes are still the dominating team of the league's first era.

Oh, and it enabled long-time goalie Charline Labonté to finally get her hands on the Cup to complete her Triple Gold Club hat trick (Olympic gold, World Championship gold, league championship), becoming just the third (female) goalie to accomplish the feat.

Her medal count is actually pretty amazing: three-time Olympic gold medalist (2006, 2010 and 2014), two-time gold medalist at the Worlds (2007 and 2012) and six-time World Championship silver medalist (2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2016), winning the Top Goaltender Award in 2005, a feat she accomplished in the CWHL as well (2015). She didn't get it at the 2006 Torino Games despite a 0.33 GAA in three games because she shared the net with Kim St-Pierre.

She also came out as gay right after the Sochi Olympics.

Here she is wearing a special Team Canada Breast Cancer Awareness uniform on card #24 from In The Game's 2007-08 O Canada set and National Women's Team sub-set:
And here she is wearing the country's classic red jersey on card #CB-CL from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set and Canadian Heroes sub-set:
She signed both in blue sharpie after a Les Canadiennes game last season.

Here's a look at her career stats before this year's playoffs:
from EliteProspects.com
 And here she is holding that elusive Clarkson Cup up high:

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Marie-Philip Poulin Autographed Card

Earlier tonight, Les Canadiennes de Montréal won the Clarkson Cup, the CWHL's championship title, by defeating last year's winners, the Calgary Inferno, 3-1 at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata (Ottawa).

Scoring the winning goal was captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who has been called the Sydney Crosby of women's hockey. She kind of has a knack for that, as she scored both goals in Team Canada's 2010 Olympic 2-0 gold medal win against Team USA and the tying goal (with 55 seconds left on the clock) and overtime winner at the 2014 Sochi games as well.

And yet, upon scoring the game-winner again tonight and being given the Cup by Commissioner Brenda Andress, she got down on one knee to hand it to Caroline Ouellette, the first player in league history to reach 300 career points:


Indeed, if Poulin's the sport's Crosby, Ouellette is its Mario Lemieux, possibly the best to ever play the game, and Poulin's childhood idol dating back to Ouellette's and Canada's 2002 win at the Salt Lake City Games.

But the 25-year-old Poulin, 2007-08 Rookie of the Year and current perpetual league scoring leader and MVP is quickly becoming one to watch out for, as her knack for padding up the stats sheet is becoming the stuff legends.

Here she is on card #63 from Upper Deck's 2015 Team Canada Women set, sporting the country's red uniform with the captain's "C" featured prominently on her chest:
She signed it in blue sharpie, adding her uniform number (29).

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Tony Hrkac: Two Autographed Cards

Tony Hrkac was a superstar in College, the 1986-87 Hobey Baker Award recipient after collecting a record 116 points (on the strength of 46 goals and 70 assists) in 48 games, leading the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks to a national championship. At the time, the team was even known as the Hrkac Circus (both words rhyme).

Before enrolling in college, he had actually been drafted in the second round (32nd overall) by the St. Louis Blues in 1984 after a 106-point season (52 goals and 54 assists in 42 games) in the OJHL (Junior A) with the Orillia Travelways.

His success didn't exactly continue in the NHL, but he did score a team-record 4 goals in a single playoff game in St. Louis before being traded to the Québec Nordiques with shutout leader Greg Millen in exchange for blue liner and powerplay quarterback Jeff Brown.

He didn't stay long in Québec, a season and a half, before they sent him to the San Jose Sharks for Greg Paslawski, and the Sharks themselves sent him to the Chicago Blackhawks just six months later.

All told, he suited up for nine NHL teams, including the Blues and Dallas Stars twice apiece; he also belonged to the Nashville Predators twice, although the first time was for just over a week in the summer, as they had selected him in the expansion draft and sent him to the Stars before he even played a single game with them.

After retiring, he was called upon to start and develop the hockey program at the Concordia University Wisconsin, and his record with the Falcons isn't so great: 10-109-10 over five seasons, leading to his dismissal in 2012.

As a player, I'll always remember him as a member of the Blues and my beloved Nordiques first and foremost, but it is while in his second stint in Dallas that he finally laid his hands on the Stanley Cup - a feat neither of the teams I remember him most by have achieved.

Today, I have decided to feature him with two cards from pretty much the same set, the 1991-92 Score (Canadian Edition) set by Score, first wearing the Nordiques' white (home) uniform which will slot him nicely as #40 in my Nordiques Numbers Project, on card #122 from Series 1, which had cards #1-330:
The same year, as part of Series 2 (home of cards #331-660 in the set, also known as Rookies And Traded or Update), he was featured wearing the Sharks' teal (away) uniform on card #555:
He signed both in (fading) black sharpie, I would say either in February 1994 when the Blues came to Québec to face the Nordiques, or in 1996-97 when he was with the IHL's Milwaukee Admirals facing the Québec Rafales. The latter seems like the best bet.

Fun fact: Series 1 was a bilingual set, while Series 2 was an all-English extension:
Oh, Canada, eh? Where we only care about French (the country's "other official language") and First Nations when tourists are around but are otherwise content to impose the Anglo-Saxon colonists' views and lifestyles the rest of the time.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Doug Crossman Autographed Card

After stringing together six wins following the switch from Ken Hitchcock to Mike Yeo behind the bench, the St. Louis Blues have reverted back to their norm and lost five straight, prompting onlookers to say things like "That's the Yeo we know and love: expect nothing, receive even less"...

The Blues have been in the NHL since 1967, the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup (or even made the Final). That was some 50 years ago. Coming into the league with St. Louis were the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars and California Seals. That's 2, 3, 2, and 1 (as the Dallas Stars) Stanley Cups, and a team that no longer exists, meaning the Blues are the only remaining team from the 1967 expansion to not yet have won a Cup.

It's not for lack of trying, either. They did reach the Final in their first three seasons, with Scotty Bowman behind the bench, and playing in a weak conference, but they were swept all three times, first twice by the Montréal Canadiens (of whom they had many alumni, including Hall Of Famers Doug Harvey, Dickie Moore and Jacques Plante) then the Boston Bruins.

Financial and internal power struggles became the norm for much of the 1970s and 1980s, but they tried building powerhouse teams in the 1990s, usually centered around the decade's purest sniper, Brett Hull, and mostly goaltender Curtis Joseph as well. Other stars such as Grant Fuhr, Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis and even Wayne Gretzky came into play, but it just never panned out in an era where three teams (Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils and Colorado Avalanche) won most of the Cups, with the Philadelphia Flyers as regular contenders as well.

Then came the 00s, and a new philosophy where the team actually iced just about half of Team USA, except in nets; that didn't work out all that well either, as Paul Stastny, T.J. Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Erik Johnson, David Backes, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jordan Leopold, Brett Hedican, Craig Conroy, Bill Guerin, Scott Gomez, Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight all failed to stand up to the pressure and win when it mattered.

And now it's supposed to be different?

The Blues themselves remind me of a player who dressed for them in the 1990s, Doug Crossman, formerly an OHL rcord-holder for most assists in a single season by a defenseman (98).

Crossman was so good with his passes that he had an enviable roster spot on the 1985 and 1987 Flyers teams that lost in the Final to the Edmonton Oilers. He also made the tournament-winning 1987 Canada Cup Team Canada roster.

However, although he was a pretty skater to watch, he was slow, and he wasn't particularly fond of playing defensively, so the nice plays he created offensively were negated by the times he was a pylon in his own zone or left opposing forwards have breakaways against his goalies.

The good just couldn't outweigh the bad - it just evened it out. Like having a Gretzky-Hull duo on your first line but "Iron" Mike Keenan to coach it; or like collecting medal-less Olympians; or hiring former Habs legends to go up against the loaded end-of-the-sixties Habs.

It is what it is. It's also why Crossman played for eight different NHL teams over 14 seasons, and even briefly belonged to the Québec Nordiques, whom he never played for, as the Tampa Bay Lightning selected him in the expansion draft. He even set a Bolts team record by putting up 6 points (3 goals and 3 assists) in a single game!

And so is this: card #25 from Score's 1993-94 Score set, showing Crossman wearing the Blues' 1980s blue (away) uniform:
He signed it in blue sharpie.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Curtis Lazar Autographed Card

To say this has been a trying year for Curtis Lazar would be selling it way short...

First, he battled mononucleosis in the summer, then he struggled to find his game, posting just a single assist in 33 games with the Ottawa Senators before they sent him packing to the Calgary Flames at the deadline.

Though he only stands at 6'0" and 210 pounds, he seems larger and plays bigger, which is why the Sens made him a first-round pick (17th overall in 2013) to begin with. That, and leadership skills that saw him lead the Edmonton Oil Kings to the Memorial Cup in 2014 and captain Team Canada to World Juniors gold in 2015.

I know, a single point in half a season is awful, pretty much a waste of a roster spot, I get it. But when a guy is unanimously called a cross between Milan Lucic and Mike Fisher, perhaps he's worth more than a defenseman who'd been on waivers the day prior (Jyrki Jokipakka) and a second-rounder, especially if AHLer Michael Kostka is following him to the Flames organization.

I usually tend to give power forwards until ages 24-26 to prove their worth, but in the age of UFAs and RFAs, I get that teams don't want to overpay for future potential nor use a roster spot to not lose someone on a technicality. Essentially, however, the current rules favor smallish, quick forwards, not the big boys (defensemen or forwards) or goalies, who usually tend to require further seasoning in the minors.

Here is Lazar sporting the Sens' red (home) uniform, on card #NHCD-10 from Upper Deck's 2015 National Hockey Card Day (Canadian Edition) set:
He signed it in blue sharpie in the 2014-15 playoffs, in which the Sens faced my hometown Montréal Canadiens.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Jarome Iginla Jersey card

Considering Ben Bishop, Alexandre Burrows and Kevin Shattenkirk were traded prior to Deadline Day, in my opinion, the most coveted player today was Jarome Iginla. Teams that should have gone after him include the Montréal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators. The team that actually landed him was... the Los Angeles Kings.

Now, I'm aware others would say Radim Vrbata, Mark Streit and Thomas Vanek were more attractive and productive free agents to be, but none of these players were the best leader and captain of their generation, and though Iginla has slowed down with just 8 goals in 61 games this year on the worst team in the NHL, his 619 career goals still place him 16th in league history; there's no way he forgot how to shoot and/or where the net is. All he needs is a guy who can pass the puck well and is quick enough to cover for him a bit in the defensive zone - and L.A. has that in Anze Kopitar; Montréal has it in Tomas Plekanec, and Edmonton has it in both David Desharnais and Leon Draisaitl.

Here he is from his days captaining the Flames, on card #AF-JI from Upper Deck's 2006-07 SP Game-Used set and Authentic Fabrics sub-set:
It shows him wearing Calgary's red uniform but features a white game-worn jersey swatch.