Thursday, December 30, 2010

Randy Cunneyworth: 3 Autographed Cards

What a clear and beautiful signature! I sent Mr. Cunneyworth these cards and a fan letter on November 30th and got them back signed in black sharpie on December 23rd - three weeks later!

Randy Cunneyworth was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres after a 54-goal, 128-point season in the OHL, having played 67 games with the Ottawa 67's. Unfortunately, the Sabres never really gave him a chance, always relegating him to their AHL farm club, the Rochester Americans, so the Pittsburgh Penguins gave him a shot at a regular NHL spot in 1985-86. He spent 4 seasons producing regularly with seasons of 15, 26, 35 and 25 goals before they shipped him off to Winnipeg.

He didn't remain long with the Winnipeg Jets - 28 games - before they sent him to the Hartford Whalers, where despite being injured often, he made a name for himself through hard-nosed hard work and an average of a point per two games. He would often be a nuisance to my favourite teams, the Québec Nordiques and Montréal Canadiens.

After a short stint with the Chicago Blackhawks, he was traded to the Ottawa Senators and became only their second full-time captain. To this day, he is still the franchise's second-longest-serving captain, behind current owner of the title Daniel Alfredsson.

After Ottawa, he went back to the Sabres organization where, again, he spent time in the minors but at least played in the NHL playoffs. In the AHL, he was a player/coach, then was named the Americans' head coach for nearly a decade. After a short stint as assistant coach with the Atlanta Thrashers, he is now the Hamilton Bulldogs' head coach.

The card on the left is from the 1991-92 Pro Set collection (card #392), and the one in the middle is from the 1992-93 Parkhurst set (card #284), also made by Pro Set. The one on the right depicting him in a Blackhawks uniform is from Leaf's 1993-94 Donruss set (card #413), which came out late enough in the year that it has him with the team he started the season but didn't finish with; it should be one of very few cards of him in that uniform, seeing as most sets featured him with the Whalers and the following season's cards will have him as a Senator.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Milan Michalek: 4 Autographed Cards

Without making too much fuss, Milan Michalek has crafted himself a niche as a reliable top-six forward with four straight 20-plus-goals seasons and only one with a negative plus/minus differential. And last season was 22 goals in only 66 games, so he may have been able to top the 30-goal mark for the first time. He is no longer an afterthought in the Dany Heatley trade, he is its main component.

The first two cards have him as a member of the San Jose Sharks, the team he played his first 316 games with. Both see him wearing the team's early/mid-00s white uniform, with the card on top-left being from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Series 2 set (card #408, his rookie card) and the one top-right from UD's 2007-08 Victory set (card #179).

The bottom two cards see him as a member of the Ottawa Senators, with the one bottom-left showing him in the Sens' alternate jersey (black, with the word 'SENS' ruining the otherwise-beautiful front) from Panini's 2010-11 Score set (card #338) and the card bottom-right depicting him in the team's regular white RBK away uniform, which looks tame and empty in comparison, being from UD's 2010-11 Victory set (card #137).

The Sens will have a hard time making the playoffs this season, but with the type of players they have on offense and in nets, I see them making a deep playoff run should they make it. The cards were sent along with a fan letter on November 23rd care of the Sens and were received back on December 23rd - one month to the day, an amazingly quick return for an active player!

Rhett Bomar Jersey Card

When the CFL season came to a close (congrats again, Alouettes!) on Sunday, the NFL was left standing as the sole (American) football league whose play I actually follow, just in time for a playoff run.

This year, Rhett Bomar ended the season with the Minnesota Vikings, after two seasons of alternating between the New York Giants' practice squad and the third-string QB position. The quarterback position is, of course, the hardest one to become a regualr in, as only one can play at a time, as opposed to four or five linesmen, three or four receivers, and so forth.

This card is from Donruss' Rookies & Stars set by Panini, and is card #11 of the Dress For Success sub-set, a limited edition set for which this card is # 77/299. What I appreciate the most of this patch card is it denotes the exact date of wear on the back - you can't get more specific, nor authentic.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jamie McLennan: 4 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

It's too bad Jamie McLennan chose to sign these with dry-erase markers coaches love so much, because he has such a distinctive and interesting signature, but unfortunately all 4 cards show various levels of smudging. I had sent the cards care of the Calgary Flames - with whom he is an assistant coach - on November 18th, and received them on December 23rd, right on time for Christmas.

But his remains a story that need be told, and to some extent, it begins in the WHL, with the Lethbridge Hurricanes:
This card is from The Score Board's 1991-92 Classic Draft Picks set (card #40), and shows the Hurricanes when they used to sport the Washington Capitals' colours. At this point, McLennan was runner-up to Félix Potvin as the CHL's best goalie, leading his team to the WHL Finals - a performance that would make him the 48th overall pick of the 1991 NHL Draft, chosen by the New York Islanders.
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Jamie McLennan: 4 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

(continued from the previous post)
Which brings us to these two terrific cards, showing him in unusual poses:

On the left, perhaps the card with his best signature on it, is from Leaf's 1993-94 Donruss set (card #458), where he seems to be looking up at the scoreboard. On the right, mid-movement after a save - possibly the most smudged card of the four - is from Topps' 1994-95 Premier set (card #143), the first Premier set not to feature the O-Pee-Chee brand.

During the mid-90s, McLennan was proving too good for the minor leagues, but the Isles' net belonged to Ron Hextall. He split the 1995-96 season between the Isles (3-9-1 record), the IHL's Utah Grizzlies (9-2-2, 2.39 GAA and .911%) and the AHL's Worcester Ice Cats (14-7-1, 2.81 GAA and .905%) before contracting bacterial meningitis. As is often the case, the Islanders took the wrong decision and opted nt to renew McLennan's contract at season's end, prompting him to sign with the St. Louis Blues, who sent him to the AHL upon his recovery to regain his game shape. By 1997-98, he was back in the NHL, playing in 30 games (16.8-2, 2.17 GAA and .903%) on his way to earning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

In the 2000 Expansion Draft, he was claimed by the Minnesota Wild.

He looked good in the Wild's uniform, but expansion teams are rarely where one goes to improve on his statistics, so despite a 2.64 GAA and .905% playing in Jacques Lemaire's defensive system, he still went only 5-23-9 in 38 games, which led to his demotion to the AHL the following season. This card, #206 from Topps' 2000-01 Stadium Club set - a great-looking set on ultra-thick cardboard stock - is the only one I have of him as a Wild.

From then on, it was all back-up roles for McLennan, be it for the Calgary Flames (twice), New York Rangers or Florida Panthers - and a stint in Russia, followed by another one in Japan.

Upon retiring in 2008, he went back to Calgary, this time as director of goaltending development and scout; a year later he was named assistant coach to Brent Sutter - which is where we stand currently. In other words, he's now coaching Miikka Kiprusoff, who he has backed up twice.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Brent Sutter: 6 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

It's probably greed, coupled with fear. Technically, it was last season that I sent Brent Sutter two NewYork Islanders cards to get signed, but it was in March, more or less 9 months ago. But despite his making all the right moves and decisions, his Calgary Flames are tanking. There is talk that both he and brother/GM Darryl Sutter might not last the year, so I sent 6 more cards on December third and received them all back today, just about two weeks later, all signed in black sharpie. He is such a generous signer, I feel bad for asking twice, but I specified in my fan letter that I asked for two Islanders cards the first time seeing as I identified him more to that team, but that I was now asking for cards of him playing for the Chicago Blackhawks because I do recognize he had a great run in 7 seasons with them, including a Cup run.

I usually aim to get a player wearing different jerseys, but I couldn't find a card with a frontal pic of Sutter in the Hawks' white jersey, so I sent in an extra one with him as the Isles' captain:
It's from the 1990-91 Score (American) series (card #39) by the company then-known as Score. To me, Brent Sutter represents the Isles as much as Pat LaFontaine, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, and the other stars of the 80s. Actually, maybe more than those I didn't mention. The fact that he was named captain of the team speaks volumes of how important a player he was for them.

In October 1991, as the last member of an Islanders Stanley Cup team and regarded as one of the best leaders and face-off men in the league, Sutter was traded to Chicago just in time for two Pro Set sets to showcase him in his new uniform:
The card on the left sees him sporting a vintage Hawks jersey that the team only wore on 10 occasions during the NHL's 75th Anniversary celebrations, usually against other Original Six teams. It's from the 1991-92 Pro Set (Series One) set, and is card #374. The card on the right is from the 1991-92 Platinum (Series One) set (card #164), a set Pro Set was hoping would compete with other ''premium'' sets, such as Upper Deck, Topps' Stadium Club and O-Pee-Chee's Premier. Needless to say, they failed miserably, but I do appreciate full-card-size pictures such as this one of Sutter taking a slap shot.
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Brent Sutter: 6 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

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The NHL's 75th Anniversary logo was also prominent of the following year's cards, as demonstrated here:

The card on the left is from Score's 1992-93 Score (Canadian) set (card #112), while the card on the right is from Topps1992-93 Bowman set (card #147), a brand of baseball cards from the game's golden era that they successfully revived for that sport and began producing for hockey as well until collectors relegated it behind every other Topps brand (by pretty much ignoring it, with its light, sub-par cardboard stock and minimalistic retro design) and the company ceased to produce it - for hockey anyway. To this day, it is still manufactured for baseball.

And perhaps the best-looking card of the lot:

From the 1994-95 Pinnacle set (card #117), by Pinnacle Brands (formerly known as 'Score'). The red ink is the exact tone of the Hawks' jersey, for once, both dark and bright at the same time. The team works hard at having some of the best-looking uniforms in the game, it's a shame when it goes under-appreciated. At this point in Sutter's career, his 12-straight 20-plus-goals seasons had just come to a halt, but he was the Sutter brother who had played the most NHL games - regular season and playoffs.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tomas Plekanec: 3 Autographed Cards

What a terrific Holiday Season it's turning out to be... first my childhood inspiration Sergio Momesso wrote back, then Trevor Linden - the only Canuck I cared about in the 80s and 90s apart from Petri Skriko and Tony Tanti, whose names I thought were amazing. And today - four returns, starting with this one, Tomas Plekanec. I had sent a fan letter along with these three cards care of the Bell Centre on November 19th, a terrific, swift return from one of the league's best all-around players.

Indeed, The Turtleneck-Wearing One (a team staple in the 80s that he's the only one keeping alive) has steadily accumulated 20-plus goals in four consecutive seasons while collecting tons of assists from his highlight-reel near-impossible passes, most often while shutting down the opposing team's top line. It's why, even in games where he won't make the scoresheet, he won't be in the minuses despite playing over 22 minutes. I don't think the Montréal Canadiens have had a player of his skill set understand the subtleties of the game as well as he had since a certain Jacques Lemaire in the late 70s and early 80s. The only year in which his production dipped in his career was the season during which neither of his then-wingers - Alex Kovalev and Andrei Kostitsyn - managed to get get the puck in the net at the same pace as usual. The nifty passes were still there, along with the defensive prowess, but the assists didn't add up, explaining why it's also the only season where he scored more (20) than assisted (19).

I love these cards. As usual, I tried to pick different jerseys and managed to do so with the classic home and away Habs uniforms. Also, for the card on the left, notice he's wearing jersey #35 (despite signing #14 on the card!), the number he wore for his first three seasons, a time during which he and fellow youngster Chris Higgins were more or less battling for the same position (top line, penalty-kill, powerplay), and the other kid got the better breaks; I still have my Plekanec #35 jersey - I've been a fan of his for a while! That card is from Fleer's 2007-08 Fleer Ultra set (card #98), ''secretly'' made by Upper Deck: there is mention on the card and back of it being made at the ''UDC plant, Las Vegas'' complete with its address, but the full name doesn't appear anywhere.

The card in the middle, where's he's sporting the team's red jersey, is from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Victory set (card #103), a beautiful, ultra-glossy set. I got a box of these and barely got any quality inserts, but the base cards made up for it.

The card of the right, where his slap shot is testing his stick's strength to its limits, is from Panini's 2010-11 Score set (card #271), a beautiful set that pays tribute to the brand's very first set (from 1990-91).

All three cards were signed in black sharpie and have his jersey number (#14) added on. You might notice it's a tad different from the AHL insert card I wrote about last year, but that's pretty normal: he has worked his signature into a 'professional autograph'. There are many similarities, the way he writes his first name, for one, ending it in a twirl. His last name is just longer, and where he used to favor the 'K' in it, he now keeps it subtle.

Here's hoping he finally gets a Selke trophy nod this year.