Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tom Draper Autographed Card

Tom Draper is a relatively unknown goalie from Outremont, Qc who ended up playing 63 NHL games spread over 5 seasons with 3 different teams (not to mention a trade to a fourth team for which he didn't play in which he was traded, essentially, for himself). In that sense, he's a journeyman hockey player like any other with no real reason to look him up, except if you knew him.

And that's where it really hits home: in 1993 or 1994, when I was in 10th grade, he came to my school to deliver one of those motivational speeches telling kids to follow their dreams, whatever they may be, and just keep pushing at it, because, of course, anything can happen and they can turn out to be true.

As a goalie myself, playing for the school's Notre-Dame Sabres like he had a decade earlier, those words hit home; I wasn't the only one he got through to that day: current Montréal Canadiens forward Mathieu Darche, current Nashville Predators forward Benjamin Guité, current Stjernen (of the Norwegian GET-ligaen) defenseman Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre and recent NFL retiree Jean-Philippe Darche were all in attendance. It's pretty rare that one school produces two professional talents in the same age range, let alone four. And I, for one, attribute it mostly on his quality speech.

Not just that, but out of the 300 kids in my grade, a mighty chunk were sons and daughters of lawyers, and the rest were pretty much kids of politicians or very successful business people - everyone had their future path set up for them, following their parents' footsteps, should they be so inclined; many did, but we still managed to have four top-level athletes, a handful of actors, a bunch of musicians, a few writers and painters, a few people working in sports management, and a whole bunch of gypsies.

Sure, not many people outside of his family were impressed by his career, but all 300 of us in my year were touched by him, as were the 1200 other students in that high school who got to hear him speak. Not that he didn't have a decent career, because he did:

In the AHL, he shared the Hap Holmes Memorial Award (the AHL's equivalent of the Jennings trophy for the team with the fewest goals-against) with Martin Biron while playing for Buffalo's affiliate, the Rochester Americans. The Winnipeg Jets liked him so much that he has belonged to them at three different occasions, including the most bizarre trade in recent memory, where the Jets sent him to the St. Louis Blues in February of 1991 for future considerations, which turned out to be... himself and Jim Vesey, as the trade was completed later that season in May, before trading him again in June. He signed back to the Jets as a free agent in 1995.

He now works for Coca-Cola and is a goaltending coach at the junior level in Binghamton, New York, where he resides, with his wife, three kids, and according to Wikipedia, three cats he doesn't like.

This card sees him sporting a Buffalo Sabres uniform and was obtained in person at a hockey school I attended one summer where he was a guest teacher for a day, probably in the summer of 1995, and I told him how much his speech had affected us and he seemed genuinely surprised, happy and humbled by it; if only now he could see just how much it affected us with the current crop of NHL veterans he helped inspire. It is card #552 (part of the 'extended series' that had rookies and players who'd been traded or forgotten by the initial run of 400 cards) for the 1991-92 Upper Deck set. Despite his equipment all being of the Sabres' colours, his mask bears the Americans' red-white-and-blue - colours also associated with the Jets, oddly enough.

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