Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Marian Gaborik Autographed Card

So we got two scares in a single game last night - first, that Lubos Bartecko's life and career might be threatened after an elbow to the head left him lying in a pool of his own blood, although it seems he'll be fine - and that Team Slovakia would end up losing the game after a late comeback from the Norwegian team.

The Slovaks were in control of most of the game, except for a flash at the end of the second period. One player who seemed to be everywhere on the ice, with at least 10 shots taken (not sure how many actually made it to the net, though), and a goal to show for his efforts is Marian Gáborík, the smooth-skating and bionic-handed New York Rangers star forward.

No matter how far back you go, you'll notice he has always been a high-producing forward; as a matter of fact, in his one junior year in Slovakia, he was given a one-game tryout with the pro team he was affiliated with in the elite league and actually scored a goal. The next year, he was good for 20 points in 33 games, playing with men five to twenty years older, followed by a 46-point season, in 50 games. He even managed to win a bronze medal at the 1999 World Junior Championships, an event in which the Slovaks usually don't qualify for the medal round because although their professional players can hold their own against other men in the world, at the junior level, the pool of players is considerably smaller than, say, Canada, Russia, Sweden and the like.

His performances as a teenager made him the third overall pick of the particularly loaded with talent 2000 NHL Draft, behind Rick DiPietro and Dany Heatley. And not only was he the Minnesota Wild's first-ever draft pick, as a rookie, playing with mostly seasoned veterans, he also managed to score the concession's very first goal.

In his sophomore season, 2001-02, he just about doubled his initial scoring output by netting 30 goals and 67 points; the next year, his second-straight 30-goal campaign, he participated in his first All Star game, and won the fastest skater competition, lapping the rink in 13.713 seconds. More importantly, though, he led the Wild not only to their first ever playoff appearance, but to the Western Conference Finals, gathering 17 points in 18 games in the process.

2003-04, however, started awry. His agent held out, hoping to get his client to sign a $6.5M-a-year contract. Gáborík started the season in his home country, with the HC Dukla Trenčín. Eager to return to the NHL, Gáborík changed agents three times in the hopes of signing a contract that would be fair to both him and the Wild. He eventually agreed to a 3-year, $10M contract.

But the 2004-05 NHL season was cancelled, due to the lock-out, and he returned to the HC Dukla Trenčín, scoring a whopping 52 points in a mere 29 games. In 2005-06, he produced his first point-per-game season (38 goals and 66 points in 65 games), but also suffered his first serious injury. The following season, he missed another 34 games - but still managed to score 30 goals, good for 57 points, in 48 games.

On December 20, 2007, Gáborík became the first player in Wild history to score 5 goals in a single game. He played in his second All Star game a month later, and finished the season with 42 goals and 41 assists in 77 games. He finished the season as the Wild' s captain.

2008-09 was his final season with the Wild; depending how you look at it, his 13 goals and 23 points in only 17 games are either spectacular or the biggest tease ever, as a hip surgery sidelined him for most of the season, and his recovery seemed to take longer than expected. Many critics claim he took his time on purpose because he knew he wouldn't be coming back to the Wild, as he was set to become a free agent come season's end.

2009-10 saw him become a Ranger, and it was more of the same: two injuries have made him miss games, but he has 35 goals (69 points) in 58 games - numbers that a few guys in his salary range (hello Scott Gomez!) would have trouble getting to in a full 82-game season. He and Henrik Lundqvist are the only reasons why the Rangers aren't flirting with last place overall.

This card (#91) is from Upper Deck's 2001-02 MVP set, and was signed before a practice in thin blue sharpie. The signature and its ink are sharp, as if that of the card, making all the dark colours - including the Wild's dark green uniform - stand out particularly well. The signing occurred in Toronto and was sent to me via trade by the same friend who sent me the Nikolai Khabibulin card I mentioned a few days ago.

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