Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Réjean Houle: 2 Autographed Cards

Oh, Réjean.

By the time he retired from hockey and was given a job as an executive at Molson Breweries - who owned the Montréal Canadiens and therefore gave jobs to most players who retired from the team - he had gathered 257 points in 214 WHA games for the Québec Nordiques, and 408 points in 635 NHL games with the Habs, including 5 Stanley Cups. He defected to the WHA in time to start the 1973-74 season, but returned to the Canadiens in June 1976.

He was chosen first overall at the 1969 NHL draft, which is odd to us nowadays considering he was never a huge scoring threat in the NHL, his most productive season being a 30-goal campaign in 1977-78 - but he did score 40 and 51 for the Nordiques.

However, most parody shows (including but not limited to a terrific sketch by Rock Et Belles Oreilles in the late 80s) claim he hit the post as many as four times more often than he scored, and that he did so even more when a game was on the line.

But what Réjean Houle will now be known for, mostly, is tearing up a Canadiens team that had won the Cup by trading all of its stars for players that didn't make the team - or were, at best, fourth liners - as well as drafting a flurry of first-rounders who never even made it to the NHL. It's like he went out of his way to draft and trade for... himself, basically.

He is pretty much single-handedly responsible for making a team that was a perennial contender for the Cup into a team that struggles to make the playoffs, even a decade after he's left; that's pretty much what you get when your very first transaction involves trading the best goalie of all time and the captain of the team in exchange for an over-rated skinny goalie with less than 50 games of NHL experience and two streaky Eastern Europeans who barely make their national teams in time for the World Championships.

But he's also impossible to hate: he has such a nice, gentle demeanour, is willing to talk for hours to anyone who will stop and approach him, and really, deeply cares for the team he tried his best to represent - probably even more so than any fan who would come up to him.

The top card, showing him with the WHA Nordiques white home uniform, complete with red patches on the shoulders (which didn't make the transition to the NHL with the team) is from the 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee WHA set by Topps. I love that uniform, and it's the only card I have of it. It also has a fac-simile autograph on the front of the card, and he tried to not interfere with it when he signed it with a blue sharpie. Oh, and awesome hair, too.

The card where he appears as a Hab is from the 1999 Molson Export series that the Molson brewery put out during the team's worst years, pretending the team wasn't for sale and trying to revive fans' attention, as for the first time in over 80 years, the games were no longer selling out and the waiting list for season tickets was running short. Two years later, the brewery sold the team to George Gillett, who sold it back to the Molson family in 2009, cashing in with a $400M profit. Yep, that's a lot of money. This card was signed in black sharpie, because Houle was afraid the blue one wouldn't look as good, what with the card's dark colours and the blue border on the left.

Houle still serves as one of the team's ambassadors, and it was at a team function that I met him and had him sign these. He is a very affable man, and if he hadn't set my team back 15 years, he'd be the type of man I'd like to have as a casual friend and invite over for dinner once in a while.

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