Friday, July 30, 2010

Paul Kariya Practice Jersey Card

Remember the 1990s, when most experts were looking for ''The Next One'', the guy to be the face of the league when Wayne Gretzky retires? That title was bestowed on many a player, most of whom were found to not be able to handle the burden - Eric Lindros being a notable one. Paul Kariya was definitely another.

Perhaps an even smoother skater than Scott Niedermayer, Kariya also had a slap shot that compared favourably to almost anyone else in the NHL, one that led him to 3 seasons of 40 goals or more, including a 50-goal output iun his sophomore season. The duo he formed with Teemu Selanne was among the most productive of the past generation.

My defining Kariya moment came in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals, when he was hit by New Jersey Devils behemoth Scott Stevens and lay on the ice for several minutes - to this day, he claims he wasn't unconscious, but the CBC cameras clearly showed him not moving, not even breathing, until out of the blue his visor filled with steam - his breath was back. Team doctors took him back to the dressing room where he stayed for 11 minutes of play - most expected he was out of the game, perhaps even gone for the remainder of the series, but he came back and scored the tying goal in a game his team would eventually win. The Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim still lost the series, as Kariya's play was clearly affected by the hit.

That summer, he swore he wanted to bring the Cup to Anaheim, but instead only played one more season there before joining Selanne on the Colorado Avalanche, on a stacked team that already included Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, Rob Blake, Milan Hejduk, and so many others. The team was not only a perennial Cup contender, they also had 7 players who had also served as captain on other teams. Unfortunately, both Selanne and Kariya suffered long-term injuries and left the team.

Kariya's career path took him to the Nashville Predators, where he registered his 800th career point, and to the St. Louis Blues, with whom he scored his 400th goal. He is currently an unrestricted free agent. Although he is no longer slated to finish in the top-5 for NHL scoring, he could probably still help a team on its second or third line, and with some powerplay time could probably still reach the 20-goal mark (he registered 18 in his final season with the lowly Blues).

In international play, he was part of Canada's 2002 Gold Medal-winning Olympic team (with Sakic, Mario Lemieux and Jarome Iginla, among others).  He has also won gold at the World Championships (1994) and World Juniors (1993). And he was also kept out of the 1998 Olympic squad due to a concussion after a cheap, vicious cross-check by Gary Suter, just like Gretzky in the 1991 Canada Cup.

This beautiful card, part of Upper Deck's 2002-03 MVP set (the Skate Around sub-set) dons a bigger-than-usual patch, and a special one at that, and I quote:
On the front of this card is an authentic piece of a practice jersey worn by Paul Kariya in an offical NHL practice. We hope you enjoy this piece of hockey history as we at The Upper Deck Company continue to keep you as close as you can get!
 That's right - it's a practice jersey! I think it's the only set in which I've seen one, which makes it special, in my opinion.

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