Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dave Reid: 4 Autographed Cards

Dave Reid was one of those guys who always ends up playing for your favourite team's biggest rivals. In my case, as a fan of the Québec Nordiques and Montréal Canadiens, to have him get drafted by the Boston Bruins, then signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs 6 years later (where he played for three full seasons) only to see him go back to Boston for 5 more seasons, he was one of the players I saw play the most often as a child and teen.

As a grinder and checker, he wasn't necessarily the type of player you build a team around, but as one of the pieces you add to your core, he was just like Steve Bégin is nowadays: a heart-and-soul guy who gives his all for his team. And who better to understand that than the Dallas Stars, with whom he started playing in 1996-97, culminating in the 1999 Stanley Cup, where he spent the playoffs on a line with renowned leaders Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner, on a team that also boasted former Habs Guy Carbonneau, Mike Keane, Brian Skrudland, and Craig Ludwig, a team that already boasted superstars Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Sergei Zubov, Pat Verbeek, Ed Belfour, Derian Hatcher and Darryl Sydor - as well as former Nordiques Tony Hrkac and Brent Severyn. Pretty much all captains at some point in their careers.

And when he ran out of adversaries, Reid played his final two seasons with the good guys - the Colorado Avalanche, formerly the Nordiques, with whom he won another Cup in 2001.

And I got to see a whole lot more of Reid when his playing career was over, as he was a regular analyst on the NHL Network's NHL On The Fly nightly show until he accepted the job of General Manager of the OHL's Peterborough Petes, the team he had played junior hockey with in the early 80s.

I sent a fan letter to his home, congratulating him on his new position and wishing him the best on October 9th, 2010, and received all 4 of my cards back on October 29th, barely 20 games later, a very fast turnaround from a busy man - all signed clearly in black sharpie, with the jersey number he wore for that team added on, which mostly corresponds to the number he's wearing on each card - except the one top-right, from Upper Deck's 1991-92 Series Two (French Canadian) set (card #531), where he's sporting sweater #31 with the Bruins - probably in pre-season play, before settling on #17. Notice the two stains on the card - it's been through hard times!

The card right below it, bottom-right, is my favourite of his, because he's sporting the Bruins alternate/NHL's 75th Anniversary jersey with the huge B in front rather than the modern team logo. It's from the 1991-92 Pro Set collection (card #348), possibly from the high-numbers, a.k.a. 'Series Two' set since he's got his new team's colours on.

The card on top-left is #217 from Upper Deck's 1991-92 Series One (French Canadian), in which he is pictured as a Leaf. How bad were the Leafs in his final season there? Consider he scored 15 goals and was a minus-10 player - that bad.

And because I couldn't have him just wearing enemy colours, the card on the bottom-left sees him wearing the Avalanche's away jersey from In The Game's 2000-01 Be A Player Memorabilia set (card #367). On the back of the card are his statistics from the previous season against each other team in the league - it's where you learn that of his 18 points in 1999-2000, three came in the six games against the Calgary Flames; that he was a point-per-game player against the New York Rangers and Nashville Predators (2 points in 2 games against each); and that the only team he really got it going against was the Pittsburgh Penguins - 2 points in one game. That's half his points of the 65 games he played in the regular season, in just 11 games, against only 4 teams.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Henri 'Pocket Rocket' Richard: The Man, The Legend: 3 Cards And One Postcard - All Autographed

Who knew my greatest success would come with the best player ever to be featured on here, the record holder for most Stanley Cups won as a player (11), a 4-year captain of the most storied franchise in hockey, the Montréal Canadiens. To put just that feat in perspective, two facts: only one other North American athlete has won 11 team championships in the highest professional league of his sport, and that's Bill Russell, of the NBA's Boston Celtics; also, by the time he had retired, the inimitable Henri Richard had had more championship rings than birthdays - he was born on February 29th, in a leap year.

He has also led the NHL in assists twice - a feat never matched by his older brother, Maurice 'The Rocket' Richard. Can you imagine being the younger brother of a team's biggest legend, playing for the same team years later, making a name for yourself (and a nickname, 'Pocket Rocket', because at 5'7'', he was three inches shorter than his brother), making the Hall Of Fame (1979) and getting your own jersey retired? It definitely takes a special man to pull it off, an incredible athlete.

But Henri Richard is much more than an overly talented athlete, he is also a Man with a capital 'M'; he has been serving as a Habs' ambassador for decades now, and it's easy to understand why: he attends most games at the Bell Centre and greets everyone who comes his way, one at a time, and thanks each one for coming when we should all be thanking him for the amazing memories he has created for us, but also for helping make this team of what should have been underdogs into the greatest one of its sport.

And he takes it outside the arena as well: I sent him a fan letter and two cards on September 22nd and got this in the mail on October 22nd - a month to the day, an awesome return: the one top-right, wearing the white uniform from Ultimate Trading Card Company's (no idea who they are!) 1992-93 All Ultimate Team set (card #81) and the one at the bottom, with the brown contour that's supposed to look like an old-time TV set, from the 1966-67 Topps set, for which Topps didn't identify itself anywhere, seeing as they were the only brand manufacturing cards that year. Not only did he sign both in blue sharpie and added his jersey number (#16) at the end, but he also added (and signed!) a 1999 Molson Export card (like the Réjean Houle one I talked about earlier this year) in which he is photographed with the Cup - as well as a Molson Export postcard with the same picture blown up. Molson, as team owners, spared no expense praising the team's heritage, even in their ads.

So not only was Mr. Richard generous enough to take the time to sign and send my cards back - he added two himself. My grandfather had told me a lot about not only Henri Richard's prowess on the ice, but also of how affable a gentleman he was off the playing surface. He'd even bought me a vinyl record when I was a kid, ''Tous Mes Secrets De Hockey'', in which Mr. Richard relates what he feels are the secrets that led him to the NHL - taking the time to learn to skate well, determination, how to pass and shoot - never once mentioning his God-given talent, thus letting kids believe they, too, could someday reach the big league despite not having the obvious generous genetics he was born with.

Before high school, say ages 6-11, when there were games on weekdays, I was usually only allowed to watch the first period on TV before going to bed. I'd then sneak my Habs radio (shaped like a stick and a puck donned by the Canadiens' logo) beneath my pillow and fall asleep listening to the game. On nights with no games, I'd go to bed listening to Mr. Richard's record, holding my plush E.T. doll under my arm and dreaming of one day playing in the NHL. As a goalie. I never actually made it, but it was close enough to my satisfaction - and the dreams I had in the meantime were more than worth my while.

Thank you, Mr. Richard.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jason Spezza: Four Autographed Cards

I had a post about Jason Spezza over a year ago, one that was about I card I found ridiculous - and it wasn't the player's fault at all, just the card manufacturer's.

This time around, I sent him a fan letter and 4 cards I like, care of the Sens, on September 30th (incidentally, the same day I sent the Miikka Kiprusoff cards - a good day!) and received all back on October 19th, a bit more than 2 weeks later, signed in beautiful blue sharpie, with his jersey number (19) at the tail end. And what an interesting signature! A great return from a great player.

When the Ottawa Senators were eliminated from the playoffs last year, general manager Brian Murray clumsily tried to defend Spezza from ''critics'' (whether those were fans or journalists wasn't clear) who thought he wasn't a ''complete enough'' player like Sidney Crosby by saying something along the lines of ''Spezza being drafted second overall in 2001 put unfair expectations on him''.

Are you kidding me? He should have just ignored it or told ''them'' off.

We're talking about a guy who holds the team record for most assists in a single season (71), has two 90-plus seasons and an 87-point season (in as few as 67 games, no less!) under his belt, regularly scores over 30 goals a year and has produced at over a point-per-game pace in the NHL.

In the AHL, he was named league MVP and won the Les Cunningham Award for doing so, as well as the John B. Sollenberger trophy as the league's leading scorer.

And as far as team stats go, not only was he a part of the Sens team that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006-07 (and the Conference Finals in 2002-03), he has two silver medals at World Championships (2008 and 2009) a World Juniors silver (2002) and two World Juniors bronze medals (2000 and 2001). He is also only the third Canadian junior player to make Team Canada at age 16 - after Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros.

We're talking about a rare talent here. What people should do is let him play his game, and watch the points pile up. He's a first liner - a star player; his job is to feed goal scorers, not check the opposing team's best line. When he's on the ice, his team, coaches, and fans should concentrate on what makes you win hockey games - scoring more goals than the opponent - rather than merely stopping the opponent from making plays. You can't get milk out of a stallion, and chances are you'll be disappointed if you try. And you'll end up with something else altogether.

Now back to the cards. As for the Kiprusoff cards, I tried to send cards each with different jerseys. The card on the top-left, from Topps' 2002-03 Topps Total set (card #411), sees his wearing the Sens' red jersey that we've grown accustomed to. However, notice he's wearing a #44 jersey (despite his signing his #19 on it!), probably a number they gave him during training camp that was no longer available when he actually made the team. It's his rookie card in the set, and I bought the packs at a dollar store I happened to pass by, totally by chance, because I'd been out of the ''purchasing hockey cards'' game for almost a decade at this point and wouldn't have known where to get them.

The card on the top right sees him wearing the 'old' white jersey, the one in which the team's logo faces sideways. It's from Fleer's 2005-06 Fleer Ultra set (card #134).

The card on the bottom left sees him wearing the same red jersey from the first card, but this time with his current jersey number, and is from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Victory set (card #135), while the one on the bottom right sees him wearing the Sens' third jersey, the black one that says SENS in front, one of the latest monstrosities from the Reebok Edge line; the card actually has the jersey in the best angle: red, white and black are three colours that fit well together, it's just an aberration to have the team's nickname on the players' chests rather than a logo, in my opinion. It's from the brand-new 2010-11 Victory set, a beautiful design that brings the player to the foreground, makes the background almost disappear and incorporates a giant V in the team's colours behind the player, with a white contour.

All in all, a great, fast return from one of the game's elite playmakers and a terrific humanitarian who helps teach kids in the Ottawa-Gatineau region the importance of school, language and spelling through his ''Spelling With Spezza'' program, which 600 classes participate in - each of which sees their top speller receive a poster of Spezza and a pair of tickets to a Sens game.

If Sens fans don't want him and would prefer a checker, the Montréal Canadiens have a good 2-way-playing Cup winner who makes just about the same salary who might be available...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Miikka Kiprusoff: Four Autographed Cards

He's been the best goalie in the world for the past 5 years - bar none. It's not even close. Three Vezina nominations (probably would have been more had his Calgary Flames not failed to reach the playoffs last year), one Vezina trophy (should have been 3, but Martin Brodeur stole two in seasons during which he reached career milestones while not being the actual best goaltender playing), the lowest goals-against average in modern NHL history (1.69, which he followed with an astonishing 1.84 in the playoffs) - and international success, what with 2004 World Cup silver and 2010 Olympic bronze medals while playing for Finland, clearly the usual underdog in the top-7 international hockey teams, behind at least Canada, Russia, Sweden and the United States, often behind the Czech Republic as well, usually on par with Slovakia. Except Finland - and Miikka Kiprusoff in particular - never chokes, whereas at least one team in the Big 4 usually does.

I sent Mr. Kiprusoff these 4 cards and a fan letter (care of the Flames) on September 30th and received all 4 back, signed in black sharpie with his jersey number (34) on each, on October 14th - two weeks later. I had no idea if I'd get any back, if he'd sign them, or what. You hear a lot about Jarome Iginla being a great guy, but I'd never heard anything about ''Kipper'' - good or bad. All I knew was he has a charitable soul that gives away $10 per save he makes to the Rainbow Society of Alberta, an organization that grants wishes to children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. And considering the amount of saves he makes, it's quite a high number. But the best goalie in the world took a bit of time to sign these cards for me - and by the looks of it, it may have caused his sharpie its life!

What I wanted to do, in case he did sign, was send him four Upper Deck cards with him wearing different jerseys; I like diversity. For that purpose, I sent the card that is on top left in the picture, card #17 from the 2005-06 SP Authentic set, the late-90s/early-00s black jersey with the ''flaming horse'' logo that was originally designed only for 1998, the ''Year Of The Horse'' and the classic logo on the shoulders; from that same era - same mask, easy way to tell - the home (white) jersey, top right, which resembled the mid-90s jersey in that it had a diagonal stripe below the logo, but had the flaming horse on the shoulders instead of hockey-esque patterns from this 2006-07 O-Pee-Chee checklist card (card #675).

While the jersey on the card on the bottom left might look like the previous one, it's actually part of the Reebok Edge set, for which the flaming horse logo was replaced on the shoulders of the white (now the 'away') jersey by the flag of Canada and the flag of the province of Alberta, while the V-neck was replaced by laces. This is card #163 of the 2008-09 Victory set.

The card on the bottom right actually sees him sporting the same jersey - albeit with the team's 30th Anniversary logo on the chest - and is from the 2010-11 Victory set (card #35); I actually sent this one as a token of appreciation, saying he could keep it if he wanted to, given that it was brand-new and he probably hadn't seen a copy of it yet. But he signed it nonetheless. What's fun to note about this one is that he's wearing Bauer equipment for the first time (he'd usually wear Vaughn) and his mask is now pretty much a black-and-white version of the one he had in the first cards, with his nickname ''Kipper'' now on the side rather than the chin.

Also, notice the way he holds his blocker and gloves in each of the four pictures: never the same way. His technique is just about near-perfect, yet he finds ways to tweak it just enough to mess with his oppoenents' research on him. A brilliant athlete and amazing performer.

For a more complete back-story on the man whose older brother Marko once played for the Montréal Canadiens (and was forced to cut his mullet by team management!), I would refer you to the post I published earlier this year. Caution: it contains more than a healthy dose of Brodeur-bashing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dale Hunter: Two Autographed Cards

I sent Dale Hunter a fan letter (care of the OHL's London Knights, which he owns and coaches) along with three cards on September 21st and got two of them back signed in beautiful blue sharpie (one of them slightly smudged but awesome nonetheless) on October 12th, two days ago, the same day I got the Rick Wamsley cards I wrote about last.

Some people might be disappointed in ''only'' getting two of the cards sent back, but I keep in mind that he didn't have to sign any of these nor return them in the first place. The only reason I sent three is I was hoping to eventually get one card of him in each of the uniforms he wore autographed. The card on the left sees him wearing the Québec Nordiques' blue (away) 1980s uniform (all-white letters and numbers), from Upper Deck's 2002-03 Foundations set (card #77), while the card on the right sees him wearing the Washington Capitals' early-1990s white (home) jersey with the alternate captain's A on his chest, from Topps' 1992-93 O-Pee-Chee Premier set. A fun thing to note is that while OPC Premier's first set was considered a ''premium'' set of cards (more expensive packs, less prints than regular sets), it was such a big success that for future editions - including this one - the price per pack remained high but they were printed in astronomical numbers, hence devaluating it.

The card Hunter kept were of the Capitals' mid-1990s blue ''away'' jersey (with the ''eagle'' logo), which had the distinction of having the captain's C on its chest - I'm guessing it meant as much to him as it did to me.

You see, if the Nordiques had chosen that path, they easily could have had two captains: Hunter and Peter Stastny. If the team was a family, Stastny was the moral center, the one who made those around him better, the successful eldest son, or even the mother; however, Hunter was the hard worker, the obvious ''dad'' figure, all-construction hat and dirty work boots, willing to do what needed to be done for the unit to thrive. If Stastny was grace, Hunter was grit. A yin to the other's yang, they worked particularly well at completing one another. But as the Nordiques grew on some hard times, both were traded away, and so was perennial 50-goal man Michel Goulet. Ironically, Hunter was traded for a draft pick who would become Joe Sakic, the future cornerstone of the franchise, the captain who would bring the Colorado Avalanche 2 Stanley Cups upon leaving Québec.

But the Capitals greeted Hunter with open arms. They gave him the C, and they even retired his #32 sweater. And with Dino Ciccarelli and Scott Stevens, they weren't adverse to some hard-hitting action. And, sure, the man snapped one night and garnered the longest suspension in NHL history (21 games), but the other 1407 regular season and 185 playoff games he participated in, he was a master at walking the fine line between being in control of his emotions and being the player who gives the most out on the ice. We're not talking about a cheap-shot artist like Bryan Marchment or Ulf Samuelsson here - we're talking closer to a Mark Messier or a Gordie Howe, a leader and a gentleman off the ice who played with a fiery passion and was adored and respected for it but sometimes would go beyond what others were capable of, usually without drawing a suspension, often drawing a penalty. He is, after all, the most penalized player ever to gather 1000 points in the NHL, which also explains he's the one who achieved that feat in the most games as well.

If they do bring the Nordiques back, some numbers deserve to go up in the rafters. 26 and 19, sure, maybe even 16 - but let's not forget 32.