Monday, November 1, 2010

Stéphane Richer: 4 Autographed Cards

I sent Stéphane Richer these four cards and a fan letter on October 18th, care of the golf club where he's the resident professional, and got 4/4 back today (November 1st), signed in blue sharpie, with his jersey number (#44) added. Less than two weeks, outside of golf season, and with Richer making three public appearances in that span for charity causes. Talk about a quick turnaround!

Stéphane Richer played parts of two seasons of major junior hockey with the Granby Bisons before turning pro, where he would meet a goalie he would see a lot of in the next few years, Patrick Roy. They would make the jump to the AHL together in 1984-85, winning the Calder Cup with the Sherbrooke Canadiens and the Stanley Cup the following season with the Montréal Canadiens. For the next four seasons, the Habs would be contenders for the President' Trophy during the regular season and would make another Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1989, where they lost to the Calgary Flames.

But my defining ''Richer moment'' came during training camp prior to the 1987-88 season, when he candidly replied to a reporter's question about his objective for the season with these words: ''I'm going to try to score 50 goals''. The nerve, coming off a sophomore season that saw him score 20 (in 57 games), after a 21-goal rookie campaign (in 65 games)! And yet, he was on pace for most of the season, despite missing 8 games to injury, when came the last game of the season - and he was three goals short. Of course, he scored a hat trick, becoming the first player since Guy Lafleur's heyday to score 50 goals in a single season for the Habs, a feat he would repeat - and surpass - two seasons later, when he scored 51.

No other Canadiens player has scored 50 in a single season since. As a matter of fact, only Vincent Damphousse has managed to reach 40, in 1993-94.

After a ''disappointing'' 31-goal season in 1990-91, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils with Tom Chorske for their captain, Kirk Muller, and backup goalie Roland Melanson, a trade that may have benefitted both teams but sent shockwaves in both teams. Richer would win the Cup with the Devils in 1995, while the Habs won it in 1993.

During his first three seasons with the Devils, Richer scored 29, 38 and 36 goals respectively and, considering their style of play, lets one believe he would have scored at least 10 more per season had he played on another team. And as the decade was ending and Réjean Houle took command of the Canadiens, Richer was brought back to bring the team back to to glory with the absence of Roy - a feat which proved impossible to achieve. Midway through the second season of his Second Coming, he was shipped the the Tampa Bay Lightning with Darcy Tucker and David Wilkie in exchange for ''enforcer'' Mick Vukota, Patrick Poulin and Igor Ulanov, ironically weakening the team even more.

It was all downhill from there - both for the Habs and Richer, who disappeared from my radar and went on to play stints with the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Devils again; he even played 2 games with the IHL's Detroit Vipers in 1999-2000. He retired from pro hockey after the 2001-02 season, but briefly made an appearance in semi-pro play in 2004-05 for the Sorel-Tracy Mission, with whom he tallied 2 goals and 6 assists in 8 games while trying not to kill anyone with his world-renowned powerful slap shot.

Blessed with size and strength beyond that of an athlete from his generation, Richer could have been anything he wanted: sure, he had terrific hockey skills, as his exploits will attest to, and he's now a golf pro - but back in his playing days, he was also a heck of a baseball/softball player, which is what he was doing when he was famously quoted as saying, during the 1994-95 lock-out: ''I don't understand why we're not playing hockey. Let's get a deal done and get back on the ice where we belong. We should be playing hockey.'' And that's all he wanted, really: not the cash, not the attention, just to play.

The card on the top-left was the first card I fell on when I opened my first pack of Topps' 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee cards; it's card #233 in the set, and sees him sporting a thin mustache (for the times), while he had cut it off by the time the card on the top-right came out, from the 1989-90 Topps set (card #153). Notice how both cards sport the trademark Topps/OPC ''uneven borders'' where the card isn't centered properly.

The card on the bottom-left is from the 1992-93 Pro Set collection (card #93) and is the only card I own of that year's Pro Set output that isn't a Parkhurst, so I probably traded for it. It has Richer wearing the Devils' old jersey with the green lines and patches on the shoulder, while the card bottom-right has the more modern one where the green has been replaced by black. That one is a thick card with a foil contour from Pinnacle Brands' 1996-97 Pinnacle Summit (card #99); I'd never seen those cards before last year, when I purchased a whole box of them. Notice the Habs' logo on the bottom: he'd been traded back to the Habs that summer for Lyle Odelein.

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