Friday, January 21, 2011

Pascal Leclaire: 4 Autographed Cards

It doesn't happen too often, but I was wrong.

At the beginning of the season, I predicted the Ottawa Senators would squeak into the playoff picture - but that wasn't enough, I had to dig my hole even deeper. I predicted they'd be in the Final Four come playoff time, because they were one defenseman short of perfectly balanced. The summer addition of Sergei Gonchar stabilized the powerplay, captain Daniel Alfredsson - while no longer the 90-plus point getter of yore - is still a more-than-capable top-line right winger and a hell of a leader, Jason Spezza is one of the league's premier playmakers, Chris Phillips is a very dependable defenseman who makes a terrific first pass and is also a definite leader, Alex Kovalev knows when to step his game up and be a star player, Mike Fisher is one of the league's 10 best two-way players, Milan Michalek is a guaranteed 20-goal scorer, they have two very promising kids on defense with Brian Lee and Erik Karlsson, and the goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire is among the top-tier in the NHL. The table was set for a rough season, but enjoyable playoffs. Or so I thought.

But I was right about one thing - the play of Pascal Leclaire. Sure, he was injured in awkward and fluke plays that made no sense whatsoever and was limited to 14 games of play so far; but in these 14 games, 10 times he was the best player on the ice - for either team. He's played better than anyone could or should have expected. Unfortunately, he didn't play enough, and despite a 2.83 GAA and .910 save %, his record stands at 4-7-1, as his team has failed to score more than 2 goals in more than half his starts.

As the Sens look to miss the playoffs for a second straight season, expect Leclaire's salary to drop by a large margin as he becomes a free agent this summer; on the other hand, also expect him to be one of the best deals on the market, as he will continue to perform to high standards whenever he's healthy.

I sent him these 4 cards and a fan letter on September 29th, 2010, and got them back on January 20th, 2011, all signed in black sharpie with his then-jersey number (31) at the end. The first two see him wearing the Columbus Blue Jackets' old jersey with the 'CBJ' logo, a jersey design close to the original Reebok jerseys in that it looks more like pajamas or a sweat shirt than a hockey jersey:
The card on the left is from Upper Deck's beautiful 2006-07 Ovation set (card #115), his rookie card in that set - one that not only has a great design for the look, but also the feel of the cards, as every ripple of ice and line on the player's equipment is accentuated on the card, giving it a 3-D effect; the card on the right is from UD's 2007-08 Victory set (card #128), also a pretty one.

The other two cards see him sporting the Jackets' ''star'' logo, inspired by Ohio's state flag:
These jerseys distance the Jackets from the New York Rangers more in their look, and give them more of an identity. They still suck, and prior to making the playoffs in 2009, they were the only active team to have never, ever made the playoffs - ever! - but at least they look like a hockey team now. The card on the left is from the 2008-09 Upper Deck Series 1 set (card #141), greeting fans as he is about to step onto the ice, while the card on the right is from the 2008-09 Victory set (card #138), where he's sporting the team's white jersey.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Slow Month...

After busy Holidays in the mail department, things have cooled down. I thought I'd chip in with some statistics and a few lessons I've learned in the past year and a half.

First off, here is the list of players I have sent mail to so far (in parentheses, date of reception):

January 29, 2010:
Brent Sutter: 2 cards, c/o Flames (March 2, 2010)
Jaroslav Halak: 2 cards, 1 postcard, c/o Centre Bell (March 31, 2010)

March 11, 2010:
Jean-Sébastien Giguère: 6 cards, c/o Leafs
Mike Glumac: 2 cards, c/o Bulldogs

March 20, 2010:
Dion Phaneuf: 3 cards, c/o Leafs
Curtis Sanford: 3 cards, c/o Bulldogs (May 25th, 2010)

September 2, 2010:
Steve Shutt: 2 cards, c/o Habs Alumni (November 1, 2010)

September 13, 2010:
Andrei Kostitsyn: 2 cards, c/o Habs

September 21, 2010:
Dale Hunter: 3 cards, c/o Knights (2/3 cards, October 12th, 2010)

September 22, 2010:
Henri Richard: 2 cards, c/o Habs Alumni (3/2 cards + 1 postcard, October 22, 2010)
Jean Béliveau: 2 cards, home (returned to sender, November 5, 2010)
Rick Wamsley: 2 cards, c/o Senators (October 12th, 2010)

September 28, 2010:
Hal Gill: 2 cards, c/o Habs practice facility
Alex Auld: 2 cards, c/o Habs practice facility (November 18, 2010)
Mike Van Ryn: 3 cards, c/o Niagara Ice Dogs
Kirk Muller: 4 cards, c/o Habs practice facility

September 29, 2010:
Trevor Linden: 4 cards, c/o Canucks Alumni (December 14, 2010)
Henrik Sedin: 4 cards, c/o Canucks
Carey Price: 2 cards + 1 mini-standee, c/o Centre Bell
Pascal Leclaire: 4 cards, c/o Senators

September 30, 2010:
Jason Spezza: 4 cards, c/o Senators (October 19, 2010)
Miikka Kiprusoff: 4 cards, c/o Flames (October 14th, 2010)
Brian Gionta: 4 cards, c/o Centre Bell

October 9, 2010:
Dave Reid: 4 cards, home (October 29, 2010)

October 18, 2010:
Stéphane Richer: 4 cards, c/o golf club (November 1, 2010)
Chris Neil: 3 cards (2 same), c/o Senators

October 20, 2010:
Sergio Momesso: 6 cards, c/o his restaurant (returned to sender, November 1, 2010)

October 22, 2010:
Steven Finn: 2 cards, home
November 3, 2010:
Sergio Momesso: 6 cards, c/o CJLO (5/6 cards, November 18, 2010)
November 17, 2010:
Kevin Lowe: 5 cards, c/o Oilers
Mike Fisher: 4 cards, c/o Senators
Marc Denis: 5 cards, c/o RDS
November 18, 2010:
Randy Ladouceur: 3 cards, c/o Hamilton Bulldogs (December 20, 2010)
Tomas Kaberle: 3 cards c/o Leafs
Rick Vaive: 5 cards, c/o Leafs TV
Gilbert Brulé: 4 cards, c/o Oilers
Jamie McLennan: 4 cards, c/o Flames (December 23, 2010)
November 19, 2010:
Tomas Plekanec: 3 cards, c/o Centre Bell (December 20, 2010
November 23, 2010:
Milan Michalek: 4 cards, c/o Sens (December 23, 2010)
Colby Armstrong: 4 cards, c/o Leafs practice facility
Roman Hamrlik: 4 cards, c/o Centre Bell
Alexandre Burrows: 3 cards, c/o Canucks
November 25, 2010:
Craig Simpson: 4 cards, c/o Hockey Night In Canada / CBC Audience Relations

November 29, 2010:
Ron Sutter: 2 cards, c/o Flames scouting staff
Roberto Luongo: 3 cards, c/o Canucks
Bobby Smith: 5 cards, c/o Mooseheads (December 20, 2010
November 30, 2010:
Darrin Shannon: 3 cards, c/o office (December 10, 2010)
Vincent Damphousse: 5 cards, c/o Spa Vieux-Montréal
Josh Gorges: 3 cards, c/o Centre Bell
Max Pacioretty: 3 cards, c/o Hamilton Bulldogs
Randy Cunneyworth: 3 cards, c/s Hamilton Bulldogs (December 23, 2010)
Steve Smith: 4 cards, c/o Edmonton Oilers
Maxim Lapierre: 4 cards, c/o Centre Bell

December 3, 2010:
Raffi Torres: 3 cards, c/o Canucks
Brent Sutter: 6 cards, c/o Flames (December 20, 2010) 22/55

January 17, 2011:
Sam Gagner: 4 cards, c/o Oilers
Shawn Horcoff: 4 cards, c/o Oilers

I knew the Rangers and Devils didn't forward mail to their players, so going TTM with them is pretty much equal to losing whatever you send them; I have come to the conclusion that things are the same when it comes to Leafs players, which is a shame, since they employ some of my favourite players, namely J.S. Giguère.

At first, I figured typing and printing fan letters would be best, since my handwriting is uneven at times - and looks terrible with some pens. But then I thought about it, and it does seem less sincere, regardless of what words you use. Also, you are asking them to write their name on cards... fair's fair. Make the effort to write, they'll make the effort to read.

I've also learned player movements can affect even those you thought would never move: two of my November 30th sendees (Pacioretty and Lapierre) are no longer with their team; the other active player, Gorges, is out for the season. On the other hand, retired players and current Sens are über-fast in responding.

Not counting the two I sent this morning, I have received 22/55. Hopefully by season's end, I almost double that percentage. If not - more lessons I'll have learned.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Alissa Czisny Autographed Postcard

Here is a prize: a Sporture advertizing postcard autographed in black marker by Alissa Czisny, the 2009 U.S. figure skating champion - and 2010-11 Grand Prix Champion.

She is known for spinning and jumping clockwise (most go counter-clockwise) - and never missing. She also has a thing for pulling her leg behind her head. The Ohio native's rise to superstardom is particularly evident when comparing her Skate Canada competition results over the years: a surprise 1st in 2005, 4th in 2006, 3rd in 2008, second in 2009 and an expected and deserved 1st in 2010.

I expect great things from this talented beauty.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bobby Smith: 5 Autographed Cards

With these 5 cards, I will finally be up to date on my December mail - it's been a good month!

Here is Bobby Smith, the smooth-skating giant (6'4'', 210 pounds) centerman the Montréal Canadiens have never replaced since trading him back to the Minnesota North Stars in 1990. With the Habs, he had six consecutive just-about point-per-game seasons during which he was also sent to take important face offs and to shut down the opposing team's best line; skating alonside Mats Naslund from 1985-86 to 1988-89, he registered seasons of 86, 75, 93 and 83 points, twice scoring more than 30 goals.

The North Stars had chosen him first overall in the 1978 draft after he posted a 192-point season in the OHL, besting Wayne Gretzky by a whole 10 points. He won the Calder trophy as the league's best rookie (a trophy neither Gretzky nor Sidney Crosby ever won) after a 74-point 1978-79 season and improved the next three years with seasons of 83, 93 and 114 points (43 goals!) before being sent to the Habs; upon his return to Minnesota in 1990, he proceeded to bring his team to the Stanley Cup finals and reach the 1000-point milestone.

He won the Cup with the Canadiens in 1986 and reached the Finals three more times in his career. He was the Phoenix Coyotes' general manager for parts of four seasons before holding the same position with the team he owns, his hometown QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads, which he now also coaches. It is tehre that I sent along these five cards and a fan letter, on November 29th, and I got them back all signed in black sharpie on December 20th. It's a tremendous record, and I'm particularly excited, as he was one of the players whose play got me interested in hockey in my youth.

The card on top left is from Score's 1990-91 Score set (card #61) and the one on top right is from the 1990-91 Pro Set set (card #160). A veteran for the Habs, he was one of several players who wore the 'A' that season, a year after Larry Robinson was traded to the Los Angeles Kings.

The card on bottom-left is from the 1992-93 Score collection (card #205), as is the one in the middle, highlighting his 1,000th point (card #446). Notice how he wore the 'A' for home games. The card on bottom-right is also a milestone-celebrating card, this time from Pro Set's 1992-93 Platinum set, the Collectibles insert sub-set (card #PC13).

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Andrew Alberts: 3 Jersey Cards

Andrew Alberts was in the news this week, for having been sucker-punched by the Philadelphia Flyers' Jody Shelley, resulting in Shelley being suspended for the NHL-habitual two games. It marks the second time Alberts misses a long period after being injured by a Flyer, as he was limited to 35 games in 2007-08 after a nasty hit by Scott Hartnell, who received... a two-game suspension.

Ironically enough, Alberts played for the Flyers in 2008-09 and had his career-best season patrolling their blue line, with 13 points; he also accumulated 61 penalty minutes that season, his second-highest career total, behind his 2006-07 campaign of 124 penalty minutes while playing for the Boston Bruins.

He has also twice represented Team USA at the World Championships, both times playing in 7 games, both times accumulating 1 point and 14 penalty minutes, for a record of 1-1-2 and 28 PIMs in 14 international games.

All 3 of these cards are from photo shoots and were manufactured by Upper Deck for the 2005-06 season; what I like the most about them is that between them, I have all three colours of the Bruins' jersey: black, yellow, and white/yellow. The card on top is from the 2005-06 Hot Prospects set, Hot Materials sub-set, and is card #HM-AA, licensed for use by Fleer. The card in the middle is from the 2005-06 Upper Deck Series 2 set, the Rookie Threads insert set (card #RT-AA); there is an autograph variant, but I have never seen it. Finally, the card on the bottom is from the 2005-06 Fleer Ultra set, the Rookie Uniformity sub-set, and is card #RU-AA.

Randy Ladouceur: 3 Autographed Cards

Randy Ladouceur was a heck of a robust stay-at-home defenseman who had a very precise ''first pass'' but somehow often was relegated to being a ''plus'' player because the players he'd pass to made more passes before a goal was eventually scored. Despite often missing upwards of 10 games per season, he managed to accumulate over 100 penalty minutes in 6 different seasons and over 90 in two more. He retired one season short of playing his 1000th game.

A tremendous leader, he would often get more points in the playoffs than in the regular season preceding it; he was the last Detroit Red Wings player to wear #19 before Steve Yzerman, and was named the Hartford Whalers' captain after Ron Francis was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is why I love the three cards above, all depicting him with the 'C' on his chest, all from the Whalers, a defunct team.

The card on the left is from the 1991-92 Pro Set set, Captains sub-set (card #573); the card in the middle is from Score's 1992-93 Score (Bilingual Canadian Edition) set (card #61); and the card on the right is from Pro Set's 1992-93 Parkhurst set (card #289).

He is currently Randy Cunneyworth's assistant with the Hamilton Bulldogs, which is where I sent these cards and my fan letter on November 18th; the cards were sent back, signed clearly in blue sharpie, on December 20th, just a month later, a great return, especially when you factor in the fact that the Randys are a two-man team with no other assistants sharing the workload of teaching the Future Habs the basics of the game and the work ethics of professionals.

In the NHL, he has twice been Paul Maurice's assistant - with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs.