Monday, February 27, 2012

Steve Penney: 3 Autographed Cards

I started following hockey a bit during the 1984-85 season and more seriously in 1985-86, when the Montréal Canadiens won an unexpected Stanley Cup on the strength of a miracle performance by rookie goaltender Patrick Roy.

Before Roy, the Habs' net belonged to youngster Steve Penney, who also hails from Ste-Foy, a suburb of Québec City; Penney tended the nets for 54 games in 1984-85, a rare feat at the time, especially for a rookie.

Speaking of his rookie year, the card below is from Topps' 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set (card #269), Penney's rookie card:
OPC was good for taking most of their pictures for their cards between plays or during pre-game warm-ups, and in the case of goalies, many without a helmet, sporting a towel around their necks as was customary for back-ups at the time.
The card above is from Topps' 1985-86 O-Pee-Chee set (card #4), the season where Penney got a Stanley Cup, serving as Roy's back-up, although the league forgot to engrave his name on the trophy. Still, the Habs gave him a ring and put him in the team's picture.
Penney was kind enough to include the above card as a bonus, one in which he appears in the team's home (white) uniform, which was almost impossible to get from 80s OPC cards. This card is from the 2008 Molson Export Montréal Canadiens Alumni set, created as a complement to the 1999 set in time for the team's centennial.

Ironically, superstar blogger Sal had the same three cards signed at the beginning of the season.

I sent Penney the two O-Pee-Chee cards and a fan letter explaining that his years with the Habs (and Roy's, of course) were what inspired me to be a goalie as a kid on February 13th, 2012. He added the Molson card, signed all three in blue sharpie with his number (37) tagged at the end, and I received them back on February 22nd. Barely more than a week later! What a guy!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Réjean Houle: 6 Autographed Items

Réjean Houle is a very affable man. If Jean Béliveau defines class, Houle defines generosity. Whether it was as a player, a team ambassador, even when he was the Montréal Canadiens' general manager, he was always available to meet and greet fans at games and charity events - the complete opposite of current GM Pierre Gauthier.

I had met Houle in person and written about it (and his career) in 2010, but I've come into possession of a few of his Habs' cards of late and decided to write him on February 13th, 2012, sending him a fan letter praising his work in creating the Habs' Alumni Association from scratch (another very generous move) with three cards, and he sent back not just the 3 cards, but threw in the Molson Export one and signed the two index cards I use as protection - and I received them on the 21st - barely a week later! Short of delivering them to me in person, I don't know what else he could have done.

He signed everything in black sharpie, adding his playing number (15) on the index cards as well.

Here's a look at the cards:

These two cards are identical - except for the state they're in. They're from Topps' 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee set (card #183). It doesn't show too much in the scan, but they carry a typical OPC flaw: they weren't cut evenly - the one on the left has less white space on top, more at the bottom than the one on the left.

This card is my favourtie Houle card - yes, even more than his Québec Nordiques one from the previous post. It's from the 1978-79 O-Pee-Chee collection from Topps (card #227, my third autographed card from that set), and shows Houle sporting a black eye. He wasn't a fighter, but he never backed away from anything either.

And finally a 1999 Molson Export Habs card like the one he'd signed for me in person - except he added his number to it that first time.

Great stuff!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Brock Trotter Autographed Card

Although Brock Trotter went undrafted, the Manitoba native attracted quite a bit of attention in his last two seasons of College Hockey, playing for the University Of Denver Pioneers (5 points in 5 games in his first go, then 40 in 40 in 2006-07, and 31 in 24 games in 2007-08, as he finished the season with the Hamilton Bulldogs after signing with the Montréal Canadiens).

Known as a gifted offensive center, he felt he deserved a better shot at playing in the higher leagues and left the Bulldogs after the 2009-10 season to join the famed Dinamo Riga of the KHL, only to return to the Habs' organization last summer with a two-way contract.

When it looked like he wouldn't make the team yet again this season, the Habs traded him to the Phoenix Coyotes for fourth-liner Petteri Nokelainen so he could have a shot at making a weaker offensive team.

I got Trotter to sign this card in blue sharpie at training camp before this season started.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stan Smyl: 3 Autographed Cards

Welcome to my childhood! Stan Smyl was already the Vancouver Canucks' captain when I started paying attention to the NHL in the mid-80s. He was viewed as the Canucks' best player for most of his time, and held many team records, most of which have since been surpassed.

Among them: most points in a single season (88), most points in a single month (31), and the career leader in goals, assists and points. The goals and points marks were beaten by both Trevor Linden and Markus Naslund - his successors as captain - while the assists mark has been bested by Henrik Sedin.

Still, as the original Captain Canuck, he wore the classic Canucks uniforms I thought defined the team - I always hated the blue and green ones they brought back from purgatory a couple of years ago:
I barely knew the 'V' jerseys and, quite honestly, I always found them rather repulsive - and the yellow 'home' jersey was the worst of all. I like the black 'V' more than the retro/current/first ones, though. This one is from the 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set (card #356) by Topps.
These two, however, to me, are the quintessential Canucks uniforms, as well as those I identify with the most from my childhood. The card on the left is from the first set I ever collected seriously, Topps' 1986-87 O-Pee-Chee (card #50), where my parents would let me buy a 35-cents pack of 7 cards for every errand I ran for them at the convenience store. Notice the patch on the jersey - it commemorates the city of Vancouver hosting the World's Fair in 1986. The card on the right is from the 1987-88 Topps set (card #4).

I sent Smyl these three cards and a fan letter care of the Canucks, where he is currently the assistant general manager, on January 27th, 2012, and got them all back signed in a fading black sharpie on February 16th - the same day I got these Guy Lafleur cards.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Guy Lafleur: 5 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

Few players can claim to have been the best in a season, let alone in a decade or a generation. Guy Lafleur, however, sure can. His tenure with the Montréal Canadiens alone got him elected into the Hall Of Fame in his first year of eligibility (1988), and you'd figure he was a shoe-in, what with 1346 points (the team's all-time leading scorer), on the strength of 518 goals and 728 assists in 14 seasons.

He is tied for the team record of goals in a season (60) with his former linemate Steve Shutt, while the center of that line, Jacques Lemaire, is now widely regarded as one of the three best coaches in NHL history (with Scotty Bowman and Toe Blake) - and the reason why Lafleur retired in the first place, putting an unusual amount of pressure on the superstar to play a defensively-minded game rather than being the offensive catalyst.

He holds the team's points in a season record (136) and was the first player in NHL history to have six consecutive 50-goal and 100-point seasons. He has 3 Art Ross trophies (1976, 1977, 1978), 2 Hart trophies (league MVP in 1977 and 1978), 3 Lester B. Pearson Awards (now the Ted Lindsay trophy for the best player as voted by the players, 1976, 1977, 1978) and a Conn Smythe Trophy (1977) to go with his 5 Stanley Cups and 1976 Canada Cup.

One of the most beloved players in Habs history, the Forum crowd would enter chants of ''Guy! Guy! Guy!'' every time he touched the puck, scored, or was named one of the game's three stars.

Feeling he had been forced into retirement unjustly, and with the lingering feeling that he had a few more goals left in him, Lafleur trained like a boxer to get back in shape and attempted a comeback in time for the 1988-89 season, with the New York Rangers, becoming the second (after Gordie Howe, before Mario Lemieux) of three players to come back to the NHL after being named to the Hall Of Fame. In his first game back to the Forum, Lafleur netted a hat trick (3 goals!) against the best goalie of all time - Patrick Roy - in a 7-5 Rangers loss; he was named the first star, to the usual chants of ''Guy! Guy! Guy!'' that rang through the Forum for the whole game.

He was sent to the Québec Nordiques with head coach Michel Bergeron in the off-season and, despite diminished ice time, was among the best players on the team, even earning an invitation to the 1991 All-Star Game, an invitation he declined, stating ''Joe Sakic has been by far our best and most deserving player, I withdraw myself so he can attend as our team's representative''. Sakic was named, and Lafleur was subsequently invited as ''the commisionner's choice'', an honor for a soon-to-be-retiring player of high caliber he shared with Bobby Smith that year.

Now onto the cards!

First, the oldest Guy Lafleur card in my collection, from Topps' 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set (card #187, the In Action sub-set):
Hair in the wind, about to take off at full speed, a complete view of his whole body position and uniform, and even the stick's curved blade. I like this card so much I even have two more of them (unsigned).

And now for some 2008-09 cards by Upper Deck:
The card above is from the special-edition 2008-09 Montreal Canadiens Centennial set, the Trophy Winners sub-set (card #256). I thought it'd be cool to have an off-ice card signed. He is pictured with all the trophies he won in the 1977-78 season.

But UD went all out for these cards:
Believe it or not, these two are variants of the same card, from the 2008-09 O-Pee-Chee set (card #579, the Legends sub-set). The card on the left is the regular version, while the one on the right is the ''retro'' variant. Even the backs were different:

(continued on the next post)

Guy Lafleur: 5 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

(continued from the previous post)

But the real prize of this mailing might be the one card I had of him as a member of the Québec Nordiques, where the signature shines the brightest:

From Score's 1990-91 Score set (card #290), as he is about to enter his final season, having just passed Maurice ''The Rocket'' Richard on the all-time goals list (The Rocket remains ahead of him on the Montréal Canadiens' all-time goals scorers, though). One of my favourite uniforms of all sports.

I sent Lafleur these 5 cards and a fan letter on February 10th, 2012 (to his home) and got them back less than a week later, on the 16th, signed in magnificent blue sharpie with his legendary number (10) added on the end. He is class incarnate, still responding to fan mail in record time despite owning a helicopter business and two restaurants where he makes appearances daily.

As much as he is beloved, I think he gives back even more than he receives in that department. I don't think anyone other than Gary Carter and Jean Béliveau have ever given back so much love and time to the community.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Peter Budaj: 3 Autographed Cards

I sent Peter Budaj 4 cards and a fan letter care of the Montréal Canadiens on December 21st, 2011 and got these three back signed in black sharpie on February 9th, 2012 - a very quick turnaround. No idea what happened to the other card, and don't remember what it was, either. But three is more than alright.
Budaj started his career with the Colorado Avalanche, backing David Aebischer, then José Théodore during the 2005-06 season. He eventually became the starter (backed by Andrew Raycroft) before taking a backseat to Craig Anderson. On the left, from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Rookie Class set (card #35), you can see the Avs' original away jersey, while on the right, from UD's 2008-09 Victory set (card #143) is the Reebok version of that jersey, pretty similar but absolutely ugly, where the black and white from the sleeves is replaced with piping on the chest, and an additional blue stripe appears for no reason under the arms.
On the first day of free agency last summer, when many were hoping the Habs would sign Théodore, Mathieu Garon or Jean-Sébastien Giguère to back up Carey Price,  the Montréal Canadiens instead turned to Budaj - for two seasons. So far this year, despite going 2-5-1 (with a 2.73 GAA and .906 save %), Budaj has played as well as Price, he just hasn't been very lucky. This card showing him in training camp (before he got his current Ned Flanders-clad helmet) is from Panini's 2011-12 Score set (card #260).

I like that Budaj also added his respective jersey numbers on the card - 31 for the Avalanche, and 30 for the Canadiens, a number previously worn by star enforcer Chris Nilan.

Devan Dubnyk: 3 Autographed Cards

Devan Dubnyk is a top goaltending prospect from the Edmonton Oilers organization; he was so promising, in fact, that they chose him over Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. I sent him these three cards and a fan letter - care of the Oilers - on March 25th, 2011, and got them all back, signed in black sharpie, with his number (40) tagged at the end (even though he wore #30 in two of the three pictures) on October 27th, 2011.
Pictured above are two different seasons' worth of Kamloops Blazers' home jerseys. The card on the left is from In The Game's 2004-05 Heroes And Prospects set (card #71), while the one on the right is from the 2005-06 Heroes And Prospects set (card #178). I like the consistency of these sets, in that they stay similar enough to be recognized, but different enough to figure out they're from different seasons. Kind of cool that he played for the Blazers and was drafted by the Oilers, who share the same uniform colours.
The third card is from In The Game's 2007-08 Between The Pipes set, the Future Stars sub-set (card #12). Sure, it's a poorly-lit low-resolution picture as the BTP sets often have, but where else are you going to find respectable AHL cards?

Dubnyk played 35 games with the Oilers last season, going 12-13-8 with a 2.71 GAA and a .916 save %; he's set to play more games this season, having already appeared in 27 games (10-12-1), with a 3.01 GAA and .908 save %, as they finally have playoff hopes.

Monday, February 6, 2012

José Theodore Jersey Card

Year in and year out, these days, it seems José Theodore gets no respect. He gets signed to small-ish contracts and constantly has to battle for his ice time with younger goalies.

This season, he stands at the middle of all league stats with a 14-9-5 record, a 2.50 GAA and a .916 save percentage with a free-falling Florida Panthers team.

Last season, with the Minnesota Wild, he went 15-11-3 (2.71 GAA and .916%), and the year before that, with the Washington Capitals, he went an astounding 30-7-7 (2.81 GAA and .911%) on a team that was going all cylinders on offense and didn't care about D at all.

José still has game, and should play in the NHL for at least 3 more good years.

This card is from Upper Deck's 2001-02 Mask Collection set, the Super Stoppers goalie jersey sub-set (card #SS-TH). It depicts him as a member of the Montréal Canadiens (another huge swatch), the year where he was going to win the Hart, Vezina and Crozier trophies. With the stats he's keeping, they're going to have a hard time keeping him out of the Hall Of Fame someday...

I got this for $1.99 on Ebay a few years back, when he was with the Colorado Avalanche...

Matt Duchene Jersey Card

For a guy who went third overall at the 2009 draft (behind John Tavares and Victor Hedman), Matt Duchene is carving out quite a career for himself. He is already the youngest player in Colorado Avalanche history to reach 100 points (beating out my all-time favourite player Joe Sakic, who spent an extra year at the junior level), and youngest ever to lead the team in scoring, the following season.

This season, he hasn't played since December 29th because of an injury, but he did gather 24 points in 39 games, including his very first career hat trick on November 4th.

This card is #AF-MD in Upper Deck's 2010-11 SP Game-Used set, and what I like about it the most isn't the unusually big swatch but the fact that it is numbered #1/100... that's right, I got the very first chunk of tissue tagged onto a card from this jersey, for this season. Everything about this card screams ''Awesome''!