Friday, March 30, 2012

Andrei Markov: 3 Autographed Cards

For the past decade or so, Andrei Markov has been the best - and most consistent - player for the Montréal Canadiens. His savant, instinctive style of play and deft, unbelievable through-3-opponents diagonal passes have made the team's powerplay a force to be reckoned with and a top-5 threat in the league for years. Well, until Carey Price slit his tendon - accidentally, of course - prompting a 2-season streak of freak injuries to occur, and the powerplay to become a joke.

His importance to the team is such that I would have chosen him as team captain after Saku Koivu's departure. He was the best player, he had the longest tenure on the roster, and was coming out of his shell, a long way from the shy introvert of seasons past. He had even shown leadership skills by contesting calls from referees on the ice, and coming into contact with one, and taken to face the press every night.

It would also have been fitting, for such a storied team who played USSR All-Star teams on several occasions to name its first official Russian captain during the Centennial season (Alex Kovalev served as replacement captain in the past few seasons when Koivu went down to injuries).

Speaking of the Centennial, this card from Upper Deck's amazing 2009-10 Artifacts set (card #88) shows Markov wearing the team's home (red) uniform with both commemorative patches on the shoulders: the ''100'' logo on the right shoulder, and the All Star Game logo on the left.
The 2010-11 Artifacts card from UD (card #31) - below, left - also sports the duel patches, while the one on the right, from Panini's 2011-12 Score set (card #255) only has the ''100'' logo on the right shoulder - the picture was taken in the 2009-10 season, when the Habs didn't host the All Star Game (they did so during the 2008-09 season, in February 2009, as the actual 100 year ''date'' commemorated the fact that the team was founded in 1909, split over two seasons because these don't match with calendar years.
I sent Mr. Markov these 3 cards and a fan letter detailing why he was my favourite Hab on February 13th, 2012, and got them all back signed in blue sharpie, with his number (79) added at the end, on March 29th, 2012. Honestly, I didn't think I was getting these back - I thought players with his stature may have been ''too good'' to respond to fan mail. But he did, in 5 weeks' time, during which he also came back to play 8 games so far. And while he looked a little bit rusty in his skating, he retains his position as best passer on the team. And he's acting as a mentor for hard-hitting rookie Alexei Emelin.

With GM Pierre Gauthier gone, I no longer fear Markov will be traded (he's traded away most of my favourite players except Markov, Tomas Plekanec and P.K. Subban) and am confident we'll have a terrific season next year.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Joel Quenneville: 4 Autographed Cards

I sent Joel Quenneville these 4 cards and a fan letter on January 27th, 2012, and got them back, signed in thin blue sharpie on March 19th, 2012. When I wrote him, Quenneville's Chicago Blackhawks (he's the head coach) were on a steady drop but have since regained form, winning 8 of their last 10 games, one of the losses coming into overtime, thus benefiting from the Seb Hell Bump.

He was born on September 15th - a day after me... in he same year my mom was born, 1958. Drafted 21st overall (in the second round) in the 1978 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, he went on to play with the Colorado Rockies, New Jersey Devils, Hartford Whalers and Washington Capitals, but he spent most of my childhood (1983-1990) with the Whalers. He was a tough, puck-moving defenseman who racked up 705 penalty minutes in 803 NHL games to go with his 54 goals and 136 assists.

But that's only half his story: his major accomplishments lie in the coaching department. As an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche, he has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup for the magical 1995-96 win. As a head coach, he led to St. Louis Blues to 7 straight playoff berths, before getting fired during the 2003-04 season, during which he was still 29-23-7-2, good for 67 points in 61 games. He won the Jack Adams trophy for the 1999-2000 season.

He then coached the Avalanche for three seasons, after which he became a scout for the Blackhawks. As soon as his deal was signed, everyone knew it was a matter of time before he took the head coaching job there, and it took only 4 games for the Hawks to replace their legendary captain of the 80s, Denis Savard, with Quenneville at the beginning of the 2008-09 season, where he took them to the Conference Finals. The next year, they won the Cup.

With Kevin Dineen (Florida Panthers), Randy Cunneyworth (Montréal Canadiens), and Dave Tippett (Phoenix Coyotes), he is one of 4 current NHL coaches who has played with the Whalers, which is more than 13% of NHL head coaches. Factor in the assistant coaches (such as Randy Ladouceur in Montréal and Sean Burke and Ulf Samuelsson in Phoenix), and the numbers become astounding. They may not have won championships, but they knew about the game, that's for sure.

Now onto the cards:
These cards show the early-80s Whalers green (away) uniform, which included a whale on the shoulders, dating back to the team's WHA roots. The card on the right is from Topps' 1986-87 O-Pee-Chee set (card #118), showing Quenneville getting ready for a face-off, but the card on the left is really an OPC staple, from the 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee set (card #145): if you look closely, many things on the jersey and helmet look off... that's because he'd spent the previous season with the Rockies and didn't have a picture in the Whalers' uniform yet, so OPC, in all its wisdom, decided to airbrush (paint) a uniform on an existing picture. That's why the W look eerie.
From Topps' 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set (card #77), a rare card featuring the Whalers' white (home) jersey of the early-80s. Back then, the NHL didn't have an exclusivity deal with Getty Images to own all pictures taken in amphitheaters as it does now, so card companies had to hire their own photographers to get material for their products, as they mostly hired guys who stayed around the New York area (where 3 teams call home) and, occasionally, Washington, D.C., which meant very few teams got to be featured in their home (white) jerseys. And very few photographers ventured outside the East Coast's major cities to come to Toronto, Detroit, Los Angeles or Montréal - let alone small towns like Hartford and Québec.
This is the Whalers as I remember them the best - the same green jersey, but without the whale on the shoulders, from Topps' 1988-89 O-Pee-Chee set (card #3). Like all the head coaches I mentioned previously who have played for the team, Quenneville sports the assistant captain's 'A' in this one. Captain Ron Francis has so far declined to take the head coaching job twice for the Carolina Hurricanes, opting for assistant coach and assistant-GM instead.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ladislav Smid Autographed Card

Ladislav Smid is a towering defenseman barely entering his prime. He has spent his entire career with the Edmonton Oilers despite having been drafted by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks - he was part of the trade that sent Chris Pronger to the Ducks and granted them their Stanley Cup. It seems Mrs. Pronger thought Edmonton's winters were too harsh, so Chris asked out of the permafrost and said hello to California.

Smid was almost dealt to the Ottawa Senators in the failed Dany Heatley trade (the Ottawa winger refused to waive his no-trade clause to play in permafrost, and instead went to play in California), but wound up staying in Edmonton, where he is now, at 26, an important part of this great, young team.

At 6'3'' and 226 pounds, he is coming into his own, using his speed to sometimes help the offense (his 3 goals this year almost equal the 4 he'd had in his career before the season started), and his physique to play well defensively without taking too many penalties, just 42 minutes in 72 games so far. He is also a +1 as we speak.

This card is from Upper Deck's 2007-08 MVP collection (card #128), back when MVP was a stand-alone set - they've been inserted in the other UD sets these past couple of seasons, as ''bonus'' or ''inserts'', but until recently could be had in all-MVP packs. Visually, I think these are nice, the white border being pretty much an Upper Deck staple, and I like the facsimile autograph as a look.

But for the autograph collector, having a player sign next to a copy of his signature feels weird. Smid signed this card for me - the only one I had handy - in blue sharpie, at the Bell Centre earlier this season, on November 8th. The Oilers won 3-1, and he finished the night at +2. It was a weird night for me, personally, as my life seemingly started slipping from my grasp as I was watching my childhood team beat my hometown team, wearing my old Wayne Gretzky jersey, learning my ex-girlfriend - who was watching the game with me - was now seeing another guy.

Life - it's made of ups and downs.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ginger Rodgers Swatch Card

Ginger Rodgers (born Virginia Katherine McMath) was a superstar like few others. Mostly remembered for her film/dance performances in numerous films alongside Fred Astaire, she also ruled the radio, theater and television.

She won an Academy Award for her performance in the 1940 film Kitty Foyle.

As is customary with recent Panini products, this swatch card is the same as the regular #7 card of the 2011 Americana set's Matinee Legends sub-set, but with a hole cut in the design to accommodate the piece of clothing, which Panini guarantees has been worn by Mrs. Rodgers, as is mentioned at the bottom of the back of the card. The swatch cards are limited to 499 (I have #130).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Enrico Ciccone: 4 Autographed Items

Enrico Ciccone was a really tough guy. In his first year in juniors (for the LHJMQ's Shawinigan Cataractes), he accumulated 334 penalty minutes to go with his 2 goals and 14 points. Every year, he got better at playing the game, as can be attested by his 4 goals (28 points) in 40 games in his final junior year with the Trois-Rivières Draveurs, but didn't lose any of his mean streak, still managing to amass 227 penalty minutes. Yes, on average, that's over 5 minutes a game.

Which is precisely why the Minnesota North Stars drafted him in 1990. However, they only kept him for 42 total games split in two seasons - in which he still managed to garner 163 penalty minutes and was even (0) in plus/minus.

This card shows him wearing the soon-to-be-Dallas Stars uniform:

The card is from Topps' 1992-93 O-Pee-Che Premier set (card #122). It serves as his ''most valuable'' rookie card, but is still a ''common'' card.

The North Stars traded him to the Washington Capitals to complete a prior trade (he was the so-called ''future considerations'').

The card on the left is from the 1993-94 Parkhurst set (card #219), at this point manufactured by Upper Deck, after a few years of being Pro Set's ''high end'' product. It has a pretty good view of his goalie, Don Beaupre, and his wonderful DC cityscape mask. The card on the right is from Upper Deck's 1993-94 Series 2 collection (card #528).

I sent Ciccone these three cards and a fan letter on February 28th, 2012, and got all three signed in black sharpie, with his jersey number added (39), and the Parkhurst card even personalized ''À Sébastian''. He also included the signed index card below, which reads ''À mon ami Sébastian'' (''to my friend Sébastian''). I was able to reach him through the sports analysis show Le Match, which runs on new station TVA Sports. He also moonlights as the station's colour commentator for Ottawa Senators games while station owner and media mogul Pierre-Karl Péladeau awaits the opportunity to put the Québec Nordiques back on the air.

For the past decade or so, Ciccone has been one of the best-spoken and best-informed spots talk show panelists, a situation due in part to his being an active player agent who knows the CBA by heart, but also because he is actually one of the smartest ones out there. I may not agree with him all the time (although I do more than half the time), but even when I disagree, he is usually the most convincing on his end of the spectrum.

Ciccone also played for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks, Vancouver Canucks, and Montréal Canadiens. He played for Tampa and Washington twice each, actually. He also spent time in the AHL and IHL farm clubs for all these teams.

Murray Bannerman: 3 Autographed Cards

Murray Bannerman is an All-Star-caliber goalie (two AS games) who played all of his NHL career (minus one period) with the Chicago Blackhawks. He started as the legendary Tony Esposito's backup and pretty much took the job away from 1982 onwards.

I sent these three cards and a fan letter to his home on February 10th, 2012 (I could have also tried the Hawks' address, seeing as he still does charitable work with other team alumni) and received all three back, signed in black sharpie, on March 3rd, 2012. Three weeks for a legendary return!
This card is special for so many reasons. The Hawks' jersey, of course, has always been among the greatest in sports, the picture at the bottom with the mustache rules, and catching Bannerman mid-movement, skating from one side of the net to the other, skates in a 'T' like you learn as a kid, reminiscent of the Hanrahan's move in Slap Shot when he's told his wife is ''a lesbian'', before he goes nuts The card itself is from Topps' 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set (card #27), a beautiful set.
As I mentioned before (in this Stan Smyl post in particular), the above card is from the first set I actually collected, purchasing pack after pack, at a rate of at least one per day (35 cents for 7 cards and a stick of gum was perfect for my 8-year old self), Topps' 1986-87 O-Pee-Chee set (card #180). It features Bannerman in an idle position, waiting for play to start again, with a nice view of the brand of equipment he wore (Brown).
Of course, it's nearly impossible to mention Murray Bannerman without talking about his mask, one of the most recognizable in the history of the NHL, as featured in this card from In The Game's 2010-11 Between The Pipes set (card #148, part of the Greats Of The Game sub-set). It features an aboriginal head (not a geisha as some have awkwardly suggested) that is totally in tune with the team's logo. These will soon be framed and hung with my Glenn Hall Autographed Framed Lithograph on a ''Hawks' goalies'' section of my living room wall.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Clark Gillies Autographed Card

It's a weird choice to feature Clark Gillies in Upper Deck's 2002-03 Foundations set and picture him as a member of the Buffalo Sabres rather than the New York Islanders, the team with whom he spent the better part of his Hall Of Fame-worthy career.

As a matter of fact, Gillies even captained the Islanders just a couple of seasons after winning the Memorial Cup with the Regina Pats - before relinquishing it to star defenseman Denis Potvin right before winning the Stanley Cup 4 straight times.

While he scored 30 goals or more in 6 of 7 seasons during his heyday, Gillies' 697 points in 958 career games pales in comparison with other Hall Of Fame statistics. Then again, he was inducted in 2002, alongside Rod Langway and Bernie Federko - star players in the 1980s, sure, but not indispensable players. After all, it isn't the Hall Of All Star Game Representatives, it's a place to immortalize, well, immortals.

Still, he was affable and fan-friendly when I met him at a HoF function in 2005 or 2006, where he took the time to sign my card in black sharpie and shake my hand.

He isn't related to Islanders enforcer Trevor Gillies but is the Minnesota Wild's Colton Gillies' uncle.