Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sean Burke: 7 Autographed Items (Part 1)

Second post in a row featuring an ex-NHLer and current goalie coach - this time the man who made the Phoenix Coyotes a powerhouse in front of the net and got Mike Smith to (finally) play up to his potential: Sean Burke.

From the very start, Burke was widely heralded as a star-in-the-making, from single-handedly leading Canada to a silver medal at the 1986 World Juniors to helping an amateur-led Canada to 4th place at the 1988 Calgary Olympics behind professional-laden teams USSR (Soviet Union), Finland and Sweden. He then went on to play 11 games with the New Jersey Devils, lead them to the playoffs for the first time, beat powerhouses New York Islanders and Washington Capitals in the first two rounds of the playoffs only to lose to the Boston Bruins in 7 games in the Prince-Of-Wales Conference finals.The following season, while still qualifying as a rookie, he was invited to the All Star Game - the first ever rookie goalie to do so.

During this time - the first Olympics I watched from end to end, my budding passion for the sport both as a fan and a goaltender - my idol was Patrick Roy, like most kids my age. But because Roy was widely recognized as the best goalie in the world at that time, he was unattainable for kids like me; even waiting in line at events to get an autograph of Roy seemed impossible, because he attracted crowds so big the odds were so massively against it happening. At that time, Olympic hero Burke graced the cover of Hockey Today, which Hockey Canada gave all of the players in my area for free, for some reason:
Just like that, Burke made his way on my teenage wall, alongside Roy, Guns N' Roses, Lita Ford and N.W.A., and would later be joined there by Pearl Jam and topless women.

And while my butterfly style was very Roy-inspired, my physical stature was promising to near that of Burke, who stood at 6'4'' and weighed in over 200 pounds (usually close to 210). And it seemed Burke was cited more often as a spokesperson for Hockey Canada than Roy, which made him closer to us kids than Roy, despite his playing in the U.S.

Another thing that made Burke ''realer'' than Roy was that Roy had his pads tailor-made by the Habs' trainer, who made his own, ''house'' brand Lefebvre, so kids who weren't rich could never wear the same equipment as his; Burke was all about Brian's, and so was I.

So I sent Burke a long, heart-felt fan letter and the 6 following cards on March 5th, 2012, and got all of them back, signed in blue sharpie, on Friday the 13th (of April, 2012) - with half of them personalized ''To Sebastian''; he even signed one of the index cards I sent in for protection, personalizing it, and adding me ''Best Wishes'', which may have made my year:
Now onto the cards, starting with his second year card from his Devils' days, where he kind of looks like Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network:
It's from Topps' 1989-90 O-Pee-Chee set (card #92). His rookie card also showed him without a helmet... someone at Topps must have found him cute!

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Sean Burke: 7 Autographed Items (Part 2)

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The greedy Devils got into a nasty contract dispute with Burke, which made him sit out the 1991-92 season, during which he went back to Team Canada and played in the 1992 Olympics, winning a silver medal. The Devils then sent his rights to the Hartford Whalers with Eric Weinrich for Bobby Holik and Jay Pandolfo. The next 3 cards are of Burke as a Whaler:
Top-left, showing him wearing the Whalers' white (home) jersey is card #127 in Pinnacle Brands' 1994-95 Select set; top-right is a beauty, from the 1995-96 Parkhurst International set (card #96) by Parkhurst, which was then a stand-alone brand after Pro Set went bankrupt and Upper Deck reneged on their distribution deal. The card at the bottom is from Fleer/Skybox's 1996-97 Skybox Impact set (card #52), with a nice view of the away jersey from the back.

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Sean Burke: 7 Autographed Items (Part 3)

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After the Whalers, Burke was wrongly viewed as having peaked and played for 5 teams in 6 seasons before settling in with the Phoenix Coyotes and regaining his All Star form, going to mid-season classic twice again, and getting nominated for both the Hart and Vezina trophies.

After Phoenix, he went to the Philadelphia Flyers for a second stint there, then the Tampa Bay Lightning and Los Angeles Kings. My final two cards are from the Lightning:
Both were manufactured by Upper Deck, the one on the left (slightly smudged) being from the 2005-06 SP Authentic set (card #91), while the one on the right is from the 2006-07 Victory set (card #179). Both sets come back every year in similar designs, which are simple yet pretty.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rick Wamsley: 3 Autographed Cards

I've liked the Ottawa Senators for a long time. First, their jerseys caught my eye, and when the Daniel Alfredsson era began (and the Alexei Yashin era ended), I kept an interested eye on them. And, since then, the Sens have pretty much always consistently gone further in the playoffs than my hometown Habs, and I've found myself rooting for them more often than not.

Jason Spezza remains, in my mind, one of the premier passers in the league, Alfie is a great captain (second to maybe only Jarome Iginla), and they always seem to turn out having great talent on defense.

More often than not, goaltending has been blamed for their lack of playoff success (i.e. that elusive Stanley Cup), but from Peter Sidorkiewicz getting All Star nods to Ron Tugnutt to Patrick Lalime, goalies have always done what was expected of them for this team. And while Pascal Leclaire's streak of bad luck only got worse in Ottawa, he didn't fare badly at all and, this season, Craig Anderson has done an admirable job - and so has Ben Bishop in a relief role.

And one person to thank for the Sens' recent rise in goaltending prowess is undoubtedly goalie coach Rick Wamsley, a former Cup and Jennings winner himself, who had previously signed these two cards for me, almost 2 years ago.

Now, I was hoping the Sens would send the New York Rangers packing tonight, but it looks like there'll be a Game 7 in that series...

But back to Wamsley. I wrote him a new fan letter to go along with these 3 cards I sent him on February 24, 2012 and got them all back today, April 23rd, 2012. They show him wearing the colours of his first two NHL teams, firstly with the Montréal Canadiens:

The card on the left is from Topps' 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set (card #195), coming off his Jennings-worth season; the card on the right, featuring a helmet-less low-resolution picture of Wamsley sporting the back-up's ''towel around the neck'' classic attire (in the 80s), is from In The Game's 2010-11 Between The Pipes set (card #145, the Greats Of The Game sub-set).

And this card, showing him with the beautiful 80s-era St. Louis Blues uniform:

This is card #240 of Topps' 1986-87 O-Pee-Chee set, a beautiful and classic one, showing Wamsley skating around during a pre-game warmup against the New Jersey Devils.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Travis Moen: 5 Autographed Items

This is a tremendous success!

I sent Travis Moen these 3 cards, 2 self-made 4X6 pictures and a fan letter on December 21st (2011) and got them all back, signed in black sharpie, with his often-jersey number (32) tagged onto the end (even on the one where he's sporting #59!) on April 29th, 2012.

Moen was a draft pick of the Calgary Flames, and as a grinding semi-sniper who doesn't back away from a fight, should have been a shoe-in to play there his whole career, but they let him go unsigned and he resurfaced with the Chicago Blackhawks, as can be attested here:
Yes, it's his rookie card from Topps' 2003-04 Bowman set (card #141), where the picture is slightly out of focus and his face is a dark pink - that's not the scan! It's a great view of the Hawks' white (then-home) jersey, though!

He only played one season with Chicago before being traded to Anaheim for what was their final season as the Mighty Ducks. As they became the Anaheim Ducks, he won the Stanley Cup playing on the best checking line in the league with Selke candidate Samuel Pahlsson and famous brother Rob Niedermayer, scoring his first multiple-goal game in the regular season, an overtime winner in the first round and two game-winning goals in the Final - including the Cup-clinching goal.

This picture is from the pre-game warm-up of a Cup game:
After a short, trade-deadline stint with the San Jose Sharks, Moen became a free agent and was promptly snagged by the Montréal Canadiens to - unfairly - become their top enforcer. While he never backs away from a good brawl, he is still just a middleweight and doesn't instigate violence, just regulates it; also, it's unfair to use him in only spare minutes when he has a decent hockey sense, plays sound positionally and has a decent shot. As a matter of fact, before falling to injury - a concussion - he was second on the team in goals with 9, in 48 games - a team which produced two 30-goal scorers this season.

This picture shows him wearing the  Habs' Centennial patch on the right shoulder on his red (home) jersey:
And the cards show him wearing the white (away) uniform:
The card on the left, from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Series 2 set (card #355) show him wearing the regular uniform, while the one on the right, from Panini's 2011-12 Score collection (card #250), is from the 2011 Heritage Classic in Calgary (a 4-0 Flames win on an incredible Miikka Kiprusoff performance), as can be attested by both the patch on his chest and the black under his eyes.

Moen got some flack in his first two seasons in Montréal because management sold him as a 15-goal, 30-fight supercop who can either dominate on the third line or be adequate on the second, but then proceeded to have him fill 4th-line duties and minutes wit hthe occasional first-line promotion to punish someone else.

I, for one, would rather he re-sign here for two more years than see him leave. He's a workhorse who'll do as he's told, which is a perfect example for all the kids we've got coming up. And he's dependable. And tough. And, obviously, respects fans enough to sign 5 of their items.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alex Auld: 3 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

(continued from the previous post)

But the crown jewel of my Auld cards is this one from his days with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL:

I actually had it in 2010 but forgot to include it in my first mailing, so that played a big part in my decision to try my hand at it again this year. It's card #50 in In The Game's 2005-06 Heroes And Prospects set, showing the 6'4'' goalie crouching in his basic stance. Notice how the numbers on the jersey match the type of the Moose's NHL parent team, the Vancouver Canucks, but the jersey's overall design seems closer to the San Jose Sharks' - mixed with the Oakland Seals, a bit.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Alex Auld: 3 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

I must admit I felt weird about sending Alex Auld these three cards and a fan letter on March 9th, care of the Ottawa Senators, seeing as I received these two other cards from him in November 2010, a year and a half ago, but I was worried he might not be play in Canada next season with the Sens counting on Craig Anderson and Ben Bishop in the NHL, with Robin Lehner ready to pounce on an opportunity, so I opted against my better judgement and sent them along - and got all of them back, signed in black sharpie, on April 17th, 2012.

Ironically, the last time I sent him cards, I sent a Sens card while he was with the Montréal Canadiens; this time, I sent two Habs cards while he's back with the Sens...

The card on the left is from In The Game's 2010-11 Between The Pipes set (card #87, the Stars Of The Game insert seb-set) and sees him sporting the Canadiens' red (home) jersey, focusing primarily on his Patrick Roy-clad mask, a sign you won't be playing for the Habs for long if I've ever seen one...

The card on the right is from Panini's 2011-12 Score set (card #335), showing him in the Habs' white (away) jersey, wearing a different mask, and with the classic mention that he's now with another team once perfected by O-Pee-Chee.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Ben Bishop: 3 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

On a night where both his former team (St. Louis Blues) and his present team (Ottawa Senators) are both playing tie-breaking playoff games, it was great to receive these 3 Ben Bishop cards this morning, signed in black sharpie with his jersey number (30) tagged at the end. I sent him these with a fan letter, care of the Senators, exactly a month ago, on March 15th.

Bishop grew up in St. Louis, so it was only natural for the Blues to pick him in the third round of the 2005 draft with the 85th overall pick, and the tallest goalie to ever play in the NHL did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, at training camp before this season, he was the best Blues goalie on the ice; unfortunately, he was also the only one with a two-way contract, and he was sent to the AHL's Peoria Rivermen, whose jersey can be seen below:

That card is from In The Game's 2010-11 Between The Pipes set (card #49, the Future Stars sub-set) - the actual card has much brighter shades of blue and yellow, although it doesn't make it any prettier... the damn Rbk piping leading to the underarms still makes me cringe...

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Ben Bishop: 3 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

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In that vein, while I'm no fan of the current jersey (I very much prefer all the older versions, from the 70s to the 80s to the 90s - yes, even the red-striped Gretzky-era jerseys), the Rbk Blues jerseys are still much better-looking than their AHL counterparts:

The card on the left is from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Power Play box set (card #383), which serves as his rookie card; the card on the right is from Panini's 2011-12 Score set (card #410), in which it is clear his shoulders cover the net even when he's on his knees. His 6'7'' frame coupled with cat-like reflexes made him the best goalie ''not in the NHL'' this season, and likely the Sens' goalie of the future - provided he re-signs there after next season.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Michael Leighton: 4 Autographed Cards

Sure, you could see this post as part of my ''thing for journeymen goaltenders'', but when a guy reaches postseason bliss like Michael Leighton did two years ago, not only getting his team in the Stanley Cup Finals but getting better as the pressure mounted, recording 3 shutouts in a 5-game Conference Finals against the Cinderella team (Montréal Canadiens) and then-favourite for the Conn Smythe (Jaroslav Halak), you're definitely doing something right.

And such was the case with Michael Leighton, who was granted a one-way, two-year extension by the Philadelphia Flyers after his magical run, which included overcoming a 0-3 deficit against the Boston Bruins in the second round, so all the stars seemed aligned.

What he suffers from is the ''too good for the AHL'' (record of 142-117-28, 2.30 GAA and .917%) syndrome, yet no one can honestly say he's got the additional symptom of ''not good enough for the NHL'' with his 2.95 career GAA in the big league to go with his .902%, but at age 30, if someone were to give him a chance, they'd better stick with him.

He was claimed by the Habs off waivers in 2007 but didn't play a single minute, as he ranked behind starter Cristobal Huet (injured for most of Leighton's time in town) and back-ups Halak and David Aebischer. He was then traded for a 7th-round pick right before the draft.

All of these cards being from the same year, they show the Flyers' shift in uniforms, as they moved from their Rbk Edge post-lockout garbs into the 70s-inspired jerseys they wear now. Below, from Panini's 2010-11 Score set (card #498, Stanley Cup Playoff Highlights sub-set), we have their then-away jersey (white). Sure, the Flyers' style is pretty consistent through the years, with the same 3 colours (white, black and orange) alternating on the chest, with the others alternating on the sleeves, but they change them often regardless.
Below, from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Black Diamond set (card #57), the Flyers' then-third, now home (orange) jersey, a throwback to the Bobby Clarke/Broad Street Bullies era.
Here it is again, this time in a ''less black filter on the card'' way, with a view from the front and back:
Again both are from the 2010-11 Score set, the card on top is #10 from the Playoff Heroes insert set, while the one on the bottom is #13 in the Net Cam series. The main difference with ''modern era'' jerseys is the different colour on the sleeve is just for the top half of the arm, not the whole thing. And the name plate on the back is ''70s-style'', a different colour from the jersey.

I sent the Petrolia, Ontario native - considered the first town in North America to ''harvest'' oil - these 4 cards and a fan letter, care of his AHL team the Adirondack Phantoms, on March 9th, 2012, and got them all back, signed in black sharpie with his jersey number (49) tagged at the end, on April 3rd, three weeks later. A very quick return from a trustworthy veteran who deserves to be in the NHL full-time.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Don Beaupre: 3 Autographed Cards

Statistically, Don Beaupre was always near the top of the NHL in its statistics department, usually in the top-5 for goals-against average. He played in two All Star games, once as a member of the Minnesota North Stars (1981) and once representing the Washington Capitals (1993, in Montréal). He also played in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1981, a season during which he split goaltending duties with the legendary Gilles Meloche - my friend Martin Itfor, an important hockey blogger, is a huge fan.

The card below has been with me as far as I can remember, from Topps' 1986-87 O-Pee-Chee set (card #89):
It shows Beaupre as a member of the North Stars when I, myself, was playing for the NDG North Stars, with brown pads, a CCM helmet-with-a-cage and a Christian USA stick of my own (at the Atom level).

Below, two cards of Beaupre as a member of the Caps, who just clinched a playoff spot tonight:
The card on the left, showing Beaupre in the red (away) uniform, is from Pro Set's flagship 1991-92 Pro Set collection (card #601, showing him as the mid-season GAA leader - he had finished second in the entire NHL the previous season); the card on the right, showing him wearing the Caps' white (home) jersey but, more importantly, focusing on the superb DC cityscape mask I mentioned previously in this Enrico Ciccone post, is from In the Game's 2010-11 Between The Pipes set (the Greats Of The Game subset, card #157).

I sent Mr. Beaupre these 3 cards and a fan letter on March 5th (2012) and got them back less than 3 weeks later, on March 26th, signed in blue sharpie. I thought about sending him cards from his days with the Ottawa Senators but didn't want to push it by sending too many - especially to his home - and stuck with the teams I identify him with the most instead.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lanny McDonald: 3 Autographed Cards

Lanny McDonald was a legend as much for his on-ice play as for his world-class mustache, bushy and flamy-red. The Toronto Maple Leafs made him the 4th overall pick of the 1973 draft, and he arguably had the best NHL career of anyone else chosen that year apart from 1st pick Denis Potvin. Other 1973 draft alumni include Bob Gainey, Blaine Stoughton, André Savard, Dave Lewis and Rick Middleton.

But like many other former Leafs greats of the 70s and 80s, McDonald was mistreated by management - he was traded to the Colorado Rockies just because he was friends with Darryl Sittler, who had refused to waive his no-trade clause, angering GM Punch Imlach. McDonald and Joel Quenneville went to the Rockies for Wilf Paiement and Pat Hickey, prompting Leaf fans to protest outside Maple Leaf Gardens.

McDonald scored 66 goals in 142 games with the Rockies, split in parts of 3 seasons, before being moved to the Calgary Flames. In his first full season with the team in  1982-83, he scored 66 goals - a team record that still stands today. He captained the team for their lone Stanley Cup win in 1989, the only visiting team to ever win the Cup on the Montréal Canadiens' home turf, the Forum. And he did so in McDonald-esque fashion, having been scratched for 3 games, coming back in the decisive game and scoring the goal that would propel the Flames to victory, breaking a 1-1 tie. A world-class moment from a world-class player.

I sent McDonald these three cards and a fan letter - care of the Flames' alumni - on January 31st, 2012 and got them all back signed in blue sharpie on March 29th, 2012. They all show him wearing the Flames' red (away) uniform. The card on the left is from the 1984-85 Topps set (card #26), that I traded 12 Dave Andreychuk cards to get my hands on; the card in the middle is from Topps' 1988-89 O-Pee-Chee set (card #234), which I've had since I was a kid; and the card on the right is from the 1987-88 Topps set (card #20), a card I had the OPC version of as a kid but traded for its Topps equivalent as a teen because, as a Montrealer, American cards were more rare in my neighbourhood. The latter two not only show his wearing the captain's ''C'', but also a patch on the right shoulder commemorating the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Nikolai Antropov: 6 Autographed Cards

What a great return!

For most Toronto Maple Leafs fans, Nikolai Antropov was a decent player who never quite met the expectations they had for him. The giant 6'6'', 245-pound center never became the point-per-game first-liner they thought they were getting when the team chose him 10th overall in the 1998 draft ahead of All Stars like Alex Tanguay, Scott Gomez, Simon Gagné, Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards, Andrei Markov, Shawn Horcoff, and other notable players like Mike Fisher and Brian Gionta. But the team may have been tempted to pick Antropov well ahead of his projected second round status because he'd just scored 11 goals and 26 points in a single game against Iceland's men's team in a ''friendly'' international game.

As a Montréal Canadiens fan, however, I can assure you he loved playing my home team, against whom he was always dominant.
The card on the left shows him wearing the Leafs blue (away) uniform and is from In The Game's flagship 2003-04 In the Game set (card #89), back when they had a license to produce NHL cards. The card on the right, where he is seen wearing the white (home) uniform, is from Pacific's 2000-01 McDonald's Prism set (card #31), another defunct brand. McDonald's cards are now produced by Upper Deck. Notice the card on the left has him wearing #11 and the one on the right sees him with #11, but he signed both with #80...

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Nikolai Antropov: 6 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

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Now two cards from his time with the Atlanta Thrashers: on the left, sporting the white (away) uniform, from Upper Deck's 2010-11 Black Diamond set (card #20), and on the right, the awful college football-style third jersey, from Panini's 2010-11 Score set (card #51).

I was thinking of sending him one with the Thrashers' blue uniform, but I thought 6 cards was already over-doing it, so I restrained myself.

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Nikolai Antropov: 6 Autographed Cards (Part 3)

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This next card is a weird one, where we see Antropov wearing the Winnipeg Jets' new home jersey in front of a jet, taken from the press conference that served as the jersey's unveiling last summer. For some reason, Panini decided it'd be a good idea to include this picture in their 2011-12 Score set (card #476), instead of an in-action shot from a preseason game like they did for the rest of the team.
Antropov scored the (revived) Jets' very first goal against the Montréal Canadiens in their home opener.

And this is probably my favourite Antropov card of all, made even more meaningful because of the tragedy that struck Lokomotiv Yaroslavl on September 7th, as the team was en route to get their season started:
Oddly enough, this card (#34 in the set) from Upper Deck's 2004-05 All World Edition lists Antropov as a member of the Lokomotiv but shows him wearing the green Ak Bars Kazan uniform, the team with which he started the locked-out 2004-05 season, playing 10 games there before moving on to the Lokomotiv, where he played 26 regular season games (gathering 19 points) and playing 9 more in the playoffs (7 points).

I sent him these 6 cards and a fan letter on November 18th, 2011, and got them all back on February 23rd, 2012, signed in black sharpie, with his jersey number (80) at the end - even on his Leafs cards where he's wearing #11 (he switched numbers in March 2003, when the Leafs acquired Owen Nolan).