Friday, May 31, 2013

Ray Bourque & Rob Blake Dual Swatch Card

How good were the Colorado Avalanche in the early 2000s? Two former team captains - future Hall Of Famers - came to complement their defense and win Stanley Cups, hitching their wagons on the train led by Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy. Which two?

Raymond Bourque - Mr. Boston Bruins for all of my life - and Rob Blake - leader of the Los Angeles Kings, the team's two-time captain. Bourque is on most people's top-5 defensemen of all time lists, probably mine too.
Though I usually prefer jersey cards of one player, and when there are multiple, that they be of the same team, I can totally live with this, as they are the best one-two punch of the past 25 years not on a national team. That being said, Blake did win Olympic gold with Team Canada in 2002 (and suffered severe losses in 1998 and 2006); he also won gold (1994 and 1997) and silver (1991) at the World Championships and another silver at the 1996 World Cup. Bourque was also part of the 1998 Team Canada fiasco, and played in three Canada Cups (1981, 1984, 1987) and Rendez-Vous '87.

This card was pulled from a pack of Upper Deck's 2005-06 SPX (it's card #WC-BB in the set, part of the Winning Combos insert sub-set). Though they are both pictured with the Avs, Bourque's swatch comes from a Bruins jersey, which is fitting.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Andreas Dackell Autographed Team Postcard

When playing for the Ottawa Senators, Andreas Dackell was a fairly productive right winger (35-50 points a year), but when paired with Joé Juneau, he was also reliable on the penalty kill. They played together for one season in the Canadian capital, but two more with the Montréal Canadiens, where their offensive output diminished - as is usual in this god-forsaken, defense-first hockey city - but they became one of the league's premier penalty-kill teams. On awful fucking teams.

There was a pre-season jamboree where I got to meet a lot of Habs players, such as Mathieu Garon, Jeff Hackett and Marcel Hossa, who was a terrific guy. I also got to meet Dackell and have him sign this 2002-03 team postcard:
It shows him wearing the Canadiens' white (then-home) uniform, with a glimpse of Benoît Brunet - now a Habs TV analyst - behind him.

It also brings me one step closer to completing my Habs Numbers Project, where I collect signed and/or memorabilia stuff from players wearing each uniform number worn in team history. Dackell wore #24, which has since been worn by Jeff Halpern, Alex Henry, Todd Simpson and Mathieu Schneider (who also wore 8, 18 and 27 for the Habs!). Prior to Dackell, it had been worn by the likes of Chris Chelios, Lyle Odelein, Scott Thornton, Pierre Mondou, and Robert Picard.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thomas Steen: 6 Autographed Cards

When I was a kid, I was a Québec Nordiques and Edmonton Oilers fan above all, especially for their all-out offensive prowess - but my favourite hockey player was the Montréal Canadiens' star goalie Patrick Roy. I'm full of contradictions like that.

Back in the day, not all regular-season games were televised, and my parents didn't let me watch complete games on week nights on TV anyway - but those we attended at the old Montréal Forum, I got to see until the end. Saturday nights, however, CBC showed double-or-triple-headers of at least one Canadian team per game, and I could watch at least half of a Oilers game regularly. Often those games were against other Canadian team, and the Winnipeg Jets were certainly one of them.

I wasn't a fan of the Jets per se - I found their uniforms boring, I had a disdain for their small-market city, they never had particularly good goalies... but on the strength of Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, Teppo Numminen and Phil Housley - and later Teemu Selanne - they sure could score some pretty goals. They'd often lose to the Oilers in the playoffs, but those made for some terrific games, much more than when the Habs would face the Hartford Whalers or Buffalo Sabres...

Even before my time, they started off in the WHA with a scoring legend, Bobby 'The Golden Jet' Hull as the face of their franchise...

And despite all of Hawerchuk's abilities and his multiple 100-point seasons, Steen, to me, was always the heart of the franchise, their version of the Ottawa Senators' Daniel Alfredsson - not exactly ''the best'', but definitely the hardest-working, most consistent, best under pressure, most reliable. Ahead of his time, his ability to consistently put points up on the board (usually in his team's top-3 point getters) while not getting any scored when he was on the ice would make him the prototype of today's ever-so-important ''top-6 center'', like Tomas Plekanec, Ryan Kesler, Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk. He was so important to the Jets that they named him co-captain (with Hawerchuk) in 1989, a capacity in which he served until 1991.

A native of Sweden, Thomas Steen loved Winnipeg so much that not only did he choose to stay there after his playing career of 14 NHL seasons - all in Winnipeg - and 4 more in Germany, and even got involved in the political process, first losing an election at the federal level, now a councilman at the municipal level. Unlike Peter Stastny, though, who represented Canada in various tournaments, Steen played for Sweden internationally, winning a silver medal at the World Juniors (1978), two World Junior bronze medals (1979 and 1980) an two silver medals at the World Championships (1980 and 1986). He also played in three Canada Cup competitions - ancestors to the World Cup - in 1981, 1984 and 1991.

His son Alexander Steen plays for the St. Louis Blues; I also sent him a fan letter this season, so we'll see how that pans out... As for Thomas, I sent him these 6 cards along with a fan letter around February 20th, 2013, and got them all back signed in black sharpie on May 27th, 2013. Let's have a look, starting with the oldest cards:
The card on the left is from Pro Set's 1991-92 Pro Set Series 1 set (card #271), while the one on the right is from Topps' 1992-93 Topps collection (card #141); both show Steen wearing the Jets' white (home) uniform, with either the captain's 'C' or the alternate captain's 'A'. He's got the NHL's 75th anniversary logo on the Topps one.

The next two show him wearing the Jets' dark (purple, away) uniform:
The card on the left is from Upper Deck's 1993-94 Series 1 set (card #166), while the one on the right is from Fleer's 1993-94 Fleer Ultra set (card #69). He's wearing the 'A' on both cards, with the Stanley Cup playoffs patch on his chest, and the Goals For Kids - a Jets charity - logo on his left shoulder.

They took the 'A' away from him for the next two cards, for a season in which the captain was rising star Keith Tkachuk:
The card on the left is from Upper Deck's 1994-95 Parkhurst set (card #263), drinking from a Gatorade bottle, now sporting a visor full-time. The card on the right is from Pinnacle Brands' 1994-95 Score (card #65) and shows him covering former Chicago Blackhawks legend Denis Savard, then playing with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A prolific producer, Steen finished with 8 seasons at or near the point-per-game mark, ending with 259 goals, 543 assists and 802 points in 919 regular-season games, and 44 points in 52 playoff NHL games. As you can see, his hands did more than just collect points: he has great penmanship as well!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Erik Karlsson & Victor Hedman Dual Jersey Card

After meeting with an uncle of mine who has the largest card collection I've ever seen - at least twice that of the biggest card shop I've seen - I might end up keeping my dual swatch cards, or at least hold onto them for a while longer. So far, I'd been mostly trading them away rather than selling, and I'd usually get far less monetary value than I could have anyway.

I'm mentioning this because I fell upon a couple of really nice ones when unpacking/repacking last weekend and figured I'd share. First up, from Upper Deck's 2011-12 SPX set (card #WC-HK, part of the Winning Combos sub-set) comes this Erik Karlsson - Victor Hedman card:
It's pretty hard to argue against a Norris trophy winner and a second-overall draft pick, eh? Although I prefer my combo cards to feature players from the same team (I guess one could argue they both play for Team Sweden), I won't look a gift horse in the mouth... though at $90-140 a box of 18 packs (4 cards per), you'd think one would be entitled to criticize a bit!

When this card was released, Erik Karlsson had just posted a 45-point sophomore season with the Ottawa Senators, but few imagined he was going to capture the Norris right away, but on the strength of a 78-point season, he bested the rest of the class by a whopping 25-point margin. The Sens had proven right to have traded up (from 18th to 15th, with an additional 3rd-round pick thrown in) for him at the 2008 draft, which took place in Ottawa. He has represented Sweden at the 2009 World Juniors in Ottawa (earning a silver medal) and the 2010 World Championships in Koln (bronze).

Victor Hedman came with a little more hype, for a while considered the top prospect of his class - he was eventually drated second-overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning, behind John Tavares and ahead of Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Nazem Kadri. Louis Leblanc was also selected in the first round.

His progress was slow and steady, and he has become a solid top-3 defender, with enough upside to eventually be a #1 not just in Tampa, but on almost any team. We're not talking 'Norris' yet with this one, but reliability is a quality worth something, and his $4M cap hit for 5 seasons is reasonable. He has represented Sweden on the international stage on numerous occasions, at the 2007 Under-18 tournament in Tampere (bronze), the 2007 Ivan Hlinka Classic (U-18 World Cup) in Hodonin (gold), the 2008 World Juniors in Pardubice and the 2009 one in Ottawa (silver both times), as well as the 2010 World Championships in Koln (bronze). He also played for the men's team in 2008 in an exhibition game in Norway, at age 17.

The Karlsson patch is red, likely from the Sens' home jersey - though he is pictured wearing the white (away) one; the Hedman patch is black, and could be from the Bolts' third jersey (which he is shown wearing), or their regular home one, which used to be black.

Monday, May 27, 2013

T. J. Galiardi Swatch Card

Well, the San Jose Sharks won tonight, forcing a Game 7 in their series against the Los Angeles Kings; the game-winning goal was scored by T. J. Galiardi in the second period.

Galiardi was a second-round pick (55th overall) of the Colorado Avalanche, who saw some offensive upside on his part, seeing as he was paired with Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny a few times during his tenure with the team. He finished sixth in rookie scoring and accumulated nearly 10% of his points short-handed. He struggled in his second and third seasons, though, and was traded to the Sharks near the deadline last season.

He played in Germany during the lock-out, accumulating 6 points in 7 games before sustaining an injury.

I acquired this card via trade last summer, for a dual-player jersey card I can't remember:

It's from Panini's 2011-12 Titanium set (card #10, part of the Game-Worn Gear sub-set); the swatch is nice, dark blue, which leads me to think it's either from a sock, or the darker (home) jersey, rather than the white (away) one shown on the card.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mathieu Garon Autographed Card

I'll be watching the game tonight, hoping the Los Angeles Kings eliminate the San Jose Sharks; if that happens, I'll be fine with any of the remaining contenders winning the Stanley Cup, as they're all great teams, and all recent winners as well. There's something to be said about consistency, especially the year that Lindy Ruff and Alain Vigneault end up losing their jobs...

While I featured Jonathan Quick yesterday, I thought I'd talk about the Kings today through another goalie, Mathieu Garon, once a blue-chip prospect, now considered a reliable back-up. He's currently signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but will be in search of a job this summer because they've decided to go with youth rather than experience in front of the net with Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback.

But back to Garon. A second-round (44th overall) pick of the Montréal Canadiens, he was traded to the Kings for Radek Bonk and Cristobal Huet. He faltered a bit in his firts season with the Kings in 2005-06, posting a 3.22 GAA and a .894 save percentage with a decent 31-26-3 record, which prompted the team to try out Sean Burke and Dan Cloutier the following season. Ironically, Garon then had the best year of all 5 goalies used by the Kings (13-10-6, 2.66 and .907).

He then signed with the Edmonton Oilers, beginning his remarkable stint as one of the best back-ups in the league, posting a 26-18-1 record including a 10-0 record in shootouts (stopping 30 of 32 shooters) to go with his 2.66 GAA and .913%. That year he was invited to join Team Canada at the World Championships, and though he didn't log in any minutes, he did earn a silver medal.

The following season, the Oilers sent him to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline, and he got his name engraved on the Stanley Cup backing up Marc-André Fleury.

He then spent two seasons with the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets before being sent to the Lightning. It was during his time with the Jackets that I met him again and got this card signed, from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Victory set (card #189):
He signed it in blue sharpie with his jersey number at the end... notice how he's wearing #31 in the picture but signed 32... he wore 32 with the Jackets, I guess he was just used to signing that number at that point. Apart from their original atrocity, I've always liked the Kings' uniforms, including this one. I just think they should stick to one (or four) designs and stay put rather than change their minds every couple of seasons, but at least their colour scheme (black, silver, white, and at times purple) is a winning combination.

I'm also a fan of the Victory sets. They always look great with a simple-yet-effective design, now mostly with an all-white background, but even this - with a contour inspired by the team's colours - works well. They stopped doing that when teams' third jerseys stopped matching the regular uniforms' colours and the cards would look out of whack. Victory is also among the most affordable sets around, so they're nice to purchase in large numbers (say, a box or two) at the beginning of a season to get them signed.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Jonathan Quick Swatch Card

For a couple of seasons now, Jonathan Quick has been giving Henrik Lundqvist a run for his money as the league's most consistent - and best - goalie. A Conn Smythe winner last season, a Vezina nominee, he is pretty much a lock-in for a spot on Team USA's roster for the next Olympics. It could be the first time that the Americans have stronger goaltending than Canada since the 1996 World Cup - although Team Canada was to blame for that one, having chosen Bill Ranford, Curtis Joseph and Martin Brodeur over Patrick Roy.

Quick is the main reason why his Los Angeles Kings are back in the series against the San Jose Sharks, with a 3-0 shutout in his last game to give his team a 3-2 series lead, which makes today the perfect time to feature this terrific swatch card:
It's from Panini's 2010-11 Crown Royale set (card #JQ, the Heirs To the Throne sub-set) and features a beautiful black swatch. It is numbered 126/250 and has the following text on the back:
Jonathan Bernier has been breathing down Quick's neck, looking to dislodge him from the No. 1 goaltender job in L.A. Bernier can save his breath for now, Quick looked like a wall when 2010-11 got going, winning seven of his first eight starts on the strength of an awesome 1.84 GAA.
I'm a fan of both goalies, but it's hard to argue that Quick is not deserving of his spot. I don't care how much you have to plan for the future, Quick's with the Kings for another decade and is a Vezina contender for at least 5 of those seasons. In my opinion, this is like the Roberto Luongo situation with the Vancouver Canucks prior to this season - you have to stick with the (proven) long-term commitment and trade away the prospect; they can't do that anymore, but the Kings will have to.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mark Recchi Autographed Card

Most think he's a shoe-in for the Hall Of Fame, and the numbers alone indeed lean towards that. However, he's lucky that in hockey, a player doesn't have to enter the Hall representing only one team (like baseball), because he'd have a hard time choosing, having worn 7 different NHL uniforms in his 22 seasons, including two stints with the Philadelphia Flyers and three (!!!) with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He's won 3 Stanley Cups (Pittsburgh in 1991, Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, and Boston Bruins in 2011), each time eliminating the Montréal Canadiens en route - another of his former teams. As a Montrealer, what I remember the most about Recchi's stint here is, firstly, what he cost us to acquire (39-goal wonder-rookie Gilbert Dionne, Team Canada staple defenseman and eventual Flyers captain Éric Desjardins, and giant super-sniper John LeClair) compared with what we got back for him when he requested to get traded 4 years later (Dainius Zubrus and Matt Carkner), as well as the fact that his productivity dipped considerably while manning the first line here...

My problem with the Hall is my definition of it: I think it should only recognize generational talent, players who dominated their era, collected hardware, were recognized as part of the best of their profession, and ideally were the best on their own team at least once. None of that applies to Recchi, but the same can be said for current Hall members Larry Murphy, Mike Gartner and more than a few others. It was pretty easy in the early 1990s to get 100 points with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros feeding you and creating space, he couldn't get it done with Saku Koivu, Keith Primeau or Jeremy Roenick, though...

Still, he didn't steal his 7 All-Star Game appearances or his three Cups. He was a very consistent player who made his place on any team's top-6 forwards, be they superstar-based superpowers or average teams.

He signed this card for me while with the Bruins, during his final NHL season:
It's from Upper Deck's 2006-07 SP Authentic set (card #22) and shows him wearing the Penguins' white (away) uniform, probably the one team I identify him with the most. He now serves as a consultant with the Dallas Stars; though he's never played for them, he is a close friend of their owner's, Tom Gaglardi.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Keith Ballard Autographed Card

I wrote about Keith Ballard over three years ago, seeing much promise in his play when he was with the Florida Panthers; I thought for sure he'd end up a top defenseman when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. Unfortunately, he came to the team on crutches, and has been marred by injuries ever since. He never caught his stride, which may have cost head coach Alain Vigneault his job in the end, along with the goaltending situation, and the Sedin twins' lack of offensive production come playoff time.

Still, Ballard is a fine talent, a good defensive player with a flair for manning special teams. I met him in December 2011, prior to a game against my hometown Montréal Canadiens, and he signed this card for me in blue sharpie:

It shows him wearing the Phoenix Coyotes' red (away) jersey and is from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Mini Jersey set (card #75). He has two seasons remaining on his current deal, and I have a feeling the 6-time Team USA member (U-18, World Juniors, and four World Championships) will be a permanent part of the Canucks' top-4 for both of them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Brent Sopel Autographed Card

You know you have a good, deep defensive corps when you can afford to have Brent Sopel as your fifth-to-seventh defenseman, like he was when he won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. You might be in trouble if he cracks your top-4, such as was the case during his days with the Atlanta Thrashers.

Though he has spent the last two years in the KHL, I wouldn't be surprised to see him wind up with the Montréal Canadiens again next year, possibly in place of Davis Drewiskie as the 7th or 8th d-man, and the reason is simple: the folks in charge of the Habs have had him before - GM Marc Bergevin in Chicago, and assistant-GM Rick Dudley in both Chicago and Atlanta - and know exactly what he can bring to the table.

His longest tenure in the NHL was with the Vancouver Canucks, parts of 7 season in two stints, which is why I chose to bring this card to have him sign it in 2010-11, after a Habs game:
He has played in 659 regular-season NHL games so far, and has scored 44 goals, amassed 174 assists and totals 218 points; he has also played in 71 playoff games, during which he was only penalized for 20 minutes to go with his 4-14-18 stats.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Chris Phillips: 3 Autographed Cards

The Ottawa Senators made it a series tonight by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in double-overtime, a series the Pens now lead 2-1. The heroes of the game were undoubtedly both goalies - Craig Anderson for the Sens, and Tomas Vokoun for the Pens - but the most impressive defenseman for Ottawa was the steady presence of Chris Phillips.

As the top pick of the 1996 draft, there was a lot of pressure on Phillips to perform, and his steady play - and the fact that he now wears an 'A' on his jersey - are a sign that he has lived up to the task. He reached the 1000-game milestone this season, and surpassed the 100-playoff game mark last year - all of them with the Senators.

I met him a year ago, as I went to see the Sens play the New York Rangers since my hometown Habs didn't make the playoffs; he signed these three cards for me in blue sharpie - one before the game, and two after. Ottawa won that one - in overtime, too, if I recall correctly.

First, a card showing the Sens' red (then-third, eventual main home) jersey, from In The Game's 2003-04 Action set (card #487):
But I've always preferred the Senators in black, and this jersey was particularly pretty:
The card on the left is from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Series 1 (card #141), while the card on the right is from UD's 2005-06 MVP set (card #270), one that features a fac-simile autograph on-card and feels weird to present to players, since most of them go out of their way to sign it in another direction than usual to not just sign on top of their already-present signature...

Nevertheless, I'm quite happy with these cards.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Kevin Poulin: 2 Autographed Custom Cards

Like the Jeff Glass and Robin Lehner customs I featured recently, I purchased these BG-branded custom cards from a (mostly) Ottawa Senators collector on Ebay. They are labeled as both Future Watch (a sub-set of Upper Deck's SP Authentic series) and Hot Prospects (a Fleer staple), and show Kevin Poulin wearing his draft-day New York Islanders jersey.

They were signed in blue sharpie in the 2010-11 season, one in which he faced the Sens twice. Those with good eyes will notice they contain an error: the team's name is listed as 'Ney York', which brings me back to the first season of Pro Set cards, where nearly a third of the cards had something wrong with them - usually a spelling mistake or the wrong picture on the front of the card.

Isles fans are psyched about their future in net with Poulin. The Montrealer has a career record of 7-9-0 in 21 games in parts of three seasons in the NHL (with the Isles, mind you), to go with a 2.76 GAA and .912 save percentage. In two relief appearances in the playoffs this month, he allowed just one goal in 52 total minutes, for a 1.15 GAA and a .933 save %. His AHL numbers are astounding as well. The Isles should be very excited about the guy they picked 126th overall (5th round) in 2008.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Robin Lehner Autographed Custom Card

Not that any of it was Craig Anderson's fault, but coach Paul MacLean made a goaltending change at 3-1 that almost paid off, putting Robin Lehner in nets against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Lehner's been touted as the Ottawa Senators' goalie of the future ever since he was drafted 46th overall in 2009, but his impatience (and perhaps also ego) has made the papers as often as his play. That was likely one of the reasons why the Sens acquired Ben Bishop at last year's deadline. Still, his talent is undeniable. At 6'4'', 225lbs, with a World Juniors silver medal (on a relatively weak Team Sweden) and an AHL playoffs MVP title, he shares a minor-league resume with some goalies who get drafted in the top-5 - which is probably why the Sens felt comfortable trading Bishop at this year's deadline.

Like the Jeff Glass card from earlier this week, I purchased this piece from a Senators collector on Ebay recently:
With a white background, the design is once again pretty basic, reminiscent of Upper Deck's SP Authentic line of products, using both its Future Watch and Fleer's Hot Prospects sub-set names for BG as the ''pretend'' manufacturer. I date this card from the 2010-11 season because it features Lehner sporting the Elitserien's Frölunda Indians uniform, meaning there weren't available pictures from his days with either Ottawa or the Binghamton Senators. It's signed in blue sharpie, with his jersey number with the Sens (40) tagged at the end. The abundance of white leaves ample room for the signature, so that's good thinking on BG's part.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Thomas Greiss Autographed Card

Here's what I predicted for the second-round series between the Stanley Cup champions Los Angeles Kings and fellow Californians San Jose Sharks earlier this week:
I don't make the rules, they're just there: The Sharks shall not win a Cup. And who better to knock them out than the reigning Cup champs? L.A. is the better team, with the better goalie, the better defense, the best offense, the best captain... but since emotions are high in this new Battle Of California, I think the Sharks could take a couple of games. Though I wouldn't be surprised to see the Kings sweep. Kings in 6.
Well, after their come-from-behind win tonight, trailing by one with a minute left and still winning in overtime, the Kings might, indeed, sweep. And I know that Antti Niemi was one of the best goalies in the league all season long, but sometimes you need an electroshock to spark your team, so maybe Todd McLellan will have to resort to employing Thomas Greiss at some point...

Greiss has been ok when used, with a career record of 16-12-3 with a 2.52 GAA and .911 save % in the regular season, and no decision in the playoffs, two goals against in two periods, for a 3.00 GAA and a spectacular .929 save percentage. He has represented Germany 8 times so far, including three in 2006 alone (World Juniors, Olympics, and World Championships). He has won his only game against L.A., stopping all 6 six shots he faced in 24 minutes of play in a 3-2 victory.

I got him to sign this 2007-08 Between The Pipes card (#51 in the set, the Future Stars sub-set) from In The Game in thin blue sharpie in December 2010, when the Sharks came to the Bell Centre (the Habs won):
It shows him playing for the Worcester Sharks, San Jose's AHL affiliate.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nigel Dawes Autographed Card

Lost in the shuffle of hockey news was the announcement that the Connecticut Whale were returning to their original name, the Hartford Wolf Pack. One thing I find odd about it is their parent NHL team, the New York Rangers, letting Global Spectrum run the team, seeing as they're in the same amalgam of corporations owned by Ed Snider and his Philadelphia Flyers, one of the Rangers' fiercest rivals. Strange bedfellows indeed...

I have at least one Wolf Pack card, and this is the first one that popped up when searching, from In The Game's 2005-06 Heroes And Prospects set (card #234), Nigel Dawes.

A fifth-round pick of the Rangers, Dawes was Canada's leading scorer at the World Juniors in 2004 as he helped them win silver; he won gold in 2005 in a lesser role, on a team that boasted the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Getzlaf and Sidney Crosby.

A scoring threat in Juniors, he was also a point-per-game player in the AHL, but failed to impress his coaches at the NHL level, be it for the Rangers (parts of 3 seasons), Phoenix Coyotes (12 games), Calgary Flames (66 games), Atlanta Thrashers (9 games), or Montréal Canadiens (4 games). After the 2010-11 season, he lost patience and bolted to the KHL, where he put up 67 points in 103 games over two seasons and is tearing it up in the playoffs with 7 goals (and 9 points) in 7 games.

I got him to sign this card (in blue sharpie) in 2011 when he was with the Habs, after a game.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Jim Paek Autographed Card

The first Korean-born player drafted in the NHL (9th round, 170th overall, 1985), Jim Paek also became the first to suit up for a team (Pittsburgh Penguins) and to win a Stanley Cup, which he did in two straight seasons with the Pens. However, when it came to international play, he played for Team Canada in 1990-91...

After parts of four seasons with Pittsburgh, he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings (for Tomas Sandstrom) in 1993-94, and signed as a free agent with the Ottawa Senators in the off-season, but only played 29 games with them. He then did the rounds in the IHL before plying his trade in England and Alaska.

I got him to sign this card in dark blue sharpie at a card show in Florida in the early 2000s.
It's from Topps' 1991-92 O-Pee-Chee set (card #437, the Top Prospect sub-set) and shows the rookie celebrating his first Cup win.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Phil Goyette Autographed Card

Phil Goyette resides in the same Montréal burrough where he was born almost 80 years ago - Lachine, Québec. He had a glorious NHL career, nearly half spent with his hometown Montréal Canadiens, nearly half with the New York Rangers, a year with the St. Louis Blues and parts of two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres.

He won 4 straight Stanley ups with the Habs (1957 to 1960), a Lady Byng trophy in 1970, some IHL hardware (the MVP and the leading-scorer trophies in 1954-55), and is ranked 59th of all-time in the book 100 Ranger Greats. All said, he scored 207 goals (for 674 points) in 941 regular-season games to go with 17 goals (and 46 points) in 94 playoff games.

I met him at the Habs' Centennial during a team event, and he signed this team-issued 2008 Molson Export Montréal Canadiens Alumni card (#20) in black sharpie.
He stood pretty tall (5'11'', maybe) for a guy who retired in 1972.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mike Ribeiro Autographed Card

There are two Game 7s taking place tonight, and the one I feel like watching the most pits the New York Rangers against the Washington Capitals. I predicted the Caps in 7, just like I predicted the Boston Bruins would win tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It'd be nice for those to pan out, because I've been wrong a lot so far thanks to the Ottawa Senators (against the Montréal Canadiens) and San Jose Sharks (versus the Vancouver Millionnaires Canucks).

One of the reasons why I think the Caps will prevail is that Henrik Lundqvist shut them out last game, and he can't do that twice in a row, because this season, in addition to Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, they have Mike Ribeiro pitching in for offense - he of the 13 goals, 36 assists and 49 points in 48 games this season, good for second in team scoring, despite rarely getting over 19 minutes of ice time per game.

I waited for Ribeiro after a game about a month ago, where he got 3 assists against his former team (the Habs), and he signed this card for me in blue sharpie:
It's from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Victory set (card #184) and shows him wearing the Dallas Stars' former white (away) jersey, perhaps the best design the team has worn in Dallas. It's his short-version signature, because there were a lot of us there; the long-version contains more characters between the 7-shaped 'M' and the 8-shaped 'o'.

I usually consider Jason Spezza and Sidney Crosby to be the two best playmakers in the NHL. But Ribeiro falls right behind them, with a vision that only Andrei Markov can match. Hopefully the Caps advance further, 'cause I'm curious to see him against the Bruins. I'm fairly certain the Caps will retain his services this summer.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Jeff Glass Autographed Custom Card

I started trying my hand at custom cards this season but wasn't satisfied with the results enough to send them to any players yet. I'm still toying with designs, but I hope to be ready for the start of next season. With that in mind, though, I did jump on the occasion of grabbing a few from an Ottawa Senators collector off Ebay recently, a bit for inspiration, but also a tad because some of those players no longer play in North America and would be hard to get a hold of.

Case in point, Jeff Glass, now playing for the HC Sibir Novosibirsk of the KHL, after three seasons with the rival Astana Barys.

Glass was a star goalie in juniors who, like others I can think of, won the CHL and WHO Goalie Of The Year award and World Junior Championship after being drafted - except he did so the following season, not two years later when he was an adult playing against kids. He didn't make the World Juniors All-Star team that year, though, because Marek Schwartz earned that honour in nets, while Dion Phaneuf and Ryan Suter did so on defense; Alex Ovechkin, Patrice Bergeron and Jeff Carter were considered the best forwards, ahead of Evgeni Malkin, who still managed to gather 10 points in merely 6 games.

A year after dominating at juniors, he was sent to the ECHL's Charlotte Checkers to start the 2005-06 season, but did so well he earned a promotion to the Sens' AHL affiliate Binghamton Senators, where he would then spend the following two seasons, with fellow netminders Kelly Guard and Brian Elliott. Elliott wound up surpassing him on the Sens' depth chart, so Glass bolted to the KHL when he became a free agent.

After three very good seasons with Astana (twice a GAA under 3.00, always at least .904 in save percentage), he had a remarkable season in 2012-13 with Novosibirsk, going 16-11-8, with a 2.02 GAA, a .933 save %, and 4 shutouts... in a season where NHL players spent more than half a season playing on the old continent.

As for the card itself, the design is pretty basic, reminiscent of Upper Deck's SP Authentic line of products with the mostly-white background, even going as far as utilizing its Future Watch sub-set:

The pretend-set is called BG, which I'm guessing are its creator's initials. Most of this collector's autographs are acquired in-person; he gets most of a season's rookies at training camp, then completes the roster by hounding at practices and games, and he's collected hundreds by doing so. I took 10 or so customs off his hands last week. Printed on photo stock, many are dated on the back, which enables me to figure out that this one (printed in August 2008) was signed - in blue sharpie with his jersey number (40) tagged at the end - prior to Glass' final year in the Senators' organization.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Brian Elliott: 5 Autographed Cards

His season may be in jeopardy after the Los Angeles Kings took the series lead last night with an overtime win, but Brian Elliott has had the type of postseason the St. Louis Blues were hoping for. After a dream season in which he shared the William Jennings trophy with Jaroslav Halak, setting the NHL record for save percentage, winning the Crozier Award and playing in the All-Star Game, he had a slower start to the season in 2013 (even got demoted to the AHL at a point), but managed to bounce back when Halak got injured a second time, finishing with a 14-8-1 record, 2.28 GAA and .907%.

So far in 5 playoff games, he may be 2-3, but he's got a 1.88 goals-against average and a .925 save %. But we all knew the Blues would have trouble scoring on the Kings... And yet Elliott's playing as well as the goalie who was once traded for him, Craig Anderson.

I sent Elliott these 5 cards of him in the Ottawa Senators uniform on April 25th, 2013 and got them all back, signed in blue sharpie with his jersey number (30) tagged at the end, on May 9th, 2013. Here they are:

First, two cards from Upper Deck:
The card on the left, showing him in the Sens' red (home) jersey, is from the (always beautiful) 2010-11 Black Diamond set (card #41), while the one on the right is from the 2010-11 Victory set (card #136) and shows him with the Sens' white (away) uniform.

And now two Panini cards:
The card on the left, where he's sporting the red (home) jersey and all-Bauer set of equipment, is from the 2010-11 Crown Royale set (card #66); the one of the right, mixing Bauer gloves and Vaughn pads with the Sens' white (away) uniform, is from the 2010-11 Score collection (card #350).

Those are all fine, beautiful cards, but the next one was really something, because it showcases the Senators' now-gone third jersey from a few years back:
I was a fan of the design and colours, I just would have preferred, say, the Sens' original (sideways) logo on the chest rather than the word SENS, which makes it look more amateur-like. The card is from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set (card #258). I like that UD make it a point to produce the OPC sets like those of my youth: with little gloss on the front, and a plain cardboard design on the back, no fluff, and a high-player count. They're perfect for autograph collectors.

All in all, this was my second great return this week. It had been a slow season thus far, but it's picking up now that the regular season is over.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Louis Leblanc: 5 Autographed Items

Seemingly forgotten about amid all the top-tier prospects gracing the Montréal Canadiens lineup and AHL affiliate is 2009 first-round pick (18th overall) Louis Leblanc, who did suit up for 42 NHL games last season, but who was slowed down by a high ankle sprain for the 2012-13 season, ion which he amassed a mere 18 points in 62 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs when he'd put up 22 in 31 games the previous season in the AHL to go with his 10 in 42 games with the Habs.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said it best when he mentioned that had it might have been better had he broken the ankle, since there is a clear timetable when that happens, and the player is out of the lineup completely, not trying to play despite the pain.

That's all fine and well, but it doesn't explain why Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre had him skating on the third line all year, especially since he'd shown some fine playmaking, skating and shooting skills last season, one of the few positives for a team that finished last in its conference. He was rookie of the year in the USHL in 2008-09, again the next year when suiting up for the Harvard Crimson, and could have earned nods for that honour last year had he remained in the AHL the whole time. In his one season with the LHJMQ's Montréal Junior, he collected 58 points and 100 penalty minutes in 51 games in the pressure cooker that is not only his hometown, but also the city his NHL team called home.

Maybe they just want to break him, like they did with Mike Ribeiro; if so, maybe he'll just blossom wearing another uniform...

I wrote Leblanc a fan letter on January 24, 2013, with these 3 cards and got them all abck today, signed in blue sharpie, along with this scary note from Canada Post:
Still, most of the cards are unscathed, save for a corner here and there, which doesn't bother me for signed cards.

First up is this 2011-12 AHL Top Prospects card (15 in the set) from Choice Sportscards - your AHL card leader:
Next up is a completely different card, from a whole other brand - from In The Game's 2011-12 Heroes And Prospects (card #205, AHL Rookie sub-set):
Reminds me of past Alain Chevrier cards...

And finally, an NHL card, from Panini's 2012-13 Score set (card #280), taking a shot under the watchful eye of Tomas Plekanec:
The note from Canada Post was a good reminder why I put index cards in the first place: for protection. It doesn't show so much in these scans, but both took a beating and are folded and creased left of his signature:
I'm very happy with this return. I wish Leblanc the best for next season, hopefully at the NHL level.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rochelle Loewen Autograph Card

For years, Rochelle Loewen was my favourite Benchwarmer model, but it seemed she stopped appearing in their sets in 2007 after being a staple from 2003 onwards. This made me sad, but it also enabled me to acquire duplicates of her autographed insert cards from the various BW sets, most of which sold for less than $2 on Ebay. Through bidding on more than one at a time with similar ending times, I inadvertently ended up with more than 5 of each, and over 15 of the 2005 Signature Series. I am still sorting through them and will likely end up keeping the variants (coloured pens instead of black, etc) and selling back the rest, after featuring them here of course.

But I digress. So she was absent from Benchwarmer sets from 2007... until last year, when she returned as part of the 2012 Vault set - where the brand gets rid of their past-edition overflows and recycles them into a new set. This is card #36 out of 61, and features pictures from to separate sets, the front being from 2005; it is signed in black sharpie:

I may be wrong, but I think the reason she was a mainstay with BW was that she was also a WWE Diva for a while, which meant she was in L.A. a lot. She even represented the L.A. Temptations in the 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Lingerie Football League seasons - all but one resulting in a Lingerie Bowl appearance.

After that, the Edmonton native moved back up North (this time to Calgary) to further her studies in broadcasting and was a part of the QR77 (770 AM on the radio dial) team until recently - which might explain the exile from Benchwarmer. In any event, she's back now, and hopefully will have new material in subsequent sets.

As a model, the Miss Hawaiian Tropic Canada 1999-2000 winner has graced the front pages of such magazines as Muscle & Fitness, Muscle & Fitness Hers and Playboy Lingerie Special.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

José Theodore Autographed Card

The numbers are astounding: almost 650 NHL games, almost 300 NHL wins, a 2.68 GAA and .909 save % while playing for awful teams, a 30-7-7 season (including a 20-0-4 run to finish the season) the only time he played for a decent team (Washington Capitals), a Vezina (2002), a Hart (2002), a Crozier (2002) and a Masterton (2010) trophy, World Junior gold (and 'best goalie' award, 1996), a goal scored in the same game he recorded a shutout (the only goalie ever to do so), World Cup gold (as a back-up, 2004), and winner of 4 straight Molson Cup awards (best player of the season for the Montréal Canadiens, before it was awarded by fan vote).

That's a lot of hardware. That's José Theodore.

I don't know if it'll be enough to enter the Hall Of Fame, but if he doesn't, it won't be because of his on-ice performances, it'll have been because because of the abundance of media and social networks, who cover athletes at an unprecedented level compared to previous generations, where every off-ice incident is scrutinized and every bad game is blown out of proportion and erases 10 great games' worth of press.

Gerry Cheevers is in the Hall - no NHL hardware, and only two Stanley Cups to show for having played with Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito in a 12-team league. And 230 wins in 418 games.

Harry Lumley is in the Hall, with 330 career wins in 803 games, and half his career with a GAA over 3.00, a few times over 4.00 (yet two seasons under 2.00). One Cup and one Vezina in a 6-team league, in an 18-season career.

I won't be shocked or angry if Theo doesn't make it in, but in my opinion, he should be considered ahead of Curtis Joseph, on par with Ed Belfour. He was more important to his teams than Joe Nieuwendyk, Larry Murphy, maybe even Eric Lindros. He's of that category right below the Greats - the sure-shots, like Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur. The one currently occupied by the likes of Roberto Luongo and Henrik Lundqvist.

It's because of that respect I have for Theo that I own as much memorabilia of his as I do, including this 1997-98 Score card (#42 in the set) from Pinnacle Brands, signed in blue sharpie in 2001 or 2002 at a team event:
Then again, there are two Habs who are more deserving to be in the Hall that aren't, so those injustices should be corrected first: defenseman Jean-Claude Tremblay, snubbed for his WHA defection, and Guy Carbonneau, not only the best defensive forward of his generation and a tremendous captain, but the best checking forward of all time and the epitome of a Selke trophy winner, who should not be a 100-point player.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Maxim Lapierre Swatch Card

After Steve Shutt and Brendon Nash, here is the final (uncommon) piece of my trade with Brad last week, from Panini's 2010-11 Donruss set (the Boys Of Winter sub-set, card #56):

Maxim Lapierre is one of my favourite grinders in the game. He gets under opponents' skin, wins faceoffs, is responsible defensively, and combines a child's everlasting smile with the rage of an angry pitbull. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

In my EA Sports NHL dynasties, I try to always trade for him to center my third (or fourth, depending on depth) line, and my Cup record speaks for itself...

I had a previous Habs jersey card from this set, of Max Pacioretty, and here's how I described the swatch:
Panini doesn't disclose whether it's from a jersey, or a sock, but specifies it's guaranteed to have been game-worn. It's red, round and pretty.