Monday, March 31, 2014

Alexandre Burrows Swatch Card

For reasons explained in an earlier post, I'll likely be digging through my backlog of older cards for the next while...

Good thing I really like some of them, like this Alexandre Burrows swatch card, from Panini's 2010-11 Certified (card #AB of the Fabric Of the Game sub-set, featuring a nice big, blue swatch, numbered 85/250):
You might get a bit of a shock looking at Burrows' statistics this season - he had not scored a single goal until March 12th (he's got 5 since), and just 9 assists, but keep in mind his linemates are also in a season-long slump, with Henrik Sedin having just 10 goals and 36 assists, and Daniel Sedin at 14 goals and 28 assists. All of Burrows' goals have come since the Sedins have been out with injuries...

Nevertheless, the four-time 25-goal scorer (with a career-high of 35 in 2009-10) is still an adept sniper who can handle pain, play injured, and lead by example. If what he needs is a change in scenery, I'll welcome him to Montréal with open arms...

Canada Post Rant

I was in for a heck of a surprise at the post office today, when I was expecting to mail a bunch of packages for current and retired players only to find out that unlike their website had been stating since January, the rates for sending within Canada didn't increase to 65 cents today, but a whole dollar, meaning a bunch of TTMs I'd sent recently don't have enough stamps on them to make it back to me...

I had sent 46 within Canada so far in 2014, and received 6, meaning 40 of them have yet to make it back (I'm fairly confident at least half of those had permanent stamps which aren't affected by price fluctuations, but the last few didn't).

Every TTM reception was already treated like a blessing, it'll be doubly so now.

Which means I'll likely be featuring cards I found in packs or cards I got signed in person a long time ago for a while, which is fine considering the backlog of those I do have.

They just could have been more up-front about it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Two Guillaume Latendresse Autograph Cards

Last week, I traded a Mike Ribeiro jersey card I was about to feature for these two identical Guillaume Latendresse 2006-07 Be A Player cards (#231 in the set, his rookie card for the brand - dubbed BAP Rookie - signed by black sharpie on stickers), from Upper Deck:
Though he has yet to officially retire, Latendresse has been a member of RDS' team of commentators since he was released by the Swiss team Zurich Lions after suffering a concussion - each team has a limited number of ''foreigners'' they can have on their rosters and having an injured Canadian taking one spot for no reason could have proven to be problematic.

He had 6 points and 20 penalty minutes in 12 games with the Lions, having had some trouble adapting his power-forward type of NHL play to the less-permissive Swiss league, but still ranking in his team's top-10 scorers at the time (though he was expected to be a point-per-game player there, which he may have become later on in the year). I would still take him on my team.

I had written Latendresse twice in recent years, once with success in 2011, once without while he was with the Ottawa Senators.

There is some weirdness on the top-left corners of the scans, those are from the penny sleeves, not the cards themselves.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Willi Plett Autograph Card

2011-12 was the year that Willi Plett was brought back into the hockey card hobby... I'd written about his 2011-12 Enforcers card (and his career) nearly two years ago, and figured I'd feature this one as well to justify packing my 'P' binder in preparation of next week's move (yes, this will be my fourth residence in less than four years):
It's from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Parkhurst Champions set (card #97, the autographed insert sub-set, players in his category - Group D - were inserted 1:110). It shows him wearing the Atlanta Flames' red (away) uniform, probably from a pre-game warm-up (no helmet, almost-empty stands).

Despite his name being spelled correctly in front of the card and on the back where his statistics should appear, it is spelled wrong twice in the text that serves as a certificate of authenticity:
All the more reason to ''enjoy the card'', I guess!

Can you think of any other mistake the card may have? Here's one, with all due respect to a Calder trophy (Rookie Of The Year), 33- and 38-goal scorer: he's in the Champions set despite having never won a chanpionship. Not a goal-scoring nor a point-scoring championship, certainly not a Stanley Cup, though he was a member of the 1987-88 Boston Bruins that lost in the Finals.

The closest thing he has to a championship is when his Tulsa Oilers won the Central Hockey League (6 teams) title in 1975-76, the third-level minor league of the day (behind the AHL and IHL).

Still, I'm more than happy to have two of Plett's signed cards in my collection, as I consider him an important part of 1970-1980s NHL folklore.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jakub Kindl Autographed Card

I have instant respect for anyone who dons the Detroit Red Wings uniform, for some reason - probably because they're an Original Six team and therefore have a long and rich history. I didn't wish them the best when they faced the Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs (huge Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic fan, here), but pretty much any other time, yeah, I don't mind if they win.

And they beat the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Finals, so, yeah, even better.

The Wings have a knack for developing late draft picks into superstars, and I was fortunate enough to get Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom - prime examples of that - sign cards for me through the mail, but I also got Jakub Kindl in person earlier this winter, when Daniel Alfredsson made his return to Ottawa (I wanted Alfie, but he didn't sign) in December:
It's from Upper Deck's 2009-10 Victory (card #313, part of the Victory Rookie sub-set), and is signed in thin blue sharpie, which belonged to another fan. On it, he is seen wearing Detroit's red (home) jersey. Though he is pictured wearing #46, he has been wearing #4 since 2010-11.

Kindl, a defenseman, had an assist that night, and might hit the 20-point mark in this injury-plagued season - he missed a month of play in February - though he only has one goal so far. If he does reach the 20-point mark, it'll also be the 50th point of his career.

A first-round pick (19th overall) in 2005, he was part of the taxi squad/black aces when the Wings won the Cup in 2008, so while his name isn't engraved on it (he didn't play in a single game), the team was kind enough to give him a championship ring. I'm fairly confident he'll get to lift the precious salad bowl some time in the next decade, though.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dale Hawerchuk: 2 Autographed Cards

Here is another great return I got today, 51 days in the making! I had sent Dale Hawerchuk a fan letter and six cards depicting him wearing the different uniforms of the Winnipeg Jets, Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers on February 3rd, 2014, and got 2 of them back signed in blue sharpie on March 26th, 2014, the two teams that best defined his career:
Having played his junior career in the LHJMQ with the Cornwall Royals, winning the Memorial Cup in both of his seasons there, adding the Rookie Of The Year and Playoff MVP awards the first year and Canadian Major Junior Player Of The Year and Memorial Cup MVP honors in his second, which prompted the Jets to select him first overall in 1981, ahead of fellow Hall Of Famers Ron Francis and Grant Fuhr.

The Jets immediately improved from being bottom-feeders to playoff-bound (though at the time 16 of 21 teams made the cut...) and he became an All-Star Game fixture, as well as a frequent Team Canada key contributor, particularly in the 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups. Unfortunately, they often found themselves facing Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs, which usually meant an early exit.

On Draft Day 1990, the Jets and Sabres made a blockbuster trade, when he and (the pick that would become) Brad May were traded for Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and (the pick that would become) Keith Tkachuk. Booth teams won, because Hawerchuk would join Alexander Mogilny and Pat Lafontaine and provide Buffalo with one of the most potent offenses in the league.

He played half a season with the St. Louis Blues and an injury-plagued one with the Flyers before calling it quits, at the relatively young age of 34, with 518 goals, 891 assists and 1409 points in 1188 games, plus an impressive 30 goals and 99 points in 97 playoff games despite only once advancing past the second round (statistics and situations that kind of resemble those of Alex Ovechkin).

He was inducted in the Hall Of Fame in 2001.

As I mentioned before, I had sent him cards which better displayed his uniforms (and had home-and-away variants), but am still more than happy with what I did get back. First, at one point my most valuable of his (it is his rookie card, after all), from O-Pee-Chee's 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee (card #380), a close-up of his face shot during pre-game warm-ups with the Jets:
The corners have gotten dented over time and through shipping, but it's still his first card.

And from his days with the Sabres, from Upper Deck's 1992-93 Series 1 (card #302), wearing their white (home) uniform:
Again, a warm-up shot (though the picture on the back is an action shot), but we can clearly see his alternate captain's 'A'.

I had sent the cards care of the OHL's Barrie Colts, the team he coaches and operates. I thought of sending the CD cover to Québec band Les Dale Hawerchuk for him to sign (they took on his name as a tribute), but am kind of glad I didn't.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Jimmy Waite: 5 Autographed Cards

I was waiting to see if I'd get a return for these, because I also have some autographed inserts of his I could have featured but I did get this return today, 12 days after initially mailing these 5 cards and a fan letter to him (from March 13th to 25th, 2014).

Jimmy Waite was a star goalie in Juniors, long considered the heir to Patrick Roy in terms of Québec-born goalie (at least until Martin Brodeur's debut). As such, the Chicago Blackhawks made him the 8th overall pick in 1987, ahead of Stéphane Quintal (14th), Joe Sakic (15th), Andrew Cassels (17th), John LeClair (33rd), Éric Desjardins (38th) and Mathieu Schneider (44th).

He had been named the best goalie at the 1988 World Juniors (and on the tournament's All-Star Team) for Team Canada, and things were definitely looking up, except for the fact that the Hawks also had fellow youngsters and future Hall Of Famers Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek in their pipeline... he also spent time with the San Jose Sharks (behind 70-game starter Artus Irbe) and Phoenix Coyotes (behind 70-game starter Nikolai Khabibulin), but he'll always be identified with the Hawks.

Not only did Chicago draft him, they also traded for him after having sent him to San Jose, and later claimed him off waivers when the Coyotes let him go. After his playing career, the Hawks made him their goalie coach, a job he held until they switched over to his brother, Stéphane Waite, who kept the job until last summer, when he joined the Montréal Canadiens after leading the Hawks to two Stanley Cups with two different starters.

Jimmy is now a goalie coach in the LHJMQ with his former team, the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, where I sent the cards. Speaking of which, here they are, first, from Score's 1990-91 Score (card #407, part of the NHL Prospect sub-set):
It shows him wearing the Hawks' classic red (then-away) uniform, as do these two cards from Pro Set's 1991-92 Pro Set set (#530, which specifies is his rookie card):
I got two of each of these, so a trade may not be out of the question for anyone interested in Waite.

Then there's this card showing him with the Sharks, from Pinnacle Brands' 1993-94 Score (French-Canadian version) (card #539 of the high-numbers set):
He signed all of them in black sharpie, with the number 29 tagged at the end. It's the number he wore in Juniors, in San Jose, and for most of his later career in Europe; he wore #28 in Phoenix, and changed numbers almost every year in Chicago, alternatively wearing 60, 30, 36, 29, 49, and back to 29.

Like him, I wore a Vaughn Legacy blocker and Brian's glove (851 model) in my playing days, but he wore Vaughn pads and I preferred Brian's below the belt.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mikko Koskinen Redemption Autograph Card

Mikko Koskinen was the New York Islanders' second-round pick (31st overall) in 2009, so you'd think they would have given ample time and space to become a regular NHL player, but luck and circumstances had other plans.

Two games in his first North American season (with the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers), he suffered a torn labrum in  his hip which caused him to miss most of the season save for 6 ECHL games to regain form and 7 playoff games.

2010-11 saw him play the bulk of the Sound Tigers' games and 4 with the Isles (including his first NHL win against the Montréal Canadiens), but he kind of fell out of favour the next year, as Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson got the AHL spots and Evgeni Nabokov, Rick DiPietro and Al Montoya battled it out in the NHL, so Koskinen made the move back to his native Finland.

He is currently playing for Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast in the KHL.

This card was a redemption from a pack of Panini's 2011-12 Score (card #520 of the Hot Rookies sub-set) and is signed in blue sharpie on a sticker. It shows him wearing the Isles least-awful white (away) uniform:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thomas Vanek Jersey Card

Apparently, the most coveted rental player at this year's trade deadline also turned out to be the most affordable, as the Buffalo Sabres could only extract a second-round pick from the Montréal Canadiens for Thomas Vanek.

The most talented forward the Habs have dressed since Alex Kovalev, Vanek became the team's leading scorer from the get-go, as his 21 goals and 53 points were better than anyone else, and his 4 goals and 5 points in 8 games since have given him an 8-point lead over P.K. Subban although he is now 6 behind Max Pacioretty on the goals front.

Like Frank Pietrangelo, who I featured yesterday, the Austrian Sensation is a University Of Minnesota Golden Gophers alumni, and it has been rumoured for over a year that the Minnesota Wild could be his destination come free agency. But the Wild traded for Matt Moulson at the deadline, and may be content with getting 75% of what Vanek brings at half the cost, if you don't care about selling jerseys and putting asses in the seats.

One thing's for sure, though, having just turned 30, with nine straight 20-goal seasons (including the lock-out shortened 2012-13 season), two 40-goal seasons and two other 30-goal seasons under his belt, and about to finish his sixth 60-point season (with a career-high of 84 in 2006-07), Vanek has been a model of consistency despite an ever-changing cast of linemates (of varying talent levels). And he has at least 4 or 5 more good years left in the tank.

The fifth overall pick of the 2003 draft (perhaps the best draft class of all time), it's pretty hard not to think of him among the 5 best players of his draft year, no matter the rank. Some things are certain, if it had to be re-done, Shea Weber would likely not be chosen in the second round, Ryan Getzlaf wouldn't have been picked as late as the 19th pick, but Vanek would still be a top-5 pick regardless of what values one was looking for (leadership, goal-scoring, passing, star power, being a winner). Simply put, he is a game-changer.

And I thought the same when I found this card in a pack of Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits (card #FE-TV, from the First Exposures sub-set with a photo shoot-worn piece of jersey), showing him in the Sabres' white (then-home) jersey:
It's the jersey the team wore when transitioning between their classic 1980s garbs and the infamous Buffaslug... when black was fashionable in the NHL. The Sabres seemingly change uniforms and captains every other year anyway, so love them or hate them, they'll be completely different soon enough - don't get attached, don't take it personal.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Frank Pietrangelo: 6 Autographed Cards

As a goalie for the first half of my life, I modeled my playing style after those of Patrick Roy (like most Quebecers) and Sean Burke, as previously mentioned. Combining their butterfly techniques and rapid glove-side reflexes came to me naturally, but there were two others that influenced how I played: Ron Hextall, for his stick-handling and aggressiveness (I was always the most penalized goalie in the league and was the lone goalie-enforcer in the LHJMQ in 1995-96 when I quit playing), and Frank Pietrangelo, another fast glove, whose knack for appearing twice as large as he actually was always impressed me, like Bruce Banner becoming The Hulk when a shooter appeared. All four also used a Brian's glove for a fair chunk of their careers, and so did I...

Despite going the American College route, which was rare for Canadian players, Pietrangelo was drafted in the fourth round (63rd overall) by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1983, and yet he remained with the University Of Minnesota Golden Gophers (yes, the team Herb Brooks coached in the 1970s) for three more seasons before moving onto the Pens' IHL farm team, the Muskegon Lumberjacks, where he appeared in 35 regular-season games and 15 more in the playoffs in his rookie year in the pros.

The next three seasons were spent moving from the Penguins to the Lumberjacks, playing very well in the IHL (GAA around 3.00 in the high-scoring 1980s, and a spectacular 30-6-4 winning record) and playing mostly well in the NHL but with some games where he, like other goalies of that era, was put in terrible circumstances, so his GAA was around 4.00, his save percentage around .870, but his wins-losses record was okay for a back-up at 22-20-2.

He spent all of the 1990-91 season in Pittsburgh, sharing the back-up duties with Wendell Young, behind Tom Barrasso, and winning the Stanley Cup. Many hockey fans (particularly in Pittsburgh) remember him for The Save on Peter Stastny, staving off elimination while Barrasso was nursing an injury:

For my money, though, and as a fan of two Adams-division teams growing up (the Québec Nordiques and Montréal Canadiens), it was during his time with the Hartford Whalers backing up Burke that I not only got to see the most of Pietrangelo, but that I saw him at the top of his game, a steadying presence on sub-par (to say the least) teams. The team finished out of the playoffs in both of his full seasons in New England, with Paul Holmgren (a decent NHL-caliber general manager, but average coach whose record was 30-63-8 in Pietrangelo's tenure in Hartford, and 83-126-22 with the Whalers in total with no playoff participation in 4 seasons) at the helm.

He had a spectacular seven-game series against the Habs in 1991-92, stopping 95 of 99 shots in the final two games, including 53 in a double-overtime loss in the series clincher.

After playing a part of the locked-out 1994-95 season with the IHL's Minnesota Moose, Pietrangelo set his sights on Europe, first with the Bolzano-Bozen Foxes (1996-97) and HC Asiago (1997-98) in Italy, then the Kaufbeuren Eagles in Germany (1997-98), followed by three seasons in England with the Manchester Storm (1998-2001), where he was named Player Of The Month in December 1998.

Upon retiring, he moved back to his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ontario, where he is involved in local youth programs, chief among them the awesome Niagara Bauer Hockey Challenge, where 250 teams from 11 countries in 35 age and skills categories compete in a tournament attended by NHL, AHL, Junior Leagues and U.S. College scouts and coaches, providing kids with an extra (or sometimes a very first) opportunity to progress, on the ice and/or academically.

I sent him these 6 cards and a fan letter on March 13th, 2014, and got them all back, signed in black sharpie with his jersey number (40) tagged at the end, on March 21st, 2014. Though they are from just two different seasons, they show the changes in modernizing their uniforms that the Whalers went through in the early 1990s, starting with the ones they wore throughout my childhood, first with the white (home) uniform:
They are both technically variants of the same card by Pinnacle Brands, the one on the left being from the 1992-93 Score (American) set and the one on the right from the 1992-93 Score (Canadian) set; both bear #535.

The next card shows him wearing the green (away) uniform, in the same stance (ready for a face-off) as the first one, from Pro Set's 1992-93 Pro Set (card #64):
That stance is part of what I meant when I mentioned by his taking up twice as much room as he should in front of the net, with his arms forming a diamond with his body, in his half-ready mode. It's even more obvious on the next card, where he just seems to pop out of the net, looking at the puck like a bear would an oncoming salmon, shoulders perfectly aligned with the cross bar:
The card on the left is from Topps' 1993-94 Stadium Club set (card #272), the brand's highest-end set of the day, while the one on the right is from Topps' 1993-94 Premier (card #287), which was a premium brand when released under the O-Pee-Chee banner but fell a tad short when re-branded to Topps. If you're curious about his pose in the second card, it's taken during warm-ups, where he had a habit of visualizing top-corner glove saves while stretching his groin (the same pose can be seen on other cards). Both cards show the next-generation Whalers white (home) uniforms, with silver/grey added as a highlighting colour to the classic palette of white and green.

Which brings us to perhaps the prettiest Whalers uniform, where they changed the primary colour from green to navy blue, with green and silver acting as highlighters, from Upper Deck's 1993-94 Parkhurst (card #352):
It's also the one card with different masks represented, with the best one of the front (above), and the runner-up on the back:
Like Roy, he switched from Brian's to Koho in 1992-93...

6 of 6, in 8 days. I really liked him before, I think I like him even better now! By the way, if you think you recognize his name but are unfamiliar with early-1990s hockey, yes, he is related to current St. Louis Blues star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who is his cousin's son.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gabriel Dumont: 6 Autographed Cards

I got two great returns today, both of them 6 of 6 in just 8 days! First, a name you might recognize from a recent Jason Spezza post in which I made them both part of my cap-compliant Dream Team, Gabriel Dumont.

The Montréal Canadiens' fifth-round pick (139th overall) at the 2009 draft, Dumont has already played 15 regular-season games with the Habs (going 1-2-3 with 13 penalty minutes in a checking role with under 10 minutes of ice time) and 3 playoff games (with 12 penalty minutes to show for it!), usually as a gritty grinder on the fourth line. The only reason why he hasn't suited up more often for the team this year is that they already have 4 left-handed centers playing on their top three lines, a righty playing wing (Daniel Brière), and their current fourth-line center is righty Ryan White as well, so, essentially, it's just for the sake of diversity, because the team loves his passion and hard work - as do the fans.

In the AHL, the 23-year old plays the role of a young veteran (he's an alternate captain) trying to steer the kids in the right direction and, while playing against the other teams' best lines, has managed to lead the Hamilton Bulldogs in goals so far (granted, with only 16). He ranks second in penalty minutes with 94, although fighter Nick Tanarsky holds a pretty considerable lead with 123.

He also led the Bulldogs last season in goals (16) and points (31), in just 55 games, when the team also finished in the depths of the AHL standings. While I understand the Habs' philosophy of teaching the same playing style in all their affiliates so that every call-up is NHL-ready, there is also something to be said about building confidence through a winning mentality rather than ''losing within the system''...

I had sent Dumont these 6 items and a fan letter - care of the Bulldogs - on March 13th, 2014, and got them all back, signed in red sharpie with the corresponding uniform number (37 for the Canadiens, 40 for the Bulldogs), on March 21st, 2014. First, a regular-issue card, his actual rookie card, from Panini's 2012-13 Score (card #534, part of the Hot Rookies sub-set), wearing the Habs' iconic red uniform:
The rest were all custom-made this winter by yours truly, my second batch/attempt for which I decided to use a background (as opposed to my first series as seen on this Mikael Backlund card), so essentially, they're all variants of my Hell's Kitchen's 2013-14 Series 2 set, a 60-player set in which Gabriel Dumont is #37 (yes, I even made a checklist) - I made 8 variants of him, though, and only sent these 5, starting with the Habs' red uniform:
I also made one of him wearing the Habs' white uniform, my favourite of these five:
And I also made some of each of the Bulldogs' uniforms, first the red:
And the white:
And, finally, an alternate jersey like only the AHL can make them, one of a camouflage uniform for Veterans' Day:
NOT the best idea of all time... but I'm glad I have it immortalized on photo stock.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Jordan Eberle Jersey Card

I loved the Edmonton Oilers growing up, and when I stopped following regular-season hockey for a few years in the 1990s, they and the Colorado Avalanche were the only teams I followed closely come playoff time. So my love for the Oilers goes from the Wayne Gretzky/Kevin Lowe era, to the Ryan Smyth/Shawn Horcoff era, to today's generation.

And my favourite player among this crop is without a doubt Jordan Eberle. Clutch beyond comprehension, he is already a point-per-game player in the NHL in just his fourth season, at only 23 years of age, on a team that could very well finish last overall. He played in his first All-Star Game in only his second NHL season (and there hasn't been another one since).

He holds the Team Canada record at the World Juniors with a 12-game point streak, and his overall international stats read as follows:
Juniors, 23 games, 18 goals, 18 assists, 36 points
Senior team, 27 games, 9 goals, 12 assists, 21 points
During the lock-out last season, he played with the Oilers' AHL affiliate Oklahoma City Barons, leading the league in points at the time that NHL play resumed with 25 gals and 51 points in 34 games.

Already nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy once, he will likely win it a few times, seeing as his career-high in penalty minutes is 22, in his rookie season. He understands that he serves his team better on the ice than in the penalty box...

And so, I was more than happy to pull this card from a pack of Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used (it's card #AF-JE, part of the Authentic Fabrics sub-set) last week, showing him wearing the Oilers' iconic blue-and-orange uniform and sporting the alternate captain's 'A', with a nice, big, dark blue swatch:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Alec Martinez (Rookie) Swatch Card

It has been said long and wide that Wayne Gretzky's trade to the Los Angeles Kings going into the 1990s changed the face of hockey, not just in the NHL but throughout the United States, and while Sports Illustrated still describes it as a ''fringe sport'', the fact that teams in the South can now dress local players is a huge step in the right direction.

One such player is the Kings' Alec Martinez, who spent his early years playing his minor hockey in Northern California, so when the Kings made him the 95th pick of the 2007 draft after playing for the Miami University RedHawks, he became a local prospect. Having been born in Michigan, the Detroit Red Wings could also have made him a hometown hero, though they've been quite successful drafting Swedes that I understand why they would have passed him over.

Still, Martinez is now a regular on the Kings with a Stanley Cup under his belt and, at age 26, is about to enter the prime of his career. His first career goal was scored against the Montréal Canadiens' Carey Price at the Bell Centre in 2010.

I got this card of his - featuring a black, event-worn (photo shoot) swatch - in a pack of Upper Deck's 2009-10 Series 2 (it's card #RM-AM of the Rookie Materials sub-set):

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Gerard Gallant: 7 Autographed Cards (Part 1)

Another return I got on Friday, although this one didn't take over 2 years. I had sent Montréal Canadiens assistant coach Gerard Gallant a fan letter and these 7 cards (6 is usually the limit I set myself) on February 25th, 2014 and got them all back, signed in blue sharpie, on March 14th, 2014, so 17 days later, in the span of which the Habs went on a week-long California road trip:
Born in Summerville, Prince Edward Island, Gallant played his junior hockey in Québec's LHJMQ and was an offensive juggernaut in the league. His first season, played with the Sherbrooke Castors, saw him put up no less than 102 points in 68 games, leading to his being drafted by the Detroit Red Wings that summer (6th round, 107th overall in 1981), ahead of long-time defenseman Bruce Driver (108th), star defenseman and Stanley Cup winner Steve Smith (111th) and goalie Greg Stefan (128th), among others.

His second season in the ''Q'' was just as good, notching 92 points and 260 penalty minutes in 58 games with Sherbrooke. His third and final season started relatively slowly with the St. Jean Beavers (53 points and 139 penalty minutes in 33 games), compared to how he exploded after a mid-season trade with 26 goals, 75 points and 105 penalty minutes in just 29 games with the Pat Lafontaine-led Verdun Juniors. Plus another 14 goals and 33 points (with 84 penalty minutes!) in 15 playoff games...

After a season and a half of AHL hockey with Detroit's affiliate Adirondack Red Wings, Gallant made the move to the NHL, where he carved his niche for a year and a half before finding a spot on the Wings' top line with Steve Yzerman. He then started a spectacular run of four straight 30-goal seasons (38, 34, 39 and 36 respectively) which also happened to be four consecutive 200+ penalty-minute seasons (216, 242, 230 and 254).

Injuries were a factor in 1990-91 when he only played 49 games (10 goals, 26 points, 111 penalty minutes and a +6 rating), but he was back to his old, rugged self the next two years, with 187 and 188 penalty minutes, respectively. Unfortunately, his offensive statistics started to decline as the three-time point-per-game producer (with a high of 93 points in 1988-89) became a 30-point man for his final two seasons with the team.

After having played for the Wings for 9 seasons and served as an alternate captain for half of them, Gallant signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a free agent prior to their sophomore 1993-94 season. He played in 51 games, scoring 4 goals and totaling 13 points, with 76 penalty minutes. 1994-95 was a lock-out season, so he played in just one game without registering on the score sheet, ending his NHL career at 615 games played, 211 goals, 269 assists, 480 points and a staggering 1674 penalty minutes. Just as consistent come playoff time, his record stands at 18-21-39 in 58 post-season games, with 178 penalty minutes.

Here's a look at the cards, first with the Wings' white (then-home) uniform:
Both show him sporting the 'A' on his jersey, the card on the left (from Pro Set's 1992-93 Parkhurst set, French Canadian version, card #269 in the set) showing him watching the play from afar, while the card on the right (from Score's 1990-91 Score, card #180) shows him right by the side of the net, awaiting a pass or a rebound.

And these three show him wearing the Wings' red (then-away) uniform, all of them with the 'A' on his chest as well:
On the left, looking primed to lay a tough hit on an opponent, from Upper Deck's 1990-91 Series 1 (French Canadian version, card #134); in the middle, with the puck in front of him, looking to make a play, seemingly at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens, from Pro Set's 1991-92 Series 1 (French Canadian version, card #63); and on the right, battling two San Jose Sharks along the boards and not liking what he sees - or smells - from Score's 1992-93 Score (French Canadian Edition, card #119).

                                    (continued in the following post)

Gerard Gallant: 7 Autographed Cards (Part 2)

                              (continued from the previous post)

And now two cards from Gerard Gallant's days with the Tampa Bay Lightning:
On the left, he is seen sitting on the bench, from Pinnacle Brands' 1993-94 Score (French Canadian edition, card #560, Gold variant); on the right, in a transition play, with a nice view of the Lightning's white (then-home) uniform, from Score's 1993-94 Pinnacle (card #404, French Canadian version).

Are you confused about the branding of the cards? Officially, the manufacturer was Pinnacle Brands, but for their first few years in the hockey market, their lone brand was Score, so they wrote on all cards and packs they were made by Score Inc. They introduced higher-end products in the early 1990s (Pinnacle and Select), which they decided would be best represented as part of a larger umbrella corporation, so they started to write Pinnacle Brands Inc. on their stuff from then on. Except on these sets, where they make it seem that each brands owns the next one; compare the brand at the bottom with the large logo on these cards:
At least it gives us an additional glimpse at his world-class mustache. Back then, Tampa Bay was a team where good veterans went to retire (kind of like the New York Rangers since the new millennium), with Gallant, Denis Savard, Pat Jablonski, Donald Dufresne, Paul Ysebaert, Daren Puppa and Rich Sutter all fading into obscurity after their stints with the team.

After his playing career, Gallant made the transition into coaching with the Columbus Blue Jackets (first as an assistant, then as head coach), then as an assistant with the New York Islanders.

Feeling more like a head coach than an assistant, he went down to the LHJMQ to coach the Saint John Sea Dogs, where he lost in the Finals in his first season and won the league's championship the next two, culminating with the Memorial Cup in 2011-12. His coaching record with Saint John was never below .800, going 53-12 the first year, 58-7 the next and 50-15 in his final season, after which he again agreed to be an assistant - under Michel Therrien with the Habs - which should be the  springboard to his next NHL head coaching job.

I could totally see him with the Carolina Hurricanes or New Jersey Devils...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

David Booth: 3 Autographed Cards

Continuing with my involuntary theme of consecutive Florida Panthers cards comes these three cards I got in the mail on Friday, March 14th 2014 from David Booth, now with the Vancouver Canucks. I had written Mr. Booth a fan letter with these three cards on January 31st, 2012, care of the Canucks, which makes this a 774-day round trip, perhaps my longest return so far (I only started counting the days between sending and receiving recently):
The Panthers' second-round pick (53rd overall) in the 2004 draft, he would have been eligible for the previous year's draft if he'd abandoned his college hockey career, but since he didn't, was allowed to play for his full 4 seasons for the Michigan State University Spartans, where he accumulated a total of 105 points in 134 games.

As a 6-foot and 212-pound left winger who isn't afraid of playing in traffic, he is considered a power forward, though he might be a tad on the small side for that (the ideal power forward stands between 6'2'' and 6'4'' to crash the net defended by a goalie who now averages 6'3'' and is protected by defensemen who weigh over 220 pounds and who are now allowed to play a rougher game than when play resumed after the 2004-05 lockout). Perhaps because of his size, he was only able to play one full 82-game season thus far, scoring 23 goals and tallying 17 assists for 40 points in 2010-11, finishing third in team scoring, 9 points behind leader Stephen Weiss.

And that's the thing when people talk about his statistics: he has over 100 NHL goals and over 200 points but has played over 400 games to get there. But 300 of those games were with the Panthers, far from an offensive powerhouse. Basement dwellers, actually, more often than not.

Fast, smart, with a decent finishing touch but also a pretty good ability to check the opposition, he is definitely a first-liner on a bad team; he would be an ideal second-liner on a playoff-quality team, and a luxury third-liner with powerplay and penalty-killing time on a stacked Stanley Cup contender like the Chicago Blackhawks or Anaheim Ducks (though possibly a first-liner on the stacked-at-center Pittsburgh Penguins). With the Canucks, he should be Ryan Kesler's shadow/pretend twin, jumping on the ice at exactly the same time; not only are their skills and playing styles compatible and complementary, they've played together on and off since they were 12 years old.

Internationally, he has represented Team USA three times, winning gold at both the 2002 U-18 World Championships and the 2004 World Juniors, and a sixth-place finish at the 2008 World Championships in Québec City (where I saw Ilya Kovalchuk and Team Russia beat Team Canada 5-4 - in overtime no less! - in the Final).

Let's now look at the cards, first featuring the Panthers' white (away) uniform:
The card on the left is from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Power Play set (card #131), the beautiful blue background providing a nice contrast with the uniform; the card on the right is from UD's 2008-09 Victory set (card #114), showing him in a game against my hometown Montréal Canadiens.

And from Panini's 2010-11 Score (card #217 in the set), one where he's wearing their black (home) uniform:
All of them are signed in (fading) black sharpie.

I would have wanted to send him at least one of him wearing the Canucks' uniform, but he had yet to have one published.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tomas Vokoun Dual Jersey Card

You know how one year, all the cards you break from packs seem to be of the same player or the same team? Well, here's a card that's a lot like the last one, from Upper Deck's 2008-09 SP Game-Used Edition (card #AF-VO of the Authentic Fabrics inserts, the Dual Jerseys sub-set):
Two swatches, a black one and a really cool yellow mesh one, and an up-close picture of Tomas Vokoun's mask and Florida Panthers black (home) jersey. The back of the card states the uniform was used in a... Nashville Predators game, though (thus explaining the yellow mesh), but I appreciate the detail.

He is now with the Pittsburgh Penguins and suffered a medical issue with a blood clot earlier this season; he has apparently resumed skating, but there is no timetable for his return. He had had a spectacular post-season last year, relieving Marc-André Fleury and registering a shutout against the New York Islanders in his first playoff game in 6 years, after sharing one with Fleury the game before. He eventually went 6-5 in 11 games, with a 2.01 GAA and .933 save percentage, though Pens fans probably thought the team should have made it further.

We hope he gets well soon, of course.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Nathan Horton Dual Swatch Card

The third overall pick of the 2003 draft, Nathan Horton, ahead of Thomas Vanek (5th), Milan Michalek (6th), Ryan Suter (7th), Braydon Coburn (8th), Dion Phaneuf (9th), Jeff Carter (11th), Dustin Brown (13th), Brent Seabrook (14th), Zach Parise (17th), Ryan Getzlaf (19th), Ryan Kesler (23rd), Mike Richards (24th), Corey Perry (28th), Loui Eriksson (33rd), Patrice Bergeron (45th), Shea Weber (49th), David Backes (62nd), Jimmy Howard (64th) and Dustin Byfuglien (245th). All of them winners of medals and/or Stanley Cups. Except Vanek, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Best draft ever? Possibly. Though you kind of also have to wonder where the Florida Panthers would have gone had they picked anyone else. Don't get me wrong, he's a fine addition to a team, and when the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2010, he had a role on that team, just a supporting one, not a leading role. Everybody else on that list is a franchise cornerstone (though you can argue against Michalek).

He has scored 20 goals or more 6 times in 10 seasons, but scored over 30 only once (31, in 2006-07), and his personal best in points is 62, though he does have 15 goals and 36 points in 43 playoff games, spread over merely two Bruins Cup runs.

It was widely reported that he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets last summer because he didn't want to play in a large, hockey-centric market; funny how a man who married a Playboy Playmate (Tammy Plante, grand-daughter of Hall Of Famer Jacques Plante) is seeking relative anonymity...

In any event, here is a card from his days with the Panthers:
It's from Upper Deck's 2008-09 Trilogy set (card # 2W-NH of the Two-Way Threads insert sub-set) featuring two white game-used swatches but showing him wearing both the white (away) and black (home) uniforms on the card, which makes it stand out, in my opinion.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Zac Bierk Autograph Card

Maybe his name rings a bell to you, as he's the son of artist David Bierk, and brother to artists Jeff, Alex, Nick and Charles Bierk, as well as actress Dylan Bierk. Oh, and hair band Skid Row's Sebastian Bach, who has sung the national anthem at many of his games. Big family.

Hockey-wise, Zac Bierk had an average Juniors career with the OHL's Peterborough Petes, never registering a GAA below 3.00, with four shutouts in 142 games. He never played for Team Canada, but was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning (212th overall in 1995) as an over-aged player who went 12-15-5 with a 3.94 GAA. He did make it the the Memorial Cup Finals in his fifth Juniors season, though it was as the host city, so they were there as a courtesy.

His numbers weren't that much better in the IHL, but there was that one season, 2002-03 where he had amazing numbers in the NHL, going 4-9-1 (ok, those aren't impressive) with a 2.17 GAA, a .932 save percentage and a shutout with the Phoenix Coyotes, numbers rivaling Sean Burke's (12-6-2, 2.12, .930 and 2 shutouts in 22 games) and far better than Brian Boucher's (15-20-8, 3.02, .894 and zero shutouts in 45 games) with the same team, whose leading scorer was... Mike Johnson. Mind you, that was the Dead Puck Era.

He was diagnosed with Meniere's disease - an inner ear disorder which can cause symptoms similar to vertigo, including dizziness - late in 1998, which may have hindered his development as a goalie. And in life.

But it didn't stop him from entering the NHL record book, though, on January 8th, 2003, as both he and the Philadelphia Flyers' Michael Leighton each earned their first career shutouts in the same game, a 0-0 tie - and an NHL first.

Which is why I'm fond of this card, from Signature Rookies' 1995-96 Draft Day set (card #3, numbered 3740/4500):
It shows him wearing the Petes' classic white (home) uniform with the logo airbrushed out, of course, for copyright reasons. It should look like this: