Friday, April 11, 2014

Réjean Lemelin: 4 Autographed Cards

Réjean ''Reggie'' Lemelin was a consistent #1 goalie for all of the 1980s and the first couple of seasons of the 1990s, until he was almost 40 years old and the Boston Bruins decided to hand the reigns to Andy Moog alone.

But from the days where he dominated in Juniors in the LHJMQ (for the Sherbrooke Castors, i.e. ''Beavers''), his subsequent draft by the Philadelphia Flyers (125th overall in 1974) and his start with the Atlanta Flames, it was clear he would play hundreds of NHL games (he ended up appearing in 507), winning a ton (246, with a career high of 30 in 56 games with the lowly 1984-85 Calgary Flames, while his backup Don Edwards went 11-15-2).

His goals-against average (in the high 3s) may look bizarre nowadays, but he shared the Jennings Trophy with Moog in 1989-90 with a 2.80 - they were just different times. He also played for Team Canada at the 1984 Canada Cup (now referred to as the World Cup).

He reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice, in 1988 and 1990 - both times with the Bruins, both losses to the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers. For Lemelin, Moog, Raymond Bourque and Cam Neely, and because the Oilers had traded Wayne Gretzky and were now led by Mark Messier, I wouldn't have minded so much if Boston had won it in 1990.

Lemelin was more of a stand-up goalie, like many of his contemporaries pre-Patrick Roy. He had a decent glove hand and covered a fair amount of net. While he was with the Bruins (1987-93), I was in the minor hockey circuit, doing my best Roy imitation (all butterfly and glove), and my main competitor in my region was a kid named Yan Lemelin, whose idol was his namesake and had the same playing style. We would always meet in the neighbourhood finals at the atom, pee-wee and bantam levels... and I would always end up victorious, of course. But since the Bruins would also face the Montréal Canadiens often in the postseason even back then, it was like a double rivalry going on, with Lemelin (or Moog) versus Roy at the pro level, and Lemelin versus Hell (myself) in our age range.

And because I knew a guy who really liked the ''real'' Lemelin (Yan and I were acquaintances off the ice), I kind of didn't hate him either. I even followed his coaching career when he was the Flyers' goaltending coach upon retiring (on and off from 1997 until the end of the '00s), but it was a bit weird to see him around so much orange. Black suits him so much better, and so he looks right at home playing for the Bruins' alumni team these days.

I had sent a fan letter and these four cards to his home address on March 31st, 2014, and got them all back today - April 11th, 2014, a mere 11 days later - signed in black sharpie with his jersey number tagged at the end - 31 for the Flames, 1 with the Bruins - wrapped in... my fan letter (I guess it didn't resonate with him that much).

Let's look at the Flames cards first, both showing him with their red (away) uniform:
The card on the left is from O-Pee-Chee's 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set (card #50), unmasked during a pre-game warm-up; the card on the right is from Topps' 1984-85 Topps set (card #25).

As for the ones showing him with the Bruins' beautiful, classic black (away) 1980s uniform:
The card on the left is from Topps' 1989-90 Topps set (card #40), making snow in front of his net to start a period, while the card on the right is from the company's 1990-91 Bowman collection (card #32), sitting on the bench as the evening's back-up, watching the game.

A great return by an important goalie of an Original Six team, one I got to see a lot of as an Oilers, Habs and Québec Nordiques watcher as a kid.

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