Friday, May 30, 2014

Olivier Roy: 4 Autographed (Custom) Cards

Olivier Roy is a winner in the classic sense of the word: he wins at every level, all the time. In his rookie season in Juniors with the LHJMQ's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, he won 27 games - a record for a 16-year old - on route to winning the Rookie Of The Year award. All told, he ranked second of all-time for wins in the Q with 123, and is also second on the all-time shutout list.

During his time as an amateur, he played for Team Québec in the ADT Russia-Canada Challenge (now Subway SuperSeries) - in which he was named Player Of The Game in a 5-3 win - and won silver at the 2011 World Juniors, playing for Team Canada.

All of this led to the Edmonton Oilers picking him with the 133rd pick in 2009, a bit of a slip considering he was ranked the second-best North American goalie by NHL Central Scouting which is likely attributable to his size, or lack thereof: he stands at 6 feet tall, and weighs roughly 180 pounds.

And so he made his way from the ECHL's Stockton Thunder to the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons, until he got a phone call from Oilers GM Craig MacTavish; he thought he was getting called up, but instead, heard the news of a trade to a new organization - the Calgary Flames - who had no room for him with their AHL affiliate Abbotsford Heat, which meant another return to the ECHL, this time with the Alaska Aces. It took him a week to earn Player Of The Week recognition, for the third time in that league.

With the injuries and uneven play at the NHL level of everyone ahead of him on the depth chart, he did get to play a dozen games with the Heat, going 5-6-1 with a .902 save percentage and a 3.31 GAA. Coupled with his 2.10 GAA and .922 save percentage with the Aces during the regular season, and 2.01 GAA and 6-1 record in 7 playoff games, he has proven to be ready to take it to the next level and perhaps obtain a serious shot at playing 40-some games at the AHL level.

I haven't had too many chances to watch him play since he graduated from Juniors, but I recall a very agile and athletic goalie who had quick reflexes and could move the puck well. With Jake Allen, Dustin Tokarski and Chet Pickard, he was considered among the top goalies in Canada in his age range throughout his years in Juniors, and one of the brightest future prospects. Though he only played in one World Juniors, he was seriously considered for three.

I wrote him a fan letter and sent these four custom cards from my Hell's Kitchen 2013-14 Series 2 set (variants A and B of #17) on April 1st, 2014, saying he could keep a copy of each. Instead, he sent all four back, signed in (fading) black sharpie with his jersey number (31) tagged at the end, from Anchorage, AK, and I received them today, on May 30th (2014), good for a 59-day return:

They are one of each (look up top for all four), first showing him making a signature breakaway save wearing Team Canada's white (home) uniform, then wearing its red practice jersey, getting ready to face shooters in a drill.

Not yet 23, already an individual award winner and silver medalist, I see him graduating to the NHL by the time he's 25.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kelly Buchberger: 6 Autographed Items

I wrote about Ryan Smyth last month and how his heart and dedication made him a very special player, and how it may have contributed to his stats being better than what may have been anticipated from him when he was drafted.

The same cannot exactly be said about Kelly Buchberger, who ended his 17-year NHL career with 105 goals, 204 assists and 309 points in 1182 games, unless you count his penalty minutes: a whopping 2297, with seven seasons over the 150-minute mark.

A two-time Stanley Cup winner (1987 and 1990) with the Edmonton Oilers, he also played 19 regular-season games with the team who won it in 1988, but spent some time (and playoff time) with their AHL affiliate Nova Scotia Oilers; his name may not be engraved on the 1988 trophy, but the Oilers always treated him like it was. He was so liked and respected within the club that he was captain from 1995 until 1999, at which point he was drafted by the expansion Atlanta Thrashers. He served between Shayne Corson and Doug Weight.

Not exactly a heavyweight, Buchberger never back down from a fight, though. As a matter of fact, his very first NHL game came when he was recalled from his Juniors team, the Moose Jaw Warriors, to face the Philadelphia Flyers in he 1987 Cup Final, and the first period wasn't even over yet when one of the toughest men in NHL history, Dave Brown, invited him to dance - and he just dropped the gloves and went. It would become a nightly occurrence for him, the fighting. And sticking up for his teammates. In many ways, he took Dave Semenko's mantle, without winning all of his fights.

And he wasn't just an agitator to be used sporadically: more often than not, he was on the third line, facing the opposition's best players, and trying to shut them down. He became quite adept at reading plays and was a fixture on the penalty kill. He was also decent at dumping and chasing, though he didn't usually play with a guy who could finish from the slot, so he'd play what are now known as ''quality minutes creating momentum in the offensive zone''.

He only reached the 10-goal mark three times, but scored 20 in 1991-92. He surpassed the 20-point mark seven times, with a high of 44 that same year, the only one in which he finished in contention for the Selke trophy (though he was in 14th place). At some point, he'd only scored 5 goals in two seasons - 4 of them being game winners.

After his stint with the Oilers, he spent half a season with Atlanta, two and half with the Los Angeles Kings, and one each with the Phoenix Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins. But his heart will always be where it bled the most - in Edmonton - which is why I'm so happy with these three cards showing him in the team's classic blue uniform:
The card on the left is from Pro Set's 1990-91 Series 1 collection (card #385 in the set); the one in the middle is from Pro Set's 1992-93 Parkhurst set (card #275); and on the right, we have card #333 from Donruss' 1994-95 Donruss set. The first two cards feature the NHL's 75th Anniversary crest on the chest, while the one on the right has the better-appreciated alternate captain's 'A' on it.

I also have this card of him with the Coyotes (back in their psychedelic days, with their peyote-inspired jerseys and logo, in the team's home (white) uniform, from Topps' 2002-03 Total set (card #310):
Notice how he kept wearing the oversized Cooper despite almost all of his Edmonton teammates using Jofas...

I had sent him these four cards and a fan letter on January 28th, 2014 - care of the Oilers, where he has served as an assistant coach since 2008 - and got them all back signed in (fading) blue sharpie, with just the Coyotes one smudged, on May 29th, 2014, for a 119-day return. He also signed the two index cards I'd enclosed to protect the cards:
The pride of Langenburg, Saskatchewan (alongside his Team Canada, volleyball-playing sister) was among the last few of the first wave of players I watched assiduously before I took a long break from watching hockey on a regular basis (1995-2002, maybe even 2005).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Derick Brassard Autographed Card

I was hanging around the Bell Centre today for most of the afternoon, hung out with current (eliminated) and former NHLers I know, chatted up a couple of New York Rangers players before they went for their afternoon nap, skated closer to supper time with a bunch of former NHLers (and those kids who get to skate around the rink right before the referees and players come out at the beginning of the game)... all in all, a nice way to spend a fanboy's day off work.

My former summer pick-up game partner Guillaume Latendresse met up with his old Drummondville Voltigeurs (LHJMQ) linemate Derick Brassard for a bit, wished him good luck for the night's game - and I got this card to show for it, from In The Game's 2008-09 Heroes And Prospects set (card #23), signed in thin blue sharpie with his then-number (25) with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch:
He was taller than I expected - at 6'1'', he's almost my height, but the fact that he's so much thinner (a very cut and slim 190 pounds) makes him seem elongated while I seem, uh, more bouncer-like; he looks like a child, too, which made me feel smaller somehow, like he's going to grow some more - though at nearly 27 years old, chances are he won't.

Despite averaging a point per game after he was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Rangers last season, a new head coach (Alain Vigneault) meant he had to start all over making a new first impression on Broadway this year, and he accumulated 45 points in 81 games on the strength of 18 goals and 27 assists in the regular season, centering the Blueshirts' third line, behind Derek Stepan (40 assists, 57 points) and Brad Richards (20 goals, 51 points).

This postseason, he has 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) in 17 games; he had won 75% of his face-offs against the Montréal Canadiens on Sunday, but just a third of them on Tuesday as the Habs staved off elimination with a 7-4 win.

Internationally, he has represented Québec (U17 bronze in 2003-04) and Canada (World Juniors silver in 2004-05), both of which helped make him the 6th overall selection of the 2006 draft, ahead of other noteworthy NHLers Claude Giroux (22nd), Semyon Varlamov (23rd), Milan Lucic (50th), Brad Marchand (71st), and James Reimer (99th). Still, it was a very good pick by the Jackets; I thought he was going to go between the 10th and 15th spots, and that the Ottawa Senators would trade up for him, since he's from Hull, Québec - pretty much a suburb of theirs.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nikki Leigh Autograph (Redemption) Card

Back to the model redemption cards, this time with California native Nikki Leigh as a reminder that the Los Angeles Kings just took a 3-1 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks, with a card from one of Benchwarmer's 2013 Hobby (75% likely) or 2013 Bubblegum (25% chance) sets - it's unclear because both shared a lot of the same designs - signed in black sharpie and un-numbered:

If they're going to release tons of sets each year and have them share designs, perhaps Benchwarmer should take a cue from Upper Deck (as Panini had this year) and identify the sets on the backs of cards, near the publishing information. Notice how the publishing info is distorted - I don't know if that's by design or a printing fault, but it works pretty well with the rest of what's going on there.

Nikki Leigh was Playboy's Playmate Of The Month for May 2012, fulfilling a dream she'd had since her early teens. She has since appeared in many videos for the brand, as well as hosting web specials (such as the Espys' red carpet event) and a radio show on Playboy Radio and LA's KDOC.

She has a B.A. in Sociology (I worked in that field for a decade myself), and graduated Cum Laude from California State University in Fullerton. The 5'3'', 112-pound dynamo - who was born 10 years after me pretty much to the day - has now set her sights on acting, with parts in the horror flick Unlucky Charms, as well as the 2013 racing film Snake And Mongoose (with Tim Blake Nelson, Noah Wyle, possible comeback kid and former 90210 star Ian Ziering, John Heard, Jesse Williams, and another Playmate, Jaclyn Swedberg), as well as the upcoming bikini musical Fearless with Hayley Hasselhoff (''plus-size'' model at size 14, and the daughter of David Hasselhoff's that didn't film him eating a cheeseburger off the floor in a drunken stupor).

We wish her the best.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Henrik Lundqvist Swatch Card

I have a few Henrik Lundqvist swatch cards I'll get to until the end of the summer, but with the New York Rangers' overtime win last night bringing the series to 3-1 for the Manhattanites, it felt like a good time to go for one, so I went with this 2011-12 Titanium card (#77 of the Game-Worn Gear sub-set, featuring a nice, big blue swatch) by Panini, showing him in the Rangers' 2012 Winter Classic uniform:
King Henrik is inching closer to two long-standing goals: reaching the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time of his career, and getting past those pesky Montréal Canadiens, who had had his number for pretty much his entire career.

He had always been a consistent performer, his playoff statistics usually on par with those of the regular season, but this time around, his 1.98 GAA and .931 save percentage lead the league, despite having registered no shutouts.

This current series could easily be tied at two, though, and perhaps even be 3-1 in favor of Montréal. However, the how doesn't matter as much as the did, and the Rangers - Lundqvist especially, but also Brad Richards and Martin St-Louis - certainly have.

I still believe in the Habs, though, because it's the Rangers, the team can can surrender a 4-0 lead in the third period at the Bell Centre.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Josh Gorges Jersey Card

And now a short break from all the model cards...

Tonight is Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final, and the Montréal Canadiens have a shot at tying their series against the New York Rangers. One player who might be instrumental in this (after, say, current Conn Smythe contenders P.K. Subban and Brendan Gallagher, Andrei Markov, shut-down center and magical passer Tomas Plekanec, and new idol in nets Dustin Tokarski) is shut-down defender Josh Gorges.

Now an alternate captain with the team, Gorges has been a staple of the Habs' penalty kill since 2009, and is now Subban's regular-shift partner as well. He averaged 21 minutes per game in the regular season and nearly 24 in the playoffs. He even saw some powerplay time, usually alongside Alexei Emelin, on the second pairing, when either Nathan Beaulieu or Francis Bouillon were scratched. It's a testament to his hard work, though, that the coach trusts him to be reliable enough to help the attack and keep the momentum going despite never scoring more than 4 goals and never reaching the 40-point mark; his passing skills have improved dramatically, though, another proof of his dedication to honing his skills.

A veritable rubber man, he takes tough hits every single game, and yet rarely misses one due to injury. He's very outspoken - always talks to the media after games, win or lose, and always talks in the dressing room between periods to help boost morale.

Here's a swatch card from his days as a rookie with the San Jose Sharks, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits (card #FE-JG, part of the First Exposures sub-set) featuring a grey swatch from a jersey he wore in a photo shoot:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Stacy Fuson Autograph (Redemption) Card

Here's a cool card I got as a redemption: a Stacy Fuson 2013 Thanksgiving autograph card (#35 in the set) from Benchwarmer, which wasn't released as a stand-alone set but instead was randomly inserted into mailings of people and dealers who purchased boxes around that time last Fall:

Granted, wicker baskets aren't the greatest design idea ever, and probably would have worked better as an Easter giveaway, but I'll gladly take it.

I like Stacy Fuson: she's two weeks older than I am (go Virgos - or Horses if you're into the Chinese horoscope!), and is as comfortable doing comedy (Shallow Hal, Entourage, Modern Family, that piece of garbage The Independent) as she is flaunting her assets (Playboy cover girl in 1997, Playmate Of The Month in February 1999, appearances on Baywatch, The Man Show, and in Iron Man 2), and can even have some fine, straight, serious moments hosting TV shows such as Wild On E! and The Real World, or with small parts on Party Of Five.

She also has her own line of... vitamins.

She's been on the Benchwarmer roster since 2003.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Audrey Allen Autograph (Redemption) Card

Not bad for someone who hasn't purchased a single pack of Benchwarmer's 2013 Bugglegum set - yet: I still got the lone redemption card from it (on Wednesday), after mailing in over a hundred empty wrappers of previous editions, featuring first-time Benchwarmer (and the June 2013 Playboy Playmate) Audrey Allen:

Not to be confused with the actress of the same name from the 1950s, this model - who works in L.A. but considers Denver her hometown and natural habitat - is a psychology student and humanitarian who loves to read (though her favourites are the Harry Potter series...).

Her ideal vacation is one where she never leaves the hotel... and she has a thing for guys who play the guitar.  *clears throat*

She also goes by the names Audrey Aleen Allen, and Audrey Andalise.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2 Jessica Landon Autograph (Redemption) Cards

I got some sweet mail today, and I didn't know whether to feature all 8 of the cards that came in that envelope at once, or separate them by person featured... I opted for #2. But I'm starting with a two-card lot, from Benchwarmer's 2013 Vegas Baby set (not in the original release, but numbered #59, as a redemption card):
That's the beautiful and very funny Jessica Landon, obviously a model, but also a TV and web personality with credits that include Robot Chicken and MadTV, as well as a few B-series horror flicks.

She also has these funny bits with the Casting Couch webseries:

She also participated in a lot of skateboard-related stuff, such as AKA: Girl Skater and Dr. Steve-O.

Her first appearance in Benchwarmer sets dates back to 2003. She likes playing cards, and participated in an ad for a Canadian poker website back when I was a pro (ranked in the top-50 in Québec's LTPQ) a couple of years back. I only joined the circuit to accompany my uncle, but had surpassed his ranking within 4 months...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Matt D'Agostini Autograph Card

I already had Marcel Hossa counting for #36 in my Habs Numbers Project, though if I decide to do something with the project later on (say, frame and hang it), I could keep my Hossas as a unit and trade it in for this card of short-term Hab Matt D'Agostini, from Upper Deck's beautiful 2009-10 Artifacts set (card #AF-DA of the Autofacts sub-set, signed on-sticker in blue sharpie), showing him in the Montréal Canadiens' red (home) uniform, with both Centennial shoulder patches:
The Canadiens made D'Agostini their 6th-round pick (190th overall) in 2005, hoping he would develop pretty much into what he became - a third-line journeyman who can spend some time on a second line should injuries occur but is at risk when facing top-notch opposition in the long run, say a full season.

Unfortunately for him and expectation thrust upon him, he lit up the net two pre-seasons in a row, forcing the Habs to eventually give him an offensive role on the team, which he didn't really live up to, with 14 goals and 25 points in 94 games with the team spread over three seasons, eventually getting traded to the St. Louis Blues for Aaron Palushaj.

As he is wont to do, he had a 21-goal season in his first full year in St. Louis, before disappearing the next with a 9-9-18 production in 55 games in 2011-12, and 1-1-2 in 16 games to start the (lockout-shortened) 2012-13 season and a trade to the New Jersey Devils in what was essentially a switch of conditional picks and a player dump; he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent last summer and yet finished the season with the Buffalo Sabres after they claimed him off waivers.

It is probably unrealistic and unfair to expect another 20-goal season of him, but I would rather see a relatively talented forward such as D'Agostini play in the NHL than some of the third- and fourth-line less talented goons currently gracing the league stands (and the Sabres' line-up, ironically). At the league minimum wage or up to just under a million per, this guy's a player who can even get some powerplay time come February when your top-two right wingers are injured - and produce a bit on it.

If not, I can see him getting 15 goals and 25 points in the KHL, or scoring 30 in tier-2 European leagues in Italy, France, Switzerland or England. He's one of those guys who is too good for the AHL, but barely consistent enough for the NHL.

He will be a free agent again this summer, and I wish him the best.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Olaf Kolzig Germany Jersey

Germany's jerseys at this year's World Championships are definitely among the most beautiful:
They have won a game, and all three of their goalies have had some ice time, which wasn't necessarily the case when Olaf Kolzig was their stopper. Godzilla/Olie The Goalie was a superstar in nets at the end of the 1990s and to start off the new millennium. He was a two-time All-Star, a Vezina winner, a Stanley Cup finalist (the year they lost in the Finals, despite being swept by the Detroit Red Wings, his GAA still stood at an unbelievable 1.95 and his save percentage was .941 in 21 games), and King Clancy trophy winner in the NHL, plus a Butterfield trophy (playoff MVP) and Hap Holmes award (best GAA) winner in the AHL, and league champion in Germany during the 2004-05 lockout.

He holds 8 Washington Capitals career records, 5 season records, and 9 playoff team records. For a dozen seasons, he was the Capitals, who never regretted making him their first-round pick (19th overall) in 1989. He was from a weird draft, as several first-rounders didn't pan out (Adam Bennett, Lindsay Vallis, Jason Soules, Jamie Heward, Shayne Stevenson, and Steve Bancroft), others didn't become impact players (Dave Chyzowski, Doug Zmolek, Jason Herter, Jason Marshall, Rob Pearson, Kevin Haller, and Steven Rice), but the latter rounds produced Hall Of Famers (Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and Pavel Bure) and solid players (Adam Foote, Patrice Brisebois, Bob Boughner, Keith Carney, Donald Audette, Arturs Irbe, Vladimir Malakhov, and Vladimir Konstantinov).

At 6'3'' and 220 pounds, Kolzig stood taller than most of his peers, and was one of the last all-out acrobatic goalies, using the butterfly as a move rather than a style (like they did in the 1970s), although he did become more technical in the last part of his career.

A man of the world, he was born in South Africa and raised in Western Canada, but because he never applied for Canadian citizenship, his passport was the same as his parents', German, which allowed him to play in international competitions without having to worry about Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo. And so, he fit in perfectly when In The Game produced their 2011-12 Canada Vs The World set, and this card (#IMM-33 of the International Material sub-set) - featuring a huge burgundy swatch considering how little of it is on the team's jersey - is a terrific one:

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Jonathan Huberdeau Team Canada Jersey Card

Jonathan Huberdeau was barely a week old when the Montréal Canadiens last won the Stanley Cup... the phenom from the North Shore was drafted 3rd overall at the 2011 draft by the Florida Panthers, behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Gabriel Landeskog, in what was perhaps the best top-3 of the past 15 years. Only Landeskog has played in the post-season so far, though, with his Colorado Avalanche losing its first-round series against the Minnesota Wild in seven games just a couple of weeks ago.

Huberdeau won the Calder trophy after the 2012-13 season, posting 31 points in 48 games in the lockout-shortened season, edging out the Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher and the Chicago Blackhawks' Brandon Saad. He had already won the Memorial Cup MVP title a year before, as his Saint John Sea Dogs captured the title.

Earlier today, at the World Championships, Huberdeau tried a Peter Forsberg deke against Team Sweden, but was stopped by goaltender Anders Nilsson. Still, with Team Canada surfing on a 5-win streak, I figured it was the perfect time to feature this card, from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition card (#TC-JH of the Team Canada Fabrics sub-set):
Already the best forward the Panthers have, Huberdeau needs to add maybe 15 or 20 pounds to his 6'1'', 177-pound frame to become harder to throw off the puck. He already has a well-rounded game and can set plays up as well as he shoots, and his minus-5 on the lowly Panthers this year also stands as a testament to the strength of his defensive game, though no one will ever mistake him for a checking winger.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Emerson Etem Jersey Card

Emerson Etem was the Anaheim Ducks' second first-round pick (29th in total, from a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers) of 2010 and proceeded to have two spectacular Juniors seasons after that, including a 61-goal campaign in 65 games in 2011-12.

A 6'1'', 210-pound power forward, he is still just 21 years old, so I wouldn't judge his progression until he's at least 24 or 25; however, a better-than-point-per-game season at the AHL level (54 in 51) and 11 points in 29 NHL games this year (plus 4 decent playoff games) in 2013-14 shows great promise. With Teemu Selanne's pending retirement (and perhaps also Saku Koivu's), there's a spot for him on the Ducks' top-9 next season.

He's deceptively fast, has a precise, hard shot, and a will-powered mean streak à la Keith Tkachuk; he'll need to work on his positioning to be more effective in all three zones, and perhaps on his passing game, but he has 15 years or so to do that while rounding out his upsides. The California native fits right in with the Ducks' culture of hard-nosed play.

I got this 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition card (#RF-EE of the Rookie Fabrics sub-set) from Upper Deck in the pack after the one that got me Ryan Getzlaf's, and it features a big, black swatch from a jersey worn in a rookie photo shoot:
I didn't really know him before he was dratfed, but I've been following his career ever since, though.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pekka Rinne Swatch Card

Today seems like the perfect day to feature the first of a handful of Pekka Rinne cards I'll showcase throughout the summer, if only because earlier today (or tomorrow depending in which time zone you are!) Team Switzerland took their World Championship game against Team Finland into a 2-2 tie-breaker (which Finland eventually won in a shootout), breaking Rinne's 170-minute shutout streak in the third period - that's right, he went nearly three games without allowing a single goal.

So far in the tournament, Rinne has 2 shutouts, a 1.23 GAA and a .944 save percentage. Not bad for a goalie who only played 26 games this year (two of them with the Milwaukee Admirals) because of a serious injury and whom some experts are saying is ''on the decline''... Personally, I'm of the opinion that you don't take someone off their pedestal just because another one seems like he is on the rise; you wait until the established, stable performers are no longer able to sustain the pace and play themselves out of contention - like Martin Brodeur, who hasn't been the same since at least 2010.

Rinne is a two-time Vezina finalist - considered to have had one of the three best season-long performances twice - and a Second Team All-Star. He finished in the top-5 for goals-against average twice, and his regular-season statistics (2.39 GAA and .918 save percentage) are almost identical to his playoff stats (2.41, .916), so he cannot be considered to cave under pressure or when playing against better opposition (the playoffs feature the 16 best teams, out of 30, of the regular season).

At 6'5'' and 210 pounds, it has made sense so far for him to play a butterfly style, falling to his knees and covering the lower portion of the net with the pads, with a long reach to poke check. He and Henrik Lundqvist (two of the five best goalies in the world, sure) are mostly responsible for the current trend of goaltenders holding their catching glove almost straight up to try to cover the top corner, a style I don't stop the kids I teach (at the pee-wee or bantam levels) from using, but one I don't believe in, in the long run, because it takes the emphasis out of keeping one's reflexes sharp, and is more vulnerable to shots fired in the middle of the net (two to three feet from the ground) while only covering the oft-missed four-foot-high shot (assuming the goalie is in position, if not, he's just covering empty space); it's also less of a natural move - and therefore less efficient - to bring one's arms down quickly than to lift it up. ''Whatever works for you'', though, is what I ultimately say and work around.

Today's card also serves as a bit of a eulogy, as I learned this week that Panini has lost its license to produce NHL cards - Upper Deck has again negotiated a backdoor deal giving them exclusivity - and I will thus lose some of my favourite sets, chief among them Score.

But this card of the Nashville Predators super-stopper is from Panini's 2011-12 Limited (card #12, the Banner Season sub-set, numbered 35/99) and shows him wearing the team's dark blue (then-home, much better than the current yellow one despite the piping) uniform:
It provides a nice view of his usual stance.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kevin Dineen: 4 Autographed Cards

Today marks one of the longest returns I've ever had - 784 days, more than two years, and ten days longer than this trio of David Booth cards!
I had sent Kevin Dineen a fan letter and 5 cards on March 22nd, 2012, care of the Florida Panthers, and got these four back today (May 15th, 2014), signed in black sharpie, with his jersey number (11) tagged at the end.

Dineen was a heart-and-soul star player for half of the 1980s and most of the 1990s. For a long time, he and Ron Francis were the only decent players on the Hartford Whalers, and Dineen was the associate captain while Francis wore the 'C'. Dineen was a point-per-game player who also usually reached the 160 penalty-minute plateau (with a high of 217 in 1987-88).

Soon after the 1991-92 season began, he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Murray Craven; ironically, the Flyers owned the pick that got Dineen drafted in the first place (56th overall in 1982), which they'd traded to the Whalers. And it was more than just one instance of going full circle, as the Flyers' coach at the time of his arrival was Bill Dineen - his father. Both of them were born in Québec, though Kevin's brothers - former NHLers Gord and Peter Dineen - were born in Ontario; only Gord considers himself an American.

Kevin's statistics faltered a bit in Philadelphia, possibly because of the toll he'd put his body through since the beginning of his career, but also perhaps due to the Dead Puck Era; still, the Flyers elected to make him their captain for the 1993-94 season. They stripped him of his captaincy to hand it to Eric Lindros the following season.

He was sent back to the Whalers' organization, and eventually made their captain as well. He scored the last goal of the Whalers part of the franchise and followed the team as they became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997-98. They too stripped him of the captaincy, handing it to (future Flyer) Keith Primeau for the 1998-99 season.

He closed out his career with one season as a member of the Ottawa Senators, and two seasons plus 4 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets; all told, he played in 1188 regular-season NHL games, scored 355 goals, had 760 points and 2229 penalty minutes (plus 23 goals, 41 points, and 127 penalty minutes in 59 playoff games), played for Team Canada at numerous World Championships and for the NHL at Rendez-Vous '87 in his home town.

After his playing career, he coached the AHL's Portland Pirates for 6 seasons, and the NHL's Florida Panthers for two and a quarter seasons; when he was fired from the Panthers, he was named the Canadian womens' hockey team's head coach, and promptly won the gold medal.

I thought I had sent a card of him wearing the Whalers' white (home) uniform, but that may be the one he kept. Instead, I have these two of him in the green (away) uniform, with the alternate captain's 'A':
On the left, skating into a play, is card #261 of Topps' 1990-91 Bowman set; on the right, from Topps' 1991-92 Stadium Club (card #162), he appears to have just gotten on the ice from the players' bench, and it seems he's holding his stick backwards.

And here's two of him with the Flyers, with the 1991-92 All-Star Game patch on the left shoulder and the NHL's 75th anniversary patch on the right:
On the left, wearing the white (home) uniform, card #284 of Pinnacle Brands' 1992-93 Score, in full puck possession; on the right, looking ready to enter the play or gearing up for a huge hit, we have sticker #186 of Panini's 1992-93 Panini collection to go in their sticker album.

I was done hoping this one would ever make its way back to me; I have been proven wrong.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sven Baertschi: 4 Autographed Cards

Another great return today:
Like the Tom Draper return from two days ago, this one took 62 days to get back to me; indeed, I had sent Sven Baertschi these four cards on March 13th, 2014 - care of the Abbotsford Heat where he spent the latter half of the season after the Calgary Flames fired GM Jay Feaster and revisited their immediate and near-future plans - and received all of them back, signed in black sharpie, on May 14th (2014).

The 13th overall pick of 2011, Baertschi (spelled Bärtschi in Europe and international play) is a huge part of the Flames' future, along with Mikael Backlund. A four-time member of Team Switzerland in Juniors play, he had just been named to the mens' team when he sustained a season-ending injury last weekend. This is the second major injury to occur for him in international play, as he had also suffered a concussion at the 2012 World Juniors.

In 2012-13, he tallied 26 points in 32 AHL games, and 10 more in 20 games at the NHL level; things were a tad harder for him in Calgary this year (11 points in 26 games), but he gained his composure and confidence back in Abbotsford and finished with 29 points (on 13 goals) in 41 games, once even being named Player Of The Week.

He is a top-6 forward (left-handed-shot winger) who has deceptive speed yet also likes to slow down the play, and he is getting really good at playing without the puck as well, making him the ideal modern-day top-liner, a guy who will eventually be counted upon for some 50-60 points while usually finishing in the plusses, and playing 18 to 20 hard minutes against tough opposition.

I don't know that I would have chosen him ahead of Nathan Beaulieu (17th, Montréal Canadiens), Mark McNeill (18th, Chicago Blackhawks), Oscar Klefbom (19th, Edmonton Oilers) or Tomas Jurco (35th, Detroit Red Wings), but he was definitely first-round material.

I had custom cards that I made of him that I could have sent, but I didn't want to overdo it, either, and I'm very satisfied with the return I did get, particularly in that it shows him with two of the Flames' uniforms. First, here's the white (away) uniform:
Celebrating an important milestone, the card on the left is from Panini's 2012-13 Score set, and is card #FG13 of the (very interesting) First Goal sub-set; on the right, lined up for a face-off, is from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 (card 170).

And here's two of the now-alternate jersey, the red 1980s classic uniform:
They are both from Panini's 2013-14 Score, card #62 in the set - except the one on the right is the 'Gold' variant that replaced the 'glossy' ones a few years ago. I strongly prefer the gold ones.

I watch most of the Flames' games, and they're already really fun to watch because they always give a consistent effort, play very physically, and try to stick to the fundamentals; once their talent level evens out, though, within maybe 3 years, they'll really be something to watch. And Baertschi will likely be smack-dab in the middle of it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Samantha Fox: 3 Autographed Posters

I received this cylinder in the mail nearly two years ago and have been waiting to make good use of it ever since:

Yes, that's direct mail from Samantha Fox, my favourite lead singer of the 1980s, my favourite pop music queen, my childhood crush obsession, the lone ''non-rock'' patch on my teenage jean jacket...

I contemplated having its contents laminated, but because they are of ''unusual'' (read: British) dimensions (12x16.5 inches), I would have had to do so on larger-than-the-poster canvasses; it took me a long time to find ideal-sized and affordable frames... until last Sunday.

And so:

Oh, yes, these are going on my wall.

She sells unsigned versions of these at 10 pounds apiece ($20 U.S.), and signed ones for 30 each ($60 U.S.). I got them for much, much less than that - because I'm a musician, proved to be a true fan, and did my best to attend every single one of her performances in my part of the world.

There are days where I regret some of the choices I've made in my life, like foregoing on a hockey career to pursue my education, or choosing the least faithful out of two possible ladies as a long-term companion, or leading a relatively unhealthy lifestyle without the trade-off of at least feeling like it was worth the damage done.

But there are days where I tell myself that every choice I've made has led me right here, and there is no way I could possibly want to trade that away. This is one of them:

There is a God - he just hasn't made me a photographer. BEST BLACK DRESS, EVER; ALL-TIME GREATEST USE OF WIND. I even noticed the shoes, and I'm neither gay nor a lady! Oh, and superb signature. I nominate this as the greatest piece of human history ever created.

There is also this sexy bustier shot, which I had a blown-up poster of (unsigned) earlier in my life:

And this one, showing a rather large tattoo I had never noticed on her before (let me reiterate that I've seen her perform live and state for the record that I've met her maybe 5 years ago when she came to town to play an outdoors show at out Gay Pride festival):

Another cool black dress, the likes of which could have been worn in a sexy, almost-goth fashionable wedding à la November Rain, the epic 1992 Guns N' Roses video. I volunteer to be the groom.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Tom Draper: 4 Autographed Cards

I mentioned in a post 4 years ago how a conference from Tom Draper inspired me to move forward in my life, and inspired at least 3 NHLers and one NFL player to continue on their career paths to making a living as pro athletes, and I decided to write to him to tell him about it as well. So I sent a letter (and these 4 cards) to his home on March 11th, 2014, and got all of them back today, May 12th (2014), signed in black sharpie with his jersey number (35) tagged at the end, 62 days later. I thought he might keep the extras, but he sent them back, so I'll be able to share them with other guys he's inspired (perhaps Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Mathieu Darche, Ben Guité, Jean-François Darche, Alexandre Burrows or even my brother).

As I was re-reading my post from 2010, though, I realized I may have sounded dismissive of his achievements, which is far from the case. Just the Hap Holmes award (the AHL's equivalent to the Jennings trophy though rarely shared because it comes with the additional condition of having played in at least 50% of the team's games) is most impressive.

Ironically, Quebecers may have won it more often than any other nationality: Connie Dion, Bob Perreault (twice), Marcel Paillé (twice), Denis DeJordy, André Gill, Gilles Villemure (twice), Daniel Bouchard, Michel Deguise, Michel ''Bunny'' Larocque, Robert Holland, Maurice Barrette, Sam St-Laurent, Vincent Riendeau (twice), Jocelyn Perreault, François Gravel, Jean-Claude Bergeron, André Racicot, Boris Rousson, Jean-François Labbé, Jean-Sébastien Giguère, Martin Biron, Simon Lajeunesse, Mathieu Chouinard, Draper and Dany Sabourin. Marc Lamothe and Steve Valiquette are from Ontario, in case you were wondering.

He was good enough to play NHL games in six different seasons for three separate teams (with two stints with the Winnipeg Jets, who had drafted him with the 165th pick in 1985). I was convinced I had a signed card depicting him with the Jets (likely from his 1997-98 season with the IHL's Québec Rafales), but I cannot find it; still, I now have cards of him wearing both of the Buffalo Sabres' 1980s classic uniforms:
They are both from Pro Set's 1992-93 Parkhurst (French Canadian Edition) set and both sport the NHL's 75th anniversary patch, with the one on the left - in their white (home) uniform being card #240 in the set (also serving as his official rookie card for the brand), and the one on the right - in the blue (away) uniform - being from the League Leaders sub-set (card #448), showing him as the rookies leader for wins, and the added bonus of being a throwback to the 1960-61 Parkhurst set.

Best of all, he has a different mask on each one.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

P.K. Subban Jersey Card

After watching less hockey these past couple of years (one game per night instead of three), I'm back to watching nearly every game of this post-season, and the most consistent of all the game-changers out there so far has been the Montréal Canadiens' reigning Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban.

He finished the season as the 6th highest-scoring defenseman with 53 points, but he stands at 12 points in 9 games so far in the playoffs to rank 5th among all skaters (and first in powerplay goals with 3), at a time where half the regular-season point-per-game players see their point production decrease dramatically.

He is giving the Boston Bruins more than they can handle, and even last game when the teddy bears outplayed the Habs for two and a half periods, when head coach Michel Therrien took Carey Price out with almost 5 minutes left in the third period and a 4-1 deficit, Subban took the game into his own hands and the Bruins barely touched the puck for the remainder of the game. Unfortunately, the Canadiens only scored once, and ended up losing 4-2.

And so when I unpacked this Upper Deck 2013-14 SP Game-Used Edition card (#AF-PS of the Authentic Fabrics sub-set, with a decent-sized game-used red jersey swatch) of one of my favourite players, I knew I had a winner either way (to keep, or to sell and make a profit while purchasing a cheaper jersey card of his):
I haven't seen it under $10 on Ebay, and most sellers are trying to get $25 for it. My version has a red swatch despite showing him wearing the Habs' white (away) jersey, which it could still be from - the shoulders, wrists, or waist. And it solves my #76 problem (did not return my TTM cards) for my Habs Numbers Project (though I do prefer autographs).

With the Canadiens trailing their series 3-2, I expect more of the P.K. Subban Superstar show to keep my hometown team's hopes alive in tomorrow's game.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mike Richards Jersey Card

This card seems to follow yesterday's Ryan Getzlaf card everywhere: I got them in the same shipment of Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits (card #FE-MR, part of the First Exposures sub-set), and I stored them in the same box for future use. And now they're facing each other in the post-season, Getzlaf with the Anaheim Ducks and Mike Richards with the Los Angeles Kings, teams they have each won the Stanley Cup with.

The card shows Richards back when he was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, and features a decent-sized black swatch from a photo shoot:
Not yet 30 years old, Richards has won a Memorial Cup, Calder Cup (AHL championship), World Juniors gold, World Championships gold, Olympic gold, and the Stanley Cup - that's one Calder Cup more than Scott Niedermayer's resume boasts, who is often considered the winningest hockey player of all time.

The former Flyers captain has been relegated to third-line duties with the Kings this year, but has proven to remain a clutch performer; he just needs to give his team one more win against Anaheim and let Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar work on getting the other one.

I was 7/8 in my first round predictions, but every team I'm rooting for in the second round (Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Montréal Canadiens) has let their opponent back in the series, and I'm not sure my cardiologist appreciates the extra workload on my poor little fanboy heart.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ryan Getzlaf Jersey Card

I knew I had this one stashed somewhere!

After featuring swatch cards of his from this year and last year, here is one I had in a box of jersey cards I unpacked this week, from Upper Deck's 2006-07 Be A Player Portraits (card #FE-RG, part of the First Exposures sub-set):

It shows him in the final Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim jersey (before they became the Anaheim Ducks), with a white swatch from a rookie photo shoot.

The Ducks' captain finished second in scoring behind Sidney Crosby this year, and would be my choice for winner of the Hart trophy; cynics and critics contend that he's had more than just some help from Corey Perry in recording the best season of his career, to which I answer this: would the Ducks have won their division without him? And how come Crosby - playing with the 8th-leading goal scorer (35), golden Olympian Chris Kunitz - couldn't do better than fall 8 points behind the Boston Bruins, in the Eastern Conference, perceived as being much weaker than the Western Conference?

You've got to give credit where it's due, and Getzlaf deserves to be recognized.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Brandon Bochenski Rookie Jersey Autograph Card

Like a Braydon Coburn card I featured a while back, this particular card, from the 2005-06 SPx series by Upper Deck (Rookie Jersey sub-set, card #179, numbered 203/1499) sports a jersey worn in a photo shoot and an autograph on a sticker that was apposed to the card later - so it's ''all fake'' if you're looking for a game-worn jersey or a card that the player actually touched with his hands. I think it's still pretty cool, though:

It shows Brandon Bochenski wearing the Ottawa Senators' red uniform, with a pretty big red swatch to go along with it. The Senators' 7th-round pick in 2001, Bochenski had a tremendous season in the USHL in 2000-01 scoring nearly a goal per game (47 in 55, for 80 points), after which he was a point-and-a-half player for three seasons with the NCAA's University Of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

He turned pro in 2004-05, and accumulated 70 points in 75 AHL games with the Binghamton Senators before starting a 5-season cycle of temporary NHL recalls and mid-season trades where he would be a point-per-game player in the minors and half that in the NHL, suiting up for 6 NHL teams and 3 AHL teams (two different stints with the Norfolk Admirals who had changed their NHL affiliation). All told, he has 68 points (28 goals) in 156 NHL games, but for some reason - possibly because he was a late-round draft pick - the minute he went pointless in two straight games at the NHL level, he'd be relegated to fourth-line duties with less ice time and playing with linemates who didn't have his offensive flair.

Tired of the situation, he has spent the last 4 seasons with the KHL's Astana Barys, in Kazakhstan, where he is a point-producing machine, scoring 97 goals and accumulating 201 points in 191 games; his team was just eliminated in their playoffs, and he had 9 points in 10 games with 14 penalty minutes of post-season play. He even played in their All-Star Game.

At 32 years of age, he still has a few good seasons in front of him; if I managed a goal-deprived team like the Nashville Predators, I'd definitely give the Minnesota native a second chance on a one- or two-season deal at a million and a half per with the promise of doubling it if the production is worth it, and a few local sponsorship deals to sweeten the pot.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Moises Alou Jersey Card

Baseball season is under way, and though I'm not following it, I still have a few baseball cards in my collection that perhaps I should talk about, such as this Moisés Alou jersey card from Topps' 2003 Pristine set (card #PBS-MA1 of the Bomb Squad sub-set), which I got in a trade for some autographed basketball card (from a repackaged box of mixed-up sports cards) a few years back:

It's a beautiful multi-coloured foil card that unfortunately pictures him as a member of the Chicago Cubs, i.e. the team that no one alive remembers ever winning the World Series.

Alou was a six-time All-Star, won two Silver Slugger Awards (1994 and 1998), the 1997 World Series, and finished second in Rookie Of The Year voting in an 18-year career while suiting up for 7 Major League teams, with his longest stints being with the Montréal Expos (1990-1996) and Houston Astros (1998-2001 with a sabbatical in 1999).

He finished in the top-3 for batting averages three times, and top-10 for home runs twice (with seasons of 38 and 39), 4 times in the top-10 for RBIs, and could be counted on to put up nearly 30 doubles in any given year that he was not injured for.

Of note, he played under his father Felipe Alou with the Expos, who in addition to being the team's most-loved manager had also been a superstar player in his own right, as had been his uncles Matty and Jesus - and his cousin Mel Rojas (also an Expos teammate).

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Christopher Gibson: 3 Autographed Cards

Another cool return today, from a prized prospect I've been watching since 2010:
Christopher Gibson is a Finnish goaltender (with Jamaican heritage via his father) who plays a sound positional game, has a by-the-book modern-day technique but with the glove held lower (à la 1990s, the way I prefer it), quick to move from one post to the other and good at covering his angles. I like how he handles rebounds - kept to himself or sent to the corner, very rarely sent to a dangerous position.

He has found a way to adapt to every level he's played at. He moved to Canada at age 15 to play Midget AAA and won the national championship; he dressed for Team Finland and won a (surprising) bronze medal at the U18 World Championships in 2010; he registered an insane .920 save percentage in his second of four seasons in the LHJMQ - all with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, which prompted the Los Angeles Kings to make him their first draft pick in 2011, 49th overall in the second round (they didn't have a first-round pick as it was part of the Dustin Penner trade with the Edmonton Oilers).

The ''big knock'' on Gibson is a perceived lack of consistency, notably because his next two seasons in the ''Q'' had him post .893 and .902 save percentages, respectively - a huge drop that had harsh repercussions, as the Kings didn't even bother to sign him to an entry-level contract (the Toronto Maple Leafs quickly snatched him up, though, saving him from Finland's mandatory military service). That last year, though, his .902 was still good for 6th-best in the league. In. The. League. Put in perspective, that's not so bad, is it?

He played with Charles Hudon on the Sags, and his goalie coach was Jimmy Waite.

He started the 2013-14 season with the ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears and was particularly impressive in two playoff games, stopping 77 of 81 shots (.951) with a 1.94 GAA, earning himself a call-up with the Toronto Marlies in time for their own playoffs, after suiting up for them 20 times this year with a 2.44 GAA and a .916 save percentage.

I had sent him a fan letter and four cards - care of the Marlies - on April 9th, 2014, and got three of them back, signed in blue sharpie, with his jersey number tagged at the end - 37 for the Sags, 31 for Finland - on May 6th (2014), a 27-day return. Here's what happened for the fourth card, which he returned unsigned:
So, yeah, even custom cards can contain errors... (my apologies to the people who made the old O-Pee-Chee sets and the inaugural Pro Set for all my past snarky comments). You'll recognize my own Hell's Kitchen 2013-14 Series 2 design, and Gibson's is card #5 in the collection (with three variants, A, B, and let's call this one C).

Here's a look at the cards he did sign, first with the Team Finland variation of my custom cards:
And here are two with the Saguenéens' superb blue uniform:
On the left, another of my Hell's Kitchen 2013-14 Series 2 cards, and on the right, a 2010-11 Between The Pipes card (#7 in the set, part of the Future Stars sub-set) from In The Game.

I make it a point to travel at least once a year to the Saguenay (Chicoutimi) area to visit a dear cousin of mine who has moved there, and when I do, I usually catch a Sags game or two. Hudon and Gibson have made these road trips worthwhile for the past few years, and so I'm very happy with this return.

So far, I'm 20/71 (plus one RTS) in my 2014 mailings, which I feel is promising.