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).

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