Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kevin Bieksa: 2 Autographed Cards

It's a bittersweet time to be a fan of Hockey History, what with the passing of Gilles Tremblay, Jean Béliveau, Viktok Tikhonov and Pat Quinn, and the dwindling health of Gordie Howe and Jean-Paul Parisé. I plan to acknowledge (some of) those situations soon, but I had a return I wanted to talk about today.

Nearly a year in the making, I had sent Kevin Bieksa a fan letter and three cards, care of the Vancouver Canucks, on January 28th, 2014, and got these two back on December 3rd, 2014 - 309 days later - signed in blue sharpie, with his jersey number (3) in there:
A seasoned veteran and alternate captain on the Canucks, Bieksa, 33, is no stranger to taking on leadership roles: he was also an alternate captain for the Bowling Green (State University) Falcons - where he was a teammate of Jordan Sigalet's - as well as in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose and for Team Canada at the World Championships in 2014, tallying 4 points in 8 games from the point.

He's won awards in the NCAA, was on the All-Rookie team in the AHL and broke defensemen scoring records for the Moose, and has become one of Don Cherry's favourite defensemen, despite his always mispronouncing his name.

In his first full season in Vancouver in 2006-07, he paced the team's D with 30 assists, 42 points and 134 penalty minutes, usually while playing against the opposing team's top line. Known primarily as a creative offensive defender, he improved on the defensive side as well, posting a +32 rating in 2010-11 (ranking second in the NHL) the same year he gathered 10 points (5 goals and 5 assists) in 25 playoff games in the Canucks' unsuccessful Stanley Cup run. He even posted a career-best 44 points the following year.

He can shoot (and score), he can pass, he can defend, he's not afraid to fight, and he's a leader. Not bad for 2001's 151st draft pick. Not that there weren't any good players chosen later, because Mike Smith (161st), Dennis Seidenberg (172nd), Ryan Clowe (175th), Marek Zidlicky (176th), Jussi Jokinen (192nd), Brooks Laich (193rd), Cristobal Huet (214th), Johnny Oduya (221st), Marek Svatos (227th), Petr Cajanek (253rd), and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau (254th) have all had respectable careers so far, but Bieksa is probably head and shoulders above all of them for his level of play as much as his consistency.

His draft class spawned 9 NHL All-Stars, and probably a hundred NHL regulars, and yet if it had to be done all over, his name would probably come out in his year's first round.

He's taken some heat of late for a few turnovers, but he'd still be a top-2 defenseman on most teams, and a top-4 on an elite team. He has a couple more years where he'll be able to keep up the pace before having to slow down when nature catches up to him, at which point his defensive efficiency and intelligence will take more space than his creativity, and he could have another good 3 years as a bottom-pairing blue-liner when he does get there.

The Canucks are one of those teams that changes uniforms regularly. While I prefer their 1980s black one the most, the turn-of-the-millennium one - of which this is the white (home) version - was also pretty cool:
It's card #10 in Fleer's 2007-08 Fleer Ultra set by Upper Deck.

I like it a lot better than the current/pretend-retro garbs represented by this white (away) uniform from Panini's 2012-13 Score set (card #451, the Gold variant):
It was well worth the wait!

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