Monday, July 6, 2015

Norm Ullman Autographed Card

Come to think of it, I probably should have featured this card two days ago, on July 4th. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Unless you're Norm Ullman, then you win, mostly, as if Life were a lottery.

Growing up in Edmonton, Ullman played his midget years with Johnny Bucyk, then moved to the WCJHL's Edmonton Oil Kings and led the league in scoring two years in a row, prompting the Detroit Red Wings - who owned the team - to officially sign him to a contract. They first sent him to their AHL affiliate, the - as luck would have it - Edmonton Flyers, before giving him a chance in Detroit.

After an 18-point rookie season, the Wings were impressed enough to slot him on the first line alongside Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay in 1956-57. Playing with those superstars (though Lindsay would get traded soon after for attempting to start a players' union, Howe remained a long-time linemate as would be Alex Delvecchio), Ullman may well have invented the type of forecheck that is prevalent in today's game: relentless, close enough to the opponent to have them thinking about a check but a few feet away to intercept attempted passes.

By 1960, he was playing in his first All-Star Game (part of a streak of 9 in 10 seasons, and 11 overall), and he led the Wings in goals in 1960-61, 1964-65 and 1965-66. In 1964-65, he actually led the league (with 42), and his 83 points were second only to Stan Mikita's 87 in the Art Ross race. He even surpassed Mikita for the end-of-season First All-Star Team, the Chicago Blackhawks' legend being relegated to the Second All-Star Team.

Post-season success would not come to him, however, as he was on the Wings during the Montréal Canadiens' dynasty (1956-60, 65-66) as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs' (1962-64, 1967), but he did lead the league in playoff scoring twice.

But as the 1960s were winding down, so were the Wings, who were closing in on the New York Rangers at the bottom of the standings and felt they needed to shake their roster up, prompting a blockbuster trade with the Leafs that sent Ullman, Paul Henderson (yes, that Henderson, who scored the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history), Floyd Smith and Doug Barrie to Toronto for Frank Mahovlich, Carl Brewer, Garry Unger and Pete Stemkowski.

In modern terms, that's like trading Jonathan Toews, Ryan Smyth, Brian Gionta and Nathan Beaulieu for Steven Stamkos, Kimmo Timonen, Ryan Kesler and Justin Williams - all in their prime or right before it.

In Toronto, he once again arrived post-championship, as he had in Detroit. Still, George ''Punch'' Imlach, who didn't earn his nickname by handing out compliments, said of Ullman he was the best center he'd ever had. Ullman enjoyed an 85-point season in 1970-71 playing with Henderson (60 points) and Ron Ellis (53), which made it all the more puzzling when head coach John McLellan started slotting him on the wing or benching him altogether, making for a frustrating final two seasons with the Leafs, until Ullman bolted to the WHA to play with his hometown Edmonton Oilers, with whom he scored 47 goals and registered 83 assists for a total of 130 points in 144 games over two seasons to end his career on a high note following the 1976-77 season.

He was elected to the Hockey Hall Of Fame in 1982, after a prolific career which saw him post sixteen 20-goal seasons in 20 years, finishing with 490 goals and 739 assists for 1229 points in 1410 NHL games, which is where this card comes in:
It's card #78 from the Ultimate Trading Card Company's (no idea who they are, I got this card - unsigned - in repackaged packs of different brands) 1992-93 Ultimate set (part of the Detroit Red Wings Ultimate Hall Of Fame sub-set), which the legend signed for me in blue sharpie during the Habs' centennial celebrations in 2008-09. I'm particularly fond of the Wings' retro uniform, which the team wore for 10 games during the NHL's 75th Anniversary season in 1991-92.

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