Friday, March 31, 2017

Jeremy Roenick Jersey Card

Was Jeremy Roenick a very good hockey player? Absolutely, with 1216 points (513 goals and 703 assists) in 1363 regular-season games and 122 points (53 goals and 69 assists) in 154 playoff games. He also played for Team USA at the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, earning a silver medal in 2002. For all of those achievements, including ranking fourth all-time among American-born skaters for goals scored, he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010.

That being said, did his ego usually get in the way of his making better, wiser decisions? All the time.

I've written before how Chris Chelios put him in his place early in his career when Roenick was under the impression that he'd reach the Stanley Cup Final regularly throughout his career, and we were privy to another such occasion of late, when he spent a night in jail after being arrested for driving with a suspended license in New York State.

It's not that he was wrong; indeed, there was just about no way of him knowing the state had been sending notices of an outstanding ticket to the wrong address, one that was 20 years removed from him living there. But he could have been more understanding towards the system, acknowledging there was no way the State could know he no longer lived in Westchester County but instead now resides in Arizona. At least in public, not using Twitter to express his anger.

And he certainly could have avoided adding: "I'm out $750. Not only my time. Plus I got arrested. Plus I sat in a jail cell with coke-heads. Plus I sat in the courtroom with real criminals. I've never been arrested before in my life!" So much for the courtroom motto (and justice system as a whole) being "innocent until proven guilty"... and such a great judge of character to demean addicts as lesser people than he - if they were coke-heads at all.

All this just two months removed from the Chicago Blackhawks honoring him as the third former player (after 1980s superstars Denis Savard and Steve Larmer) to get to dress for "One More Shift" prior to a game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Here he is sporting the Philadelphia Flyers' white (then-home) uniform they wore from 1982 until 2007:
It's card #115 from Upper Deck's 2003-04 SP Game-Used Edition collection and SP Cup Contenders sub-set, featuring a nice, big orange game-worn jersey swatch.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Andrei Markov Double Jersey Card

Andrei Markov made a bit of Montréal Canadiens history tonight as he tied Guy Lapointe for second for points by a defenseman in franchise history. That's nearly 110 years of history, folks.

He is without a doubt the most underrated NHL player of his generation, having never finished higher than sixth in Norris Trophy voting despite being one of the five best passers in the game (with Joe Thornton, Jason Spezza, Mike Ribeiro and Sidney Crosby) for most of that stretch.

By playing alongside him, Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit, Mike Komisarek and P.K. Subban all had career years that led to signing huge contracts, each with Norris consideration (Subban actually won); Streit did a decent, honest job captaining the New York Islanders upon leaving the Habs, and Subban is a superstar and likely will remain one for the next decade, but Souray and Komisarek could never live up to the expectations their contracts promised - mainly because they priced themselves out of playing with Markov, but also because there wasn't anyone like him where they went.

The General went through a dark period in December 2015 when he split with long-time partner Natalia Streckova, and his play was affected for a month or two, leading many talk radio callers to voice their opinion that he should be traded; they're no longer saying that this year, as he's back to his usual dominating, smart self on the ice, even helping Shea Weber look better than he has in years.

Unfortunately, Streckova died of cancer earlier this year, forcing Markov to travel to Russia to repatriate his twin five-year-old sons during the team's bye week last month.

It remains to be seen how many top-level seasons the 38-year-old has left in him - realistically, he should start slowing down next year and perhaps retire at 40, as a #3-5 defender, following the 2018-19 season. On any other team, he'd see his jersey number raised to the rafters the following October, but the Habs have nearly-impossible standards to meet before one gets that privilege: individual hardware, a Stanley Cup AND a Hall Of Fame nod seem to be the minimum-required elements for that honour. Markov, Team Russia's captain, winner of World Championship gold (2008) and bronze (2005 and 2007) medals and World Juniors silver (1998) and bronze (1997) is not the type to cry his way onto a Norris like Drew Doughty did last year.

He's the consummate team player, always putting the team's success above his own; in that regard, what's missing on his mantle isn't a Norris but a Stanley Cup and Olympic gold. His odds are about the same for each - I'll put them at 10:1 - but you want a guy who's worked so hard at his craft and even harder for it not to show to get his dues. I hope he does.

Here he is wearing the Habs' classic white (now-away) uniform on card #MTL-AM from Upper Deck's 2011-12 Black Diamond set and Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set, sporting his usual alternate captain's "A":
It contains two red game-worn jersey swatches.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Tim Brown Autographed Card

It's a done deal: the Oakland Raiders will move once more, this time to Las Vegas. With the NHL having approved of an expansion franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, who will begin play next season, Las Vegas is definitely aiming to make its mark in the sports field. It remains a tourist town, with only 600,000 permanent residents in its core, but there are no other cities like it. It's an experiment, albeit one that has a better chance of working out than, say, hockey in Arizona or Atlanta.

It's the franchise's second move out of Oakland, as it spent 1982-1994 being known as the Los Angeles Raiders, before moving back into its original NFL home, Oakland-Alameida County Coliseum (1966-1981, 1995-2018). Prior to that, as a member of the AFL, the team played at the San Francisco 49ers' Kezar Stadium (1960), the San Francisco Giants' Candlestick Park (1961) and Frank Youell Field, a stadium named after a mortician that was later bulldozed to make additional parking space for Laney College.

Pretty unstable and bush-league for a franchise that holds an AFL championship and three Super Bowl championships, eh?

I don't know what the future holds for the team in Vegas; perhaps they'll move back to Oakland in 15 years. What I do know is the stadium they're building for them will be packed and will host at least one Super Bowl. It's revitalized the team's image and reshaped Vegas once more as a family-friendly spot.

Growing up in the 1980s, I was a fan of the Raiders and 49ers. Still am, always have been. My admiration for the Niners wavered when they sent Joe Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs, and I never took to Steve Young - but I stuck to the Raiders no matter what they did, even when they anointed Carson Palmer as their QB; I didn't believe they'd win with him, and I disapproved of the decision, but I kept wearing my cap, my windbreaker or my tuque, depending on the season.

The 1990s in L.A. were about Wayne Gretzky on the ice, Mike Scioscia behind the plate and Tim Brown on the field. Luckily, I got to meet Brown at a signing when I was in high school, probably circa 1993, and again upon his retirement in 2005; it was then that he signed this card for me in blue sharpie:
That's card #150 from Pro Set's 1990 Series 1 collection; the first series contained cards #1-377, the second one encompassed #378-769, and the Final Update portion went up to #800O and #800D, for the offensive (Emmitt Smith) and defensive (Mark Carrier) Pro Set Rookies Of The Year, which was originally supposed to be a single title. There were also five ridiculous inserts found in packs of the Series 2 set, of which I had two, Santa Claus and commissioner Paul Tagliabue; I was missing those of Miami Dolphins founder Joe Robbie, failed comic-book superhero SuperPro, and golfer Payne Stewart.

I seem to have lost the card I had Brown sign in '93, which pains me a bit. The 2015 Hall Of Famer was special from the start. He was the first wide receiver to ever receive the Heisman Trophy, back when he was with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. He then set the NFL rookie yards records and proceeded to appear in nine Pro Bowls and make the NFL's All-Decade 1990s team - in a decade that included such receivers as Jerry Rice and Michael Irving. He spent his first sixteen seasons with the Raiders but played his final season, 2004, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a falling out with management and ownership.

He had been eligible for the Hall in 2013, but was not admitted right away; that's too bad, because that's the year I went:
I'm in the middle, flanked by my current stepdad and brother. It was freezing; it felt like I hadn't left Montréal. I have a knack for that, as it was also the case when I went on a Vegas/Arizona trip in November 2015 and caught bronchitis (and a snowstorm). There are ways in which I would prefer avoiding feeling like home...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Zachary Boychuk Autographed Card

In the midst of turbulent times at Hockey USA, I thought I could feature another IIHF team - Team Canada - and revisit a player I last wrote about in 2012, Zach Boychuk.

Boychuk has since become the Charlotte Checkers' all-time leading scorer, which doesn't mean the Carolina Hurricanes have given him a fair shot at playing with NHLers of his skill level to demonstrate what he can contribute. As a matter of fact, after eight seasons in the Canes organization (albeit with a brief, two-month interruption in 2012-13 for 7 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins and 5 games with the Nashville Predators), he attended training camp with the Arizona Coyotes last September on a tryout basis, only to not be offered a contract after a decent camp.

And so he set his sails for the KHL, signing a one-year deal with Novosibirsk Hockey Club Sibir Oblast, a.k.a. "The Siberians". In a low-scoring league, he has 15 points (7 goals and 8 assists) in 35 games so far, seventh on the team but first among full-time centers. It should be noted that he has played at last 14 fewer games than anyone else above him, which makes his point-per-game average among the top-5 on the team.

Internationally, he has gold medals from the 2008 and 2009 World Juniors as well as the 2006 Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament. This card shows him wearing the red Canadian uniform at the 2007 U-18 Worlds, where he posted 7 points (4 goals and 3 assists) in a fourth-place finish, trailing only Steven Stamkos (10 points) and Jamie Arniel (8 points) on his team:
That's card #20 from In The Game's 2007-08 O Canada set, which he signed in blue sharpie in 2010 or 2011.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Éric Fichaud Autograph Card

Sometimes, a player's career is one of opportunities and a string of luck - both good and bad.

Case in point: Éric Fichaud. A classic butterfly goalie in Québec's Patrick Roy era (1986-2001), LHJMQ scouts were high on him because of his perfect technique; he had moderate success in Midget AAA, but it was believed that increasing his reflex speed by upping his competition would mold him into an ideal starter - which he became, leading the Chicoutimi Saguenéens to a league championship and a Memorial Cup berth, which it lost to the Kamloops Blazers, but enabled Fichaud to nab top goalie honors.

The Toronto Maple Leafs jumped on the opportunity to draft him, despite having Félix Potvin in the fold, possibly thinking that having two Sags alumni in the crease would make for better teamwork. However, they couldn't pass up the opportunity to trade his rights to the New York Islanders the following season, for Benoît Hogue and a fifth-round pick; the trade shook Fichaud, however, and his play suffered, enabling Chicoutimi teammate Marc Denis to make his own mark and earn his time in the spotlight.

He had respectable numbers of an awful Islanders team, one so bad that Tommy Soderstrom just left the team in 1996-97, enabling Fichaud to back up Tommy Salo full-time and appear in 34 games himself.

Everything changed in 1997-98, when Fichaud suffered a shoulder injury that would first sideline him for six games, then hurt enough to warrant an operation, forcing him out for the remainder of the season. He would never again have a save percentage above .900 in the NHL and it, essentially, relegated him to "good AHL goalie" status, though his nine-game stint in Germany in 2001-02 with the Krefeld Penguins was particularly spectacular (1.64 GAA and .944 save percentage).

For the two years prior and the two after that season - which he split with the AHL's Manitoba Moose, who at the time were the Vancouver Canucks' top affiliate - he was on the Montréal Canadiens' depth chart, first with the Québec Citadelles, then the Hamilton Bulldogs.

From the 2004-05 season until 2007-08, he played in the semi-professional LNAH, first with the Québec RadioX team, then a single season with the St. Georges CRS Express.

Today, I look back at the 1998-99 season, which he split between the Nashville Predators (9 games, 3.22 GAA and .895 save percentage) and their AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals (8 games, 3.13 GAA and .90 save percentage) with the signed (silver) version of card #227 from In The Game's 1998-99 Be A Player set, signed in thin black sharpie:
I wasn't a fan of Koho equipment growing up, which I found to be too stiff and bulky. You may recall from earlier posts that despite my idol Patrick Roy making the switch to Koho from 1992-93 onward, I was mostly a Brian's guy myself.

Nowadays, Fichaud is a hockey analyst on TV. After a stint at Radio-Canada, he can now be seen and heard on TVA Sports.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dwight Foster Autographed Card

The Detroit Red Wings will most probably miss the playoffs this year, after 25 consecutive postseason appearances. It's been so long since then that we tend to forget just how awful they were in the 1980s, despite being saddled in the weak Norris Division with the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs and dismal St. Louis Blues teams, the cheap Chicago Blackhawks and the up-and-down Minnesota North Stars. Failing to make the playoffs back then in the weakest division in the league was like losing a one-number lottery; 16 out of 21 NHL teams made the playoffs back then. Only five were eliminated after 80 games.

Imagine what it meant when, in 1983-84, Dwight Foster's defensive play and four players hitting the point-per-game mark (Steve Yzerman with 87 in 80, Ivan Boldirev at 83 in 75, Ron Duguay with 80 in 80 and John Ogrodnick at 78 in 64) helped the Wings make the playoffs for the first time in six years, earning third-place in the division... with a 31-42-7 record. Yes, eleven games under .500.
Foster was a Boston Bruins fist-round pick (16th overall in 1977) who had led the OHL in scoring with 143 points in 64 games but whose scouting report claimed he was a "a strong defensive forward with marginal offensive ability"... for the record, the first round was pretty hit-and-miss, with the most impactful players being selected 6th and 15th:
In later rounds went enforcer Dave Semenko (25th), prolific point-producer John Tonelli (33rd), Hall of Fame defenseman Rod Langway (36th), long-time goalie Glen Hanlon (40th), not-that Alain Côté (43rd), 1000-game defenseman Gordie Roberts (54th), masked marvel Murray Bannerman (58th), Mario Marois (62nd), Mark Johnson (66th), Greg Millen (102nd), Bob Gould (118th), former Québec Nordiques and Montréal Canadiens wearer of #33 Richard Sévigny (124th), All-Star goalie Pete Peeters (135th), and Craig Laughlin (162nd).

All told, Foster put up 274 points (111 goals and 163 assists) in 541 NHL games split between two stints with the Bruins, a few years with the Wings and some time with the Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils franchise. Only the Bs had decent teams during his career.

Here he is sporting Detroit's classic red (the-away) uniform, on card #14 from Topps' 1985-86 Topps set:
He signed it in black sharpie at a Red Wings alumni event in Windsor, Ontario, roughly five or six years ago. He charged less for his signature than others did ($10 instead of $50-75), but I did have to purchase the card for a dollar because I didn't have one handy.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Jason Sweitzer Autograph Card

Today I decided to feature a former OHL player from the Oshawa Generals, Jason Sweitzer, who retired after going undrafted. His statistics weren't bad at all, but he produced a lot less than his team's star player, Marc Savard:
Courtesy of
You'll notice the Generals made it to the Memorial Cup Final, which they lost to a Hull Olympiques team that was coached by Claude Julien and included the likes of Martin Biron (as Christian Bronsard's backup!), Francis Bélanger, Jonathan Delisle, Matthieu Descoteaux, Christian Dubé, Mario Larocque, Donald MacLean, Pavel Rosa, Colin White, and Peter Worrell.

And, well, that's it. He didn't get drafted, he didn't pursue a career in Europe nor was he a career minor-leaguer. He just became an adult.

Here he is sporting the Generals' alternate (blue) uniform, on a signed insert card from The Score Board's 1997-98 The Score Board collection, which I got in a re-pack box:
He signed it on-card in thin blue sharpie.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ron Tugnutt Autographed Card

Today marks the 26th anniversary of one of the most impressive sports feats of my lifetime: Ron Tugnutt's breathtaking 70-save performance against the Boston Bruins in a 3-3 tie, including 12 in the five-minute overtime period alone. The Bruins edged the Québec Nordiques 73-26 in shots, a record 19 of them coming from their star defenseman and captain Ray Bourque.

That game should have finished 10-3, but Tugnutt salvaged a point all by himself - literally.

Nowadays, he's the owner, governor and head coach of the Kemptville 73's of the CCHL, a Junior "A" league. Notable alumni include Calvin de Haan and Ben Hutton.

Here's Tugnutt wearing the Nordiques' beautiful blue (away) uniform, with a terrific red Fleur-de-lys mask to go along with it:
It's card #277 from Upper Deck's 1991-92 Series 1 set, which encompassed cards #1-500, while Series 2 (featuring more rookies and players who'd been traded mid-season) had #501-700.

If you think his pads look beat-up then, there are far worse pictures out there; he was a workhorse, finishing fourth in minutes played in 1990-91 with 3,144 in 56 games. That year, he stopped 1639 shots, finishing tenth in Vezina voting despite a 12-29-10 record.

In his entire professional career, spanning 1987-2004 including both the NHL and AHL, he made 16,466 saves. He has let in 1954 goals in 679 total games; he fared much better playing for Team Canada at the World Championships (1993 and 1999), finishing with a combined 2.25 GAA and .913 save percentage in 11 games, stopping 119 out of 130 shots, for a 4-3 record.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Monetizing The Site

You may have noticed at times, recently, that team names - which, for a while were simply in italics throughout - now include links to Amazon products pertaining to said team.

That's my attempt to try to monetize the site, seeing as I no longer have a full-time day job and want to keep being able to write nearly daily - and delve deeper into the stories I write, be they historic, statistical, analytical or just fun - always pertaining to or coming back towards collectibles.

I had previously attempted to do the same in 2009-10 and am trying it again, partly because there had been no complaints at the time.

I will limit this to teams and team merchandise. I will not go "full native ad", and the links to players will still lead to former articles/posts written on this very blog, and news stories will still always link to the actual source material.

Hopefully it doesn't piss you off too much. At best, it might lead folks to products they're interested in; at worst, they're just another link not to click on.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Niklas Backstrom Swatch Card

The Minnesota Wild are currently mired in what seems like their worst slump of the season, at the worst time possible. For a while, as the team was on top of the Western Conference standings, all the talk was about how Bruce Boudreau is an amazing regular-season coach, how acquiring Eric Staal gave the team the best depth in the league - and perhaps the best center line in the NHL as well. And Devan Dubnyk was the leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy.

All that got me thinking about the history of goaltending in Minnesota. With his second Vezina-caliber season in three years, Dubnyk is showing signs of eventually becoming the best goalie in franchise history, a spot that is currently reserved for Niklas Backstrom.

Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson also deserve some credit, and José Theodore's season in Minny wasn't too shabby (15-11-3, 2.71 GAA and .916 save percentage in 32 games), but all things being equal, Dubnyk and Backstrom rule the Wild era of hockey in the State of Hockey. They come out ahead of the likes of Sebastian Bach's brother Zac Bierk, a soon-to-be-retired Ilya Bryzgalov, John Curry, Wade Dubielewicz, Derek Gustafson, Matt Hackett, Josh Harding (he who had multiple sclerosis), Anton Khudobin, Dieter Kochan, ego-driven Darcy Kuemper, and Jamie McLennan.

Lest we forget, however, that the Minnesota North Stars have had some decent netminders as well, including Miracle On Ice goalies Jim Craig and one-gamer Steve Janaszak, All-Stars Gump Worsley and Don Beaupre, Stanley Cup finalists Gilles Meloche and Jon Casey, Canadian Olympian Ken Broderick, Gary Edwards, Gilles Gilbert, WHA superstar Jean-Louis Levasseur, franchise record-holder Cesare Maniago, Roland Melanson, and a list of lesser-known athletes such as Gary Bauman, Daniel Berthiaume, Brian Hayward, losses specialist and record-holder Pete LoPresti, Markus Mattson, Lindsay Middlebrook, Jarmo Myllys, minor-league minute-muncher Fern Rivard, Mike Sands, Gary Smith, Finnish Olympian Kari Takko, Darcy Wakaluk, and Carl Wetzel.

And before all that was Hockey Hall Of Famer Frank Brimsek.

In addition to Brimsek, the following goalies from Minnesota are in the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame: Sam Lopresti, Jack McCartan, Larry Ross, Willard Ikola and Mike "Lefty" Curran.

So, in the grand scheme of things, my all-time ranking of Minnesota goalies would look like such:

1. Brimsek
2. Backstrom
3. Dubnyk (would move into #2 with a Vezina win or upon setting Wild career records)
4. Maniago
5. Beaupre

Which brings me to this beautiful card of Backstrom's, from Panini's 2011-12 Pinnacle set and Threads sub-set:
It's #71 in the series, showing him wearing the Wild's white uniform, beautifully capturing the uniform's red and green highlights; it contains a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chris Drury Autographed Card

Only one player in NHL history can claim to have won the Calder Trophy ahead of future Hall of Famer Marian Hossa, and that's Chris Drury. He's also the only player in history to win the Calder after the Hobey Baker... so far.

Nearly half a decade removed from his last NHL shift, we tend to forget just how good and clutch he was; during his tenure with the Colorado Avalanche, which included a Stanley Cup in 2000-01, he was pretty much the best third-line center in the league, behind Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. And, beause Forsberg had a knack for getting injured, Drury had many chances to shine on the Avs' second line, like when he scored 11 playoff goals on route to the 2001 Cup, which also happened to catch the eye of Team USA, who named him to the 2002 Olympic team, where he won the silver medal.

He was dealt to the Calgary Flames in exchange for defensive depth, in the form of Derek Morris; after one sub-par season in Calgary (23 goals, 30 assists, 53 points), he was sent to the Buffalo Sabres (with Steve Bégin, for Rhett Warrener and Steven Reinprecht), on a team that didn't make the playoffs, enabling Drury to compete in the World Championships and earn a bronze medal.

He was so important to the Sabres' success that he was named the team's co-captain with Daniel Brière, a title both held together until they left as free agents the same summer Drury with the New York Rangers, Brière with the Philadelphia Flyers. He would win another Olympic silver medal at the Vancouver Games in 2010.

Here he is as captain of the Sabres, wearing the team's black-and-red "prequel to Buffaslug" uniform:
That's card #31 from Pacific's 2004-05 Pacific set, which he signed in (someone else's) silver sharpie. It was the final year that Pacific would produce an NHL product, as the league signed consecutive exclusivity deals with Upper Deck after each of the last two lockouts. Panini was the only brand who took advantage of a small window between both deals to produce a few years' worth of sets.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Steve Sullivan Autograph Card

The Chicago Blackhawks are currently in the conversation as to who will finish first in the Western Conference, with the San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild also in the mix. The Hawks are firing on all cylinders, with all their stars - Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin - scoring, and rookie Nick Schmaltz filling in for the injured Artem Anisimov; Corey Crawford and Scott Darling are also doing their part keeping the puck out of their own net.

As the NHL is preparing for its 100-year celebration, the Hawks are currently in their 91st season. Unlike the Toronto Maple Leafs, which started out as the Toronto Arenas and were also known as the Toronto St. Patricks before taking on the Leafs moniker, the Hawks' only name change was its spelling, as they were known as the Chicago Black Hawks from 1926 until 1986, when they combined the words to become the Blackhawks.

For many of its formative years, the Hawks were comfortable sharing last-place with the New York Americans and New York Rangers. Things turned even worse during the James E. Norris era (1944-1966), as the Detroit Red Wings' owner - who also owned Chicago Stadium and had the Hawks as tenants - bought the franchise, essentially making it a farm club for his Wings... and one less adversary to bother with, essentially cementing their playoff position every year by winning against their own B team.

Things got better upon Norris' death, as Arthur Wirtz and son Bill orchestrated the Hawks' move to the weaker Western division and plowed through the expansion teams for most of the 1970s. Sure, the WHA dealt the team a serious blow when the Winnipeg Jets hired Bobby Hull (and, to a lesser extent, André Lacroix), but they still won seven division titles in the decade. However, when it came to championships, the team could not compete with the Eastern Division come playoff time - especially not the mighty Montréal Canadiens.

The 1980s brought forth Denis Savard, Steve Larmer and Doug Wilson, so, again, the team was competitive enough to make the playoffs, although it was never a true contender. The decade was all about the Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets out West, and the New York Islanders, Habs, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and Québec Nordiques (for the first half) in the East.

The franchise peaked with a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1991-92 for the first time in 19 years, powered by the likes of Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour, but it was all downhill from there. Bill Wirtz saw his team trade away all of its stars and finish near the bottom of the standings from 1997-98 until 2008-09, with the sole exception of their first-round exit in 2001-02.

In 2004, ESPN even named the Hawks the "worst franchise in sports", as their arena was empty - partly because the team was so awful, but also as a protest towards Wirtz' media blackout where the team's local games were not televised.

In 2007, Rocky Wirtz took over the franchise after his father's death and revised many of the team's policies, including that of the TV blackout. GM Dale Talon had built the foundation of the team's depth and drafted Toews and Kane as the franchise's offensive cornerstones. They hadn't necessarily tanked prior to building their contender - they just sucked - but they were on a definite upswing, one that remains to this day, as Chicago can proudly claim to be this generation's dynasty team, with three Stanley Cups to date with the same core, supported by a bunch of two-time winners.

In speaking of the Hawks' history, I decided to feature a card that showed them celebrating their 75th anniversary; granted, it was during a bleak period in their history, but one they had to get through to become what they are today. And so I present you the signed version of card #83 from In The Game's 2001-02 Be A Player Signature Series set, it of the ''gold'' variant variety:
It features hard-working nearly-point-per-game winger Steve Sullivan, wearing the team's classic red (then-away) uniform, with the 75th anniversary patch on his chest. It was signed on-card in thin black sharpie.

These days, Sullivan is an Arizona Coyotes player development coach.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Wade Dubielewicz Autographed Card

The New York Islanders had initially gotten away with sending Jaroslav Halak to their AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers, but shoddy goaltending has been an issue for the past two weeks, while Halak's thriving on his own:
Thomas Greiss is showing definite signs of fatigue and Jean-François Bérubé isn't ready to be a full-time NHLer, so the Isles need Halak to step in and save his team's playoff hopes the same way he did for the Montréal Canadiens for most of his tenure there.

Those are the facts.

It wasn't too long ago that the Isles were a dismal team, bottom-feeders with the likes of the Phoenix Coyotes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers. They had the worst arena in the league, no free agents wanted to play there, they were on every player's no-trade list, and the end result was that it iced teams made up of second-tier players.

From 2003-04 until 2007-08, one of their backup goaltenders was Wade Dubielewicz; sure, he mostly played in the AHL and his statistics regressed every year, but he still had a .919 save percentage in his final season with the team. Unfortunately, he was cast aside in favor of Rick DiPietro and Yann Danis, so he opted to play in the KHL the following season, signing with Kazan Ak-Bars.

21 games in, he wanted back, so he signed on with the Islanders when DiPietro got injured, but had to clear waivers first; of course, the Columbus Blue Jackets claimed him. And regretted it, as did the Minnesota Wild for signing him as a free agent the following year:
There are some players who are expected to remain with one team, who fit best in just one specific spot. I believe the Isles were the team for Dubielewicz. Which is why whenever I think "Islanders goalie problems", this is the card and picture that pops in my mind:
It's card #372 from Upper Deck's 2007-08 Series 2 set, showing him wearing the Islanders' white Reebok Edge (away) uniform with a mask featuring the infamous Fisherman that uniform geeks like myself remember fondly. It's just such a perfect card.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

David Aebischer Jersey Card

Seeing as how Peter Budaj revived his career after injuries to Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff, perhaps another former Colorado Avalanche and Montréal Canadiens goalie could pull it off next year. No, not José Theodore, I meant David Aebischer.

Then again, the Swiss goalie hasn't played since an awful stint in the second-tier Swiss League in 2014-15, where he posted a 4.72 GAA in 5 games after a few dismal seasons in the upper-echelon of hockey in Switzerland:
Courtesy of
Those are pretty bad numbers.

Nevertheless, he looks pretty cool on this card, #FF-DA from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Ice set and Frozen Fabrics sub-set, wearing the Avs' old burgundy uniform:
It's a plastic card that has some see-through portions and features a matching burgundy game-worn jersey swatch.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Autographed Jonathan Roberge Book

Yesterday and today, I went to tapings of Piment Fort, a French-language comedy quiz show filmed at a bar (Café Campus) and hosted by Normand Brathwaite; the shows will air next Tuesday and Wednesday on TVA and will feature comedians Katherine Levac, Rémi-Pierre Paquin and Jonathan Roberge:
Roberge, Levac and Paquin
You may remember Roberge's name from the last time I featured him, in 2012, when he and a couple of other comedians (Jérémie Larouche and Martin Félip) gave me a signed diaper.

This time, I got him to sign his book Fiston in black sharpie for me, which he did, adding "Bonne lecture", which translates as "have a pleasant read":
The book is actually a written compilation of a web series he had that ran for 100 funny episodes. As you can see by the bookmark, I'm roughly a quarter of the way through.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ryan Smyth Jersey Card

At this point, most readers are aware that Ryan Smyth was one of my favourite players of his generation; he kept the Edmonton Oilers' flame lit for his entire tenure (1994-2007, 2011-14), in addition to posting decent numbers with the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings - though he was clearly not an ideal fit on the latter two, despite what the numbers say.

However, last night, he suffered an injury when he received an elbow to the head right after scoring a goal in the Chinook Hockey League final, as his Stony Plain Eagles are facing the Lacombe Generals for the right to represent Alberta in the Allan Cup championship, the Stanley Cup of senior-league hockey.

The Hockey News went so far as to suggest his assailant, Kyle Sheen, is a goon - not just an enforcer, but a brute and thug - who shouldn't even be on the same sheet of ice as Smyth. The video in their opinion piece does, indeed, seem to confirm just that.

Smyth isn't just the Eagles' captain or an Oiler alumnus; he's Captain Canada, for fuck's sake. Every single year his NHL teams failed to make the playoffs despite his giving every ounce of energy to attain that goal, he answered Team Canada's call for the World Championships and proudly wore the "C" atop the maple leaf, usually on his way to a gold medal.

The way Canada usually convinces young players (say a Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, Aaron Ekblad or Ryan O'Reilly) to join those teams after disappointing seasons is with a bit of a bribe: "come play with us, join the Hockey Canada Rolodex, and maybe we'll call on you later, such as the Olympics or something".

They didn't have to go through such lengths with Smyth, who knew he'd be passed over for the more marquee events because Canada would rather have the star power of a center such as Jeff Carter or Claude Giroux playing wing than a guy willing to get injured on the ice to prevent or even score a goal; no, Smyth just goes because of his commitment to his country and his love for the game.

The same love of the game that got him playing in a senior league at age 41, three years after having retired from the rigors of the NHL, because he couldn't not play.

Here he is wearing the Oilers' white (then-home) turn-of-the-millennium uniform with the "Oil Driller" shoulder patches and the alternate captain's "A", on card #FF-RS from Upper Deck's 2005-06 Ice set and Frozen Fabrics sub-set:
It features a matching game-worn jersey swatch.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mathieu Garon Autographed Card

The Pittsburgh Penguins are on a bit of a roll, one that has them fighting the Washington Capitals not just for top spot in the Metropolitan Division but also the entire NHL, which would give the defending Stanley Cup champions home ice advantage for the entire playoffs.

GM Jim Rutherford also decided to keep Marc-André Fleury as a backup to Matt Murray at the trade deadline, which gives the Pens one of just two tandems league-wide consisting of a pair of #1 goalies, joining the Los Angeles Kings (with Ben Bishop and Jonathan Quick) in that regard.

One goalie who has played with both of these contenders is Mathieu Garon, who has also played with other teams currently atop the league standings, such as the Montréal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets. He did win the Cup with Pittsburgh, however.

He retired after a bizarre season with the Omsk Avangard of the KHL, one during which he played for a full week with a stick made for the wrong hand, because Reebok (his sponsor brand) doesn't deliver to Russia and a trip to Latvia was already in the books for the team.

Nowadays, he lives in Tampa, works for the Bolts and gives kids goaltending lessons on the side. Although he was only a #1 for two seasons, he is quite possibly the best goalie from the 1996 NHL draft, slightly ahead of Robert Esche.

He signed this card for me in blue sharpie when he was with the Bolts, so I would say around 2011-12:
It's the foil insert version of card #185 from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set, showing him wearing the Pens' alternate light blue "retro" jersey.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Aaron Ekblad Jersey Card

The Florida Panthers received some bad news earlier tonight, as both Aaron Ekblad and Denis Malgin were diagnosed with concussions following their hard-fought game against state rivals Tampa Bay Lightning.

Gabriel Dumont is the Bolts' forward who finished his check and made Ekblad's head connect with the boards. It was a play that happens a lot in hockey, many times per game; injuries like Ekblad's happen every week. The problem with Ekblad lies in the fact that this is the second time he's received such a diagnosis this season, as it had also occurred at the World Cup in September, although it was later re-classified as a "neck injury".

Be that as it may, there will always be concern when a promising 21-year-old, former Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) winner and future superstar - and quite possibly the Cats' future captain - suffers two similar injuries that are a risk to a player's career. He's the cornerstone they're building their entire defense around, and whom they awarded an eight-year contract to that carries a $7.5M cap hit annually that kicks in next season.

Of course, we wish Ekblad the best going forward.

Here he is wearing the Panthers' best (and former) red (home) uniform, on card #J-AE from Upper Deck's 2015-16 Champ's set and Relics sub-set:
It contains a dark blue game-worn jersey swatch from somewhere on the arms.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Corey Locke Autographed Card

Corey Locke was once named the CHL's 200-03 Player Of The Year and was the OHL's top points leader in 2003-04, justifying to his being drafted in the fourth round (113th overall) by the Montréal Canadiens in 2003 as an undersized center (5'8" and 165 pounds).

He never could make his mark with the Habs because they already had another such skilled, small center in David Desharnais, who happened to get along and play extremely well with captain-to-be Max Pacioretty.

He was traded to the Minnesota Wild organization in 2008, for Shawn Belle, but was unable to make the team; instead, he posted 79 points in 77 games with their AHL affiliate Houston Aeros and another 23 points in 20 post-season games, leading the team to the Calder Cup Final (he had won it with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2006-07).

He then signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers and later the Ottawa Senators, surpassing the point-per-game mark in the AHL for three straight seasons (two of which were at 85 points or better) but unable to crack the NHL line-up. He did win the Calder Cup for the second time with the Binghamton Senators in 2010-11, the same year he was deemed the AHL's Most Valuable Player. As a matter of fact, he shares the league record for most All-Star Game appearances, with six.

He then plied his trade in Finland and Germany, then briefly again in the AHL (Chicago Wolves and Abbotsford Heat in 2013-14), before going back to Europe in Germany, Switzerland, and now Austria. He's still a point-per-game player at 32 years of age, meaning he technically still has enough skill to perhaps crack an NHL line-up. He's definitely good enough to be on the Arizona Coyotes' second line, and the Colorado Avalanche or Carolina Hurricanes' third.

Here he is sporting the Bulldogs' white (home) uniform, on card #71 from In The Game's 2006-07 Heroes And Prospects set and Prospect sub-set:
He signed it in blue sharpie during a Sens training camp (2010 or 2011).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sergei Boikov Autographed Card

Currently in his first pro season with the AHL's San Antonio Rampage after signing his entry-level deal with the Colorado Avalanche last summer, Sergei Boikov is living up to the promise he had shown in Juniors, where he was known as "The Corporal" and helped Team Russia bring home the silver medal at the 2016 World Juniors with his swift skating and board-shaking hits.

There used to be a thought that his ceiling would be as high as Niklas Kronwall's - and he was a man among children with the LHJMQ's Drummondville Voltigeurs - but I've always seen his NHL potential as that of an Alexei Emelin, which in and of itself is not bad at all.

The hits may not show up as often in his rookie season - be that next season or the following one - but they will in time; it did take him a good month to stop being shy about physical contact on adults in the AHL this year, after all. His positioning is also almost NHL-ready, which means on a team like the Avs, where talent is thin on the blue line, he may get his chance at a roster spot earlier than later.

In due time (within the next five years), he should be a regular top-4 defender, one possibly looking at a shut-down role in the final minutes, with ample penalty-killing time. Some of the smaller forwards will even go out of their way to avoid facing him, opting to enter the zone on the other defenseman's side instead.

Unfortunately for him, he won't get to see his dream come true - playing against Pavel Datsyuk seems improbable now that The Magician is playing in the KHL - but perhaps he can play with him if the NHL decides not to send its players to the 2018 Olympics...

In any event, here's Boikov wearing the Voltigeurs' white (home) uniform from In The Game's 2013-14 Heroes And Prospects set and CHL Rookie sub-set:
He signed it in thin blue sharpie and tagged his uniform number (55) at the end. He was even one of the team's alternate captains in his final two seasons in the "Q".

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Geneviève Lacasse Autographed Card

I couldn't let International Women's Day go by without featuring another lady from Team Canada, so I decided to go with the losing goalie from the Clarkson Cup final pitting Les Canadiennes de Montréal against last year's winners, the Calgary Inferno, Geneviève Lacasse.

Lacasse has been with the Canadian National Team since 2009, usually suiting up as third goalie behind Charline Labonté and Shannon Szabados; her medal count reads as follows: gold at the 2012 World Championships, silver at the 2013 Worlds, and Olympic gold in 2014.

In College, she played for the Providence Friars, pretty much writing the team's record book and captaining it in her final season, as can be attested by this spectacular picture:
Following her collegiate career, which saw her earn her Master's Degree in marketing, she was drafted by the Boston Blades, winning the Clarkson Cup twice in a three-year span, as well as goaltending titles in both her rookie 2012-13 season and 2014-15. She was acquired by the Inferno late last August in a trade that sent Tara Watchorn to Boston, and finished third in the CWHL in save percentage and fourth in goals-against average:
Here she is sporting Canada's #31 red and black jersey on card #71 from Upper Deck's 2015 Team Canada Women set, which she signed in blue sharpie:
Of note that as a child of a military serviceman, she was born in Montréal and mostly raised in Ontario; she went to six different high schools spread across two provinces and two states: École Secondaire Catholique Marie-Rivier in Kingston (Ontario), Collège Charles-Lemoyne in Ville Ste-Catherine (Québec), École Secondaire de Mortagne in Boucherville (Québec), Kingston Collegial and Vocational Institute in Kingston (Ontario), Lake Forest Academy (Chicago, IL), and Marian High School (Detroit, MI).

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mark Cundari Autograph Card

A year ago, I featured defenseman Mark Cundari, thinking he had a chance to enter the San Jose Sharks line-up; instead, not only did they send him to their AHL affiliate San Jose Barracuda, but they even went so far as to loan him to the Lake Erie Monsters, the Columbus Blue Jackets' farm club, on March 7th, near season's end, where he had 6 points (3 goals and 3 assists) in 7 games.

That wasn't enough for another crack at an NHL line-up this year, not even when Monsters head coach Jared Bednar was hired in the same capacity by the Colorado Avalanche, who had a glaring hole on D that remained gaping all year, to the extent where the Avs are dead-last in league standings, with a record far worse than laughingstock franchises Arizona Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes.

Thus, he signed on with the German team Augsburg Panthers last summer and has 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points in 48 games in the DEL, who were happy to count a two-time Memorial Cup (2009 and 2010 with the Windsor Spitfires) and 2015 Spengler Cup (Team Canada) winner to provide their group with some leadership.

At 26 years old, it's not too late for Cundari to earn a permanent roster spot, be it in the NHL or abroad; heck, if Bednar can convince the Avs to give him another year, maybe he'll ask for Cundari to bolster up their defense on the cheap. He certainly cannot be much worse than the likes of Patrick Wiercioch, Fedor Tyutin, Cody Goloubef and Éric Gélinas...

Here's Cundari from his days with the Calgary Flames, on the signed insert version of card #728 from Panini's 2013-14 Score set and Hot Rookies and Dual Rookie Class sub-sets:
It features a blue-sharpied on-sticker autograph and shows him wearing the Flames' white (away) uniform.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Charline Labonté: Two Autographed Cards

As mentioned yesterday, Les Canadiennes de Montréal won the Clarkson Cup last night in Ottawa against the previous season's champion Calgary Inferno. The game was meaningful for many reasons, chief among which asserting Marie-Philip Poulin's clutchness once more, giving returning legend Caroline Ouellette one more title and proving Les Canadiennes are still the dominating team of the league's first era.

Oh, and it enabled long-time goalie Charline Labonté to finally get her hands on the Cup to complete her Triple Gold Club hat trick (Olympic gold, World Championship gold, league championship), becoming just the third (female) goalie to accomplish the feat.

Her medal count is actually pretty amazing: three-time Olympic gold medalist (2006, 2010 and 2014), two-time gold medalist at the Worlds (2007 and 2012) and six-time World Championship silver medalist (2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2016), winning the Top Goaltender Award in 2005, a feat she accomplished in the CWHL as well (2015). She didn't get it at the 2006 Torino Games despite a 0.33 GAA in three games because she shared the net with Kim St-Pierre.

She also came out as gay right after the Sochi Olympics.

Here she is wearing a special Team Canada Breast Cancer Awareness uniform on card #24 from In The Game's 2007-08 O Canada set and National Women's Team sub-set:
And here she is wearing the country's classic red jersey on card #CB-CL from Upper Deck's 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee set and Canadian Heroes sub-set:
She signed both in blue sharpie after a Les Canadiennes game last season.

Here's a look at her career stats before this year's playoffs:
 And here she is holding that elusive Clarkson Cup up high:

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Marie-Philip Poulin Autographed Card

Earlier tonight, Les Canadiennes de Montréal won the Clarkson Cup, the CWHL's championship title, by defeating last year's winners, the Calgary Inferno, 3-1 at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata (Ottawa).

Scoring the winning goal was captain Marie-Philip Poulin, who has been called the Sydney Crosby of women's hockey. She kind of has a knack for that, as she scored both goals in Team Canada's 2010 Olympic 2-0 gold medal win against Team USA and the tying goal (with 55 seconds left on the clock) and overtime winner at the 2014 Sochi games as well.

And yet, upon scoring the game-winner again tonight and being given the Cup by Commissioner Brenda Andress, she got down on one knee to hand it to Caroline Ouellette, the first player in league history to reach 300 career points:

Indeed, if Poulin's the sport's Crosby, Ouellette is its Mario Lemieux, possibly the best to ever play the game, and Poulin's childhood idol dating back to Ouellette's and Canada's 2002 win at the Salt Lake City Games.

But the 25-year-old Poulin, 2007-08 Rookie of the Year and current perpetual league scoring leader and MVP is quickly becoming one to watch out for, as her knack for padding up the stats sheet is becoming the stuff legends.

Here she is on card #63 from Upper Deck's 2015 Team Canada Women set, sporting the country's red uniform with the captain's "C" featured prominently on her chest:
She signed it in blue sharpie, adding her uniform number (29).