For those of you who live away from home, there’s certain things you like to do every time you return. Maybe it’s getting the guys together for a game of sandlot baseball, going for breakfast at your favorite spot (for me, Winnipeg’s Falafel Place…this better get me a free bowl of soup), or simply catching up with old friends. I like all of these things, but to this list I add another pastime that’s the subject of this article: looking through my boxes of old hockey cards.
The first couple years after I moved away from home, there was a somewhat reasonable rationale for this habit. I thought that maybe some of the players who weren’t stars at the time I relegated them to the large plastic bins and cardboard boxes had since broken out and were now deserving of a spot on a page in a binder or even…if the card was REALLY valuable…their very own hard plastic sleeve. [It works the other way too, as I vividly recall a point in the mid to late 90’s where I had to resign myself to removing my Upper Deck Pat Falloon rookie cards from their own sleeves and move them into the boxes. My dad had previously re-purchased a Pro Set Falloon rookie at a card show in Grant Park School after I had (I thought) made an ill-advised decision to trade it away. Alas, some trades in hindsight are wise, though this maxim still doesn’t apply to Selanne for Tverdovsky and Kilger…still the five scariest words in the world.] And while, in cases like Falloon’s, you can be pretty sure the guy won’t be making the leap back to the NHL from the Rural Manitoba Beer League anytime soon (with all due respect to Carman, “Home of Ed Belfour!”), there’s always that surprise breakout no one saw coming for years. And when it happens, those buried rookie cards all of a sudden become worth something. Just imagine how many baseball fans are kicking themselves right now for misplacing their Rick Ankiel cards years ago. [hint: check underneath your bottles of HgH].
So that’s where it started, but as the years went by, the rationale necessarily faded. I stopped collecting cards in the mid-90s, and anyone whose career hadn’t started to take off after the first few years following that likely wasn’t experiencing a 10th year-in-the-league renaissance [although I do remember Ray Ferraro once dropping an obscene 70+ point total out of nowhere late in his career and killing me in a hockey pool.] I won’t lie – I was still hoping to find a diamond in the rough, maybe a treasure like a Selanne rookie stuck to the bottom of a box by a piece of Topps chewing gum, or something like that, but the real reason I cracked the boxes open when I was home last month was for the memories. It let me go back in time to when hockey cards were everything, when a trip to the convenience store, or for those lucky enough, to hockey card stores like Joe Daley’s [or for the luckiest of us, to Pokey Redick’s own In The Crease!] was the highlight of the day…in an era before little pieces of fabric....err “jerseys” started getting attached to cards, before one season’s worth of card sets took up twenty-five pages in Beckett, and to a time when the hockey world seemed perfect. And by perfect, as I don’t need to say, but I will anyways, I mean this: when we had the Jets.
With that in mind, here’s what I learned from sifting through thousands of old cards, mostly from the late 80’s to mid 90’s.
1. Harold Snepsts’ moustache is still a classic after all these years.
I remember making fun of Snepsts’ moustache back in the days of the Jets-Canucks Smythe division rivalry. People talk about Lanny McDonald’s moustache, but Lanny ain’t got nothing on Harold Snepsts. Don’t believe me? Check out his 1989 O’Pee Chee card (#186)…which is an absolute classic from the no-helmet era…and available (autographed!) for $1 on ebay.
Speaking of the Canucks and ugliness, how horrible are those new jerseys? Who designed them –the guy who designed Mike Ricci’s face?
2. Pat Elynuik has great penmanship
Given the number of autographs sports stars are going to sign in their careers, it’s amazing how many of them never develop a legible signature. Perhaps Eddie Shack was ahead of his time when he signed everything with a simple X [or perhaps it was because the hockey legend never learned how to write]. In any event, when you looked at a page full of autographs, it was easy to pick out Eddie Shack’s. The same can be said of former Jet Pat Elynuik. Buried in one of the boxes I found a number of Winnipeg Jets cards that had been released as a promo by Safeway in 1989-90. And while Danton Cole and Laurie Boschman’s signatures are legible, Elynuik’s is a work of beauty. The same can be said of his 32 goal, 74 point season that year.
3. Tony Hrkac and Brett Hull were separated at birth.
I remember opening packs of 1989-90 O-Pee-Chee cards, and being certain I had come across a valuable Brett Hull second-year card, only to eventually realize that the guy with a big head of blonde hair in the Blues jersey was in fact not the Golden Brett but Tony “Can I Buy a Vowel” Hrkac. You think I’d have figured it out, but it was déjà vu all over again when I went back into the boxes. I must have found 10 Hrkac cards from this set, and every time, I thought I had myself a Hull. See for yourself. [1989 O’Pee Chee, card #64..worth 20 cents.]
4. Dave Ellett and Fred Olausson put up solid offensive numbers
Jets fans love reminiscing about how bad our defencemen were. And it’s true. The names Sergei Bautin, Igor Ulanov and Dean Kennedy, won’t find their way into the Hockey Hall of Fame anytime soon. That said, Ellett and Olausson were solid. Everyone remembers how steady Teppo Numinen was (and still is!) and how electrifying Phil Housley was feeding Teemu from the point, but Ellet and Olausson perhaps fly under the radar…at least to this fan. But Ellet had over 45 points for 5 straight seasons with the Jets (as evidenced on the back of his 1990 Topps card),and Olausson topped the 60 point mark in the ‘88 and ’91 seasons. (1992 Fleer Ultra #18). These are solid offensive numbers for defensemen regardless of the era in which they were put up, and attests to how strong some of the Jets teams were back in the day.
5. A box of cards is like a box of chocolate: you never know when you’re going to find a Markus Naslund rookie card.
After sifting through literally thousands of cards, I came across a card featuring a member of Sweden’s World Junior team. The face looked familiar, and sure enough, I had dug up Naslund’s 1992-93 Upper Deck rookie card (#234). According to the NHL’s card store (yes, they actually have one, and you can check it out at shop.nhl.com), the card is worth $15. That’s pretty good, but I became a little more skeptical of the price when I noticed that, on the same site, you can find a Dan Cloutier rookie listed for $12, which seems exorbitant even by Kevin Lowe standards (Dustin Penner’s good, and a Manitoba boy too, but that contract was mind-boggling).
But at the end of the day, I realized it didn’t matter what it was worth. I put the Naslund card back in the box, with the rest of the Tony Hrkac’s and Pat Falloon’s, and left it there for good. Or at least, until the next time I open the boxes.
For Illegal Curve, I'm Steve Werier.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Posted by Richard Pollock at 9:42 PM