Hockey Card Gamble: A Seduction of Hits…and Misses!

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Hey, who out there likes to gamble? Maybe take a little trip to Vegas, or just a friendly card game between buddies? I don’t mind it from time to time, and now I’ve found a way to mix my love of inked cardboard and the thrill of laying it all on the line: case breaks!

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No Stanley Cup, But Still a Great 2015-16 Season for the Chicago Blackhawks

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Patrick Kane won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer in 2015-16. This was the first time in 48 years that a Blackhawks player has won the trophy. [Photo by Lisa Gansky Photography]

The shock of the Chicago Blackhawks losing to the St. Louis Blues on Monday night has not quote worn off yet — at least not among the die-hard fans who didn’t want to even think about baseball until June. Surely, weren’t the Blackhawks supposed to win the Stanley Cup this year, becoming the first team in almost two decades to win back-to-back championships? Alas, it was not meant to be. Game 7 was close. The entire Blackhawks-Blues first round series was close. But being close isn’t good enough when you are down a goal on the losing end. 

Still, let us not forget that the 2015-16 season was nothing to frown upon. From on the ice, to behind the bench, to the front office, it was a great season overall for the Chicago Blackhawks. Here are the top six highlights from the year that was.

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Every 1990-91 Hockey Card Set Ranked

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Twenty-five years ago, the hockey card market grew exponentially when three new companies — Upper Deck, Pro Set and Score — joined Topps and O-Pee-Chee, bringing the number of hockey card manufacturers to five. Not only that, but Topps issued a second set of cards, branded as Bowman, while O-Pee-Chee released a set called O-Pee-Chee Premier, giving collectors a total of seven hockey sets that season.

The year 1990 was clearly the start of the “hockey card boom.” No longer were hockey cards just the stuff of specialty shops; now every grocery, drug and convenience store carried hockey cards. Likewise, practically everyone saw hockey cards for their investment potential, hoarding cards of hot rookies as well as established players. The increased revenue even led to the NHL Player Strike of 1992. But overproduction, along with the decline of the market in 1992, led to 1990-91 sets plummeting in value.

Looking back a quarter-century later, it is easy to dismiss the entire 1990-91 season as “junk wax.” Yes, the companies printed tons of cards and flooded the market. Even 25 years later, you can find unopened boxes of 1990-91 cards for around $5 and complete sets for $10 or less. It is kind of sad that newer collectors can buy the cards from my childhood for less than what they actually cost during my childhood.

Just because those sets are “worthless” doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile to have in your collection…assuming, of course, that you don’t already have them. And maybe you don’t. Perhaps you are a newer collector, or maybe you didn’t bother with hockey cards in 1990-91. Today, you can pick up a hearty dose of nostalgia, history and rookie cards for less than what a blaster box costs.

That said, here is my ranking of every 1990-91 hockey set. Those of you over 30 can feel free to disagree.

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Score One for the Trainer

2006-07 Colorado Eagles card – Chris Porowski

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Most of us who collect can recall a great hockey card that shows a forward celebrating a goal or a goaltender making a save.  But great cards of the non-players — the coaches, GM, and other hockey operations staff — are far and few between. You might get a card of a coach just standing behind the bench. or a card of a GM giving that deer-in-headlights look. Nothing special, really. But this card of former Colorado Eagles Head Athletic Trainer Chris Porowski makes for a nice exception.

Instead of awkwardly smiling for the camera, or standing in the background, Porowski is shown helping a fallen Eagles player. Team trainers are the “first responders” when a player is hurt. Depending on the severity of the injury, seconds can matter and quick thinking is vital. So it is cool to see a hockey card that shows an athletic trainer doing what they are trained to do.

Also making this card great is the Star Wars-inspired logo in the upper left corner, which reads “2006-2007: The Eagles Strike Back.” This is based on the logo used for the second “Star Wars” film, “The Empire Strikes Back.”

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So, what were the Colorado Eagles striking back against? The Eagles were Central Hockey League champions for 2005, but lost in the second round of the playoffs in 2006. Thus, their 2006-07 campaign was about “striking back” and reclaiming their throne as CHL champs. And strike back they did; the Eagles won their second CHL championship in 2007. 

Interview: “Odd Man Rush” author Bill Keenan

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Hockey player-turned-author Bill Keenan [Photo credit: Reimund Schuster]

Bill Keenan is not yet a household name for hockey fans, but that might soon change. He played Division 1 college hockey at Harvard, but injuries limited him to just six games. After that, Keenan headed overseas to play minor league hockey in Belgium, Germany and Sweden.

He retired in 2012 and soon started writing his autobiography entitled “Odd Man Rush: A Harvard Kid’s Hockey Odyssey from Central Park to Somewhere in Sweden–with Stops Along the Way” (reviewed here). It is a fun, humorous tale of a young man trying to make a comeback in a foreign land. Others have apparently found Keenan’s tale entertaining, too. “Odd Man Rush” is currently ranked 23rd overall in the Hockey Biographies category on Amazon.com.

Keenan is back in college, studying business, and is a contributor to Stan Fischler’s newsletter, “The Fischler Report.” I recently spoke with Keenan about writing his book, the highs and lows of his career, playing against a 10-year old Sidney Crosby and why he decided to retire. And if you haven’t read “Odd Man Rush” yet, don’t worry — this interview contains no spoilers.

Sal Barry: I thoroughly enjoyed “Odd Man Rush” and did not want it to end.

Bill Keenan: That’s probably the biggest compliment I could imagine. I know that feeling, certainly not with my own book, but with some of the books that I like a lot.

SB: I didn’t know who Bill Keenan was before I got a copy of your book. Why would someone want to read “Odd Man Rush?”

BK: A couple of reasons. Whether you played hockey or not, whether you played a sport or not, I think a lot of this is about your average kid. Continue reading “Interview: “Odd Man Rush” author Bill Keenan”

G.I. Joe-inspired file cards of NHL players

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Like many kids growing up in the 1980s, I played with G.I. Joe action figures. Each figure had an interesting code name like Snake-Eyes, Shipwreck, Roadblock or Cobra Commander, had a ton of poseability  — including swivel-arm battle grip! — and came with some pretty cool weapons.

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The back of each G.I. Joe figure’s toy packaging had a file card. Flint here has a degree in English literature.

Another great thing about G.I. Joe action figures was that each one came with its own file card on the back of the toy packaging — a small profile about the character that you were supposed to cut out and save for future reference. Believe it or not, these file cards many times became a factor when deciding which figure to buy. As a nine-year old, standing in the toy aisle of K-Mart, with only enough scratch in my Ghostbusters wallet to get one figure, I had to make a tough choice each week. All the figures looked awesome, so the file cards told you what kind of character the toy was supposed to be, which made picking one easier.

So this got me thinking, what if NHL players had file cards that summed up what you needed to know about them? It would quickly get you up to speed if you haven’t been following their career, and help you decide if you were going to like them or not.

I imagine they’d look something like these.

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Review: 2015-16 Rockford IceHogs

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Smart drafting and quality development are the two key reasons why the Chicago Blackhawks have been successful over the past half-decade. Many of the prospects that the ‘Hawks draft end up playing a season or two with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, blossoming into NHL players. This year, the IceHogs released a new set of trading cards, which includes many players who may go on to become the newest ‘Hawks mainstays.

Every year since they joined the AHL, the IceHogs have either given away or sold in their team shop a trading card team set. And historically, the IceHogs do a great job, including practically every player and listing all of their statistics, while dressing it up in an appealing design. This year is no exception.

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Mister Rogers’ Hockey Card

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Yesterday was the birthday of Fred Rogers, the longtime host of the children’s TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. And while Rogers passed away in 2003, the work that he accomplished during his lifetime lives on. His work in television had a positive influence on multiple generations of children. Rogers also convinced Congress to not cut funding for public television, and was a proponent of technology that would allow TV programs to be recorded for later viewing. All that, and he was once the “Celebrity Captain” of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Book Review: The Wayne Gretzky Collector’s Handbook

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No player is more collectible than Wayne Gretzky. Period. Sure, some may argue that Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe were better players. But when you consider both the sheer amount of memorabilia items made bearing his image and the droves of people who collect them, no one tops Gretzky. “The Wayne Gretzky Collector’s Handbook,” published in 2016, painstakingly documents over 7,500 items with The Great One’s likeness, including trading cards, lunch boxes, posters, magazines and so much more.

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