I had high hopes when reading “He Shoots, He Saves: The Story of Hockey’s Collectible Treasures.” It isn’t every day that a book about hockey collectibles comes along. Plus, the book is written by Jon Waldman, who co-authored the excellent sports trading card book “Got ‘Em, Got ‘Em, Need ‘Em,” and is a regular writer for “Beckett Hockey Magazine.” Even better, Waldman got this book published without making it your typical price guide that slavishly informs us what every scrap of paper, ink or fabric is supposedly “worth.” That’s great, because while price guides may give values, they don’t tell the whole story.
Unfortunately, with heavy heart I must confess that “He Shoots, He Saves” did not meet my high hopes. Although well written, too much of the book talks about the teams and players, while very little actually talks about the collectibles.
To his credit, Waldman knows his stuff. He writes about hockey collectibles because he is a collector at heart, and thankfully not interested in using his book to list values. The first chapter gives a superb rundown of the many different hockey collectibles: jerseys, sticks, arena remnants, stamps, coins, action figures, pucks, ticket stubs, pocket schedules, autographs, Bee Hive photos, and of course hockey cards, among other items. Waldman’s section detailing the history of hockey cards is the best, most comprehensive timeline on the subject that I have ever seen. He notes every company that came and went in the 1990s and 2000s, as well as some of the milestones in hockey card history: the first in-pack autographs, the first memorabilia cards, the various company bankruptcies and mergers, and so forth. The first 68 pages of “He Shoots, He Saves” are an absolute joy to read.
Throughout the rest of the book, we do learn about quite a few interesting hockey collectibles, like the two-foot metal saber that Buffalo Sabres’ season ticket holders were given in 1970 and the rubber “Rat Trick” rats sold at Florida Panthers games in the 1990s.
But way too much of the book focuses on the history of NHL teams, past and present, and a brief biography of each team’s most popular player, with a short nugget of collectible info tacked on at the end.
For example, after a 2 1/2 page history about the Chicago Blackhaws and a 1 1/2 page biography about Bobby Hull, Waldman concludes with a blurb about painted tiles issued by HM Cowan in 1962-63, and how Hull’s tile shows him wearing number 7 — the number Hull wore for two seasons before switching to his familiar 9. No other information about these tiles is given. As someone who considers himself a hardcore collector of Blackhawks’ items, I had never seen nor heard of these tiles before, was excited to learn about them, and wished the author had told me more.
A lot of “He Shoots, He Saves” leaves me wanting more. Another example: when talking about former NHL sniper Dale Hawerchuk, Waldman vaguely explains…
“Hawerchuk was so revered in Winnipeg that he was made president of the Junior Jets Fan Club, and as a result some unique collectibles exist.”
And that’s it. He never says what these “unique collectibles” are, though there is a picture of a Junior Jets Fan Club pennant, so that must be one such item.
In some cases, Waldman tells but does not show. In the section about the Pittsburgh Penguins and Mario Lemieux, we are informed of the “Mario Mosaic” — a large mural of Lemieux comprised of fan-submitted photographs and housed at the CONSOL Energy Center. But again, we are left to our imagination (or Google) as to what this looks like. And really, is the Mario Mosaic something one can collect? Why not talk about Lemieux’s life-sized growth chart poster, the Mario Moments trading card set, the Eat ‘N Park collectible drinking glass series, or so many of the other items that collectors outside of Pittsburgh might not know about.
Photos are another problem. Save for the eight pages in the middle, pictures throughout the book lack both color and captions. That is a shame. Full-color photographs, even on slightly thinner paper to keep costs down, would have made a huge difference. Then there is the front cover, which shows a drab stock photograph of hockey stick butt-ends leaning against a beige wall — how is that going to help sell this book? — instead of any of the awesome hockey collectibles we see inside. (If you’re going to show a hockey stick on a book cover, at least show the business end, maybe with an autograph on the blade, along with a vintage puck.)
Captions under each picture would have also helped. We see a Bernie Parent Starting Lineup action figure, a Corn Flakes box that features Mario Lemieux, an “NHL Scrapbook” that pictures Tim Horton on the cover, bottle caps with portraits of Vancouver Canucks players, a room full of pucks and so many other fascinating items — but aren’t told even the most basic information about them, like when they were made or what makes them worth showing. Sometimes, the pictured items are mentioned in the adjacent text, but many times (such as the examples mentioned here) they are not.
“He Shoots, He Saves” gives an excellent summarized history of the NHL and its teams, along with the Olympics, the Summit Series and the WHA. Unfortunately, that information is easily found in many other books. So much more of this book’s emphasis should have been on hockey collectibles — especially since there are very few books on the subject.
Quote that epitomizes “He Shoots, He Saves”: “Years ago, owning a Bobby Orr rookie card or a game-used Patrick Roy stick meant something different: a feeling of connection to a hero or a moment in time. Now that sentiment can be easily lost, as trade shows and auction houses make the memorabilia industry a kind of stock market. Still, an enduring nostalgic element to collecting endures.”
What I like about “He Shoots, He Saves”: The history timeline about hockey cards is second-to-none. The author has selected some very offbeat items to showcase in the eight-page color spread. Throughout the book, in bits and pieces, you learn about many different hockey collectibles you didn’t know existed.
What I dislike about “He Shoots, He Saves”: As I have said before, too much of the book is about the teams and the players, making the collectibles aspect almost seem like an afterthought. All pictures should have been in full color (like they were in ECW’s other recent collectibles book, “Hockey Card Stories“) and included captions. So many fascinating collectible hockey items are hinted at, but never really talked about in-depth.
If you had a friend who was just getting into hockey and needed a crash course on the NHL, the WHA, the Summit Series, Olympic Hockey and the game’s most popular players, “He Shoots, He Saves” would be the perfect book to get them up to speed. It reads like a history of NHL teams more so than the history of collectibles it purports to be. That said, even a seasoned collector can learn something from this book. ■