Hockey cards have changed significantly since their inception and even more so since the “modern era of collecting” which began in 1990. Despite all of these changes, not every set issued was a hit from a collector’s standpoint. In that vein, there have been a ton of flat-out weird cards produced, especially towards the end of that decade. These cards were believed by overzealous manufacturers to be exactly what collectors wanted, only to receive a not-so-wanted reception. With that I would like to share with you some of the weirdest and most unique cards that I have come across from the 1990s:
1997-98 Pacific Dynagon Best Kept Secrets
Pacific was a manufacturer that certainly marched to the beat of their own drum. Their sets were always colorful to say the least. This bonus set was inserted into Pacific Dynagon packs and included a total of 110 cards that expanded on the 144 base card set. The front of these cards were designed to resemble a police file with a photo attached to a file folder. The back of the card resembled a close-up picture paper clipped to a piece of paper taken from a notebook. Pacific really “missed the memo” on this set. While the base Dynagon set included a minuscule five rookie cards, the Best Kept Secrets Bonus set included an additional four RCs — but the overall player selection was very strange.
Davis Payne, Paxton Schafer, Joe Hulbig and Christer Olsson were the “secrets” that Pacific believed that they kept from the other card manufacturers. Three of those four players got their one and only RC in this set, so I have to give Pacific credit there. But…in the end these four players played a total of only 136 games in the NHL combined. On a personal note, Hulbig was a first round draft pick in 1992, so I for one (literally the only one) was thrilled that he finally got a RC, as I collect all players from the first round of the NHL Draft. In the end though, I think that everyone can agree that Pacific got some bad intel on this set.
1998-99 UD Choice Mini Bobbing Head Inserts
File this one under cute ideas that followed a trend. As full-size Bobble Heads made their resurgence across all sports in the 1990s, Upper Deck had the idea of combining a bobble head figure with a hockey card. The Mini Bobbing Head insert set included several star goalies as well as forwards, including Wayne Gretzky (although I am sure if you asked him today he might have said this set was a bad idea). These cards allowed the collector to tear and bend them (!!!) in order to create a mini bobble/bobbing head card.
As long as you were careful during the construction process, they did actually work despite being very fragile. Upper Deck certainly deserves credit for being all-in with these inserts as they inserted them in their Baseball, Basketball, Football and Hockey Choice sets. In the end, these cards were very fragile as well as the fact that once assembled they were virtually impossible to store which led to their “it was a cute idea but…” status in the hobby. My fellow collectors and I respectfully bob our heads “no” to this set.
Despite all of that, if I was ever to buy a Basketball card on the funny factor alone, the Michael Jordan Bobbing Head would be my first and I would absolutely assemble and display it!
1997-98 Pinnacle Hockey Cans
“Daddy, can I have some money so I can get a can of hockey cards?” Seriously, Pinnacle came up with the idea of putting the “First Ever Hockey Card In A Can!” They inserted packs of their 1997-98 standard release into a sealed metal can. Even the inserts from this set followed the strange-but-unique concept.
The Stand Up Guys insert set sensibly combined a star goaltender with a young up-and-coming one in more ways than one. The front of these cards had an in game action picture of the goalie on one half of it with the other half of the card containing a close up of the goalies mask. Each card had a small slot cut into its middle about half way up from the bottom. Due to the half-and-half picture placement and the slot cut into the card, you were able to slide the two matching cards from this set together in order to create a four-sided, three-dimensional card highlighting both players. Despite being a truly unique idea, the can concept required the collector to use an actual can opener to get to the pack of cards inside. Needless to say, this was neither kid-friendly, nor was it a safe bet to get to your pack out of the can undamaged. After just one season, Pinnacle realized that the expiration date for cards in a can had come and past and thankfully they stopped canning cards.
1999-2000 Upper Deck PowerDeck CD-ROMs
Upper Deck tapped into a unique concept in a great way, but a bit too late as it relates to the ever-changing world of technology. The PowerDeck set included base cards of star players and each pack came with a PowerDeck mini CD-ROM insert. Loading up the CD instantly brought up a small four-inch by four-inch screen that gave the collector the ability to access information about the player, highlight reel videos, picture and stats galleries, as well as web links. Upper Deck even included a few PowerDeck cards in its Swedish Hockey League (SHL) set released that same year. They had one PowerDeck insert celebrating the entire SHL and one highlighting the Sedin twins just prior to when they burst onto the scene in the NHL. In the end we are left with an item that perfectly blends technology and collecting but I am not sure how much longer anyone will be capable of “playing” with these cards. You try finding a new laptop that still has a disc drive.
1997-98 Pinnacle Zenith Dare to Tear Set
In yet another attempt to be trendy and unique, Pinnacle asked collectors if they had the nerve to “Dare to Tear.” Pinnacle made the first-ever card within a card, and as a collector you had to decide to tear into the large 5″ by 7″ version to get to the random insert, RC or regular card inside — or to leave the large card as is. The outer or jumbo card checklist was a bit smaller than the regular-issue card found inside.
Pinnacle did, however, include several prominent rookies and also challenged Upper Deck by obtaining a license with Canada Hockey to include rookie cards of Vincent Lecavilier, Roberto Luongo and Alex Tanguay from their days of playing with Team Canada in the World Junior Championships. In the end, the fragility of the concept itself, the condition sensitivity of the inner card due to the process of removing it and the difficulty in collecting oversized cards doomed this very interesting set. If there is any set from this time period that I would prefer had continued to be produced it would be this one. I for one am still the proud owner of a 5″ x 7″ checklist from the set and yes, I will never tear it.
1995-96 Leaf Studio Rookies Inserts
Leaf entered the hockey market for the first time and produced cards for five seasons starting in the early 1990s (they returned again a few seasons ago but without an NHL license). Their main focus was geared towards coming up with different and trendy inserts. Modeling a hockey card after a credit card was one of their early attempts. The Studio Rookies insert set were made of plastic instead of card stock and even had rounded corners just like a credit card. This set included a great selection of twenty different rookies and displayed their early season stats embossed into the card where the credit card number would be. The player’s full birth date was also embossed into the front where the expiration date would be and the back of these cards even included a facsimile “Authorized Signature.”
If I was a player I don’t know how happy I would have been to have so much of my own personal info all on one hockey card. I’ve always wanted to attempt to use one of these to try to pay for dinner as a joke. Needless to say, the purchase would be just as unsuccessful as this set was.
There you have it, just a small sample of the weirdest and most-unique hockey cards of the 1990s. Feel free to share any others that I may have missed. I do understand if you love any of these cards, as they were unique, and most collectors have a card or a set that they simply love, regardless of what others think. In this day and age where everything becomes “retro cool” after a few years, being unique is actually a great thing.
Happy collecting! ■
Follow Larry Berman on Twitter @PaigesFall.