Sports Byline USA: The NHL ’94 Video Game & Sports Trading Cards


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Last week, I was a guest on the radio talk show Sports Byline USA, hosted by Ron Barr. Those of you who played the video game NHL ’94 or some of the other early games by EA Sports will of course remember Barr, who was literally “in the game,” introducing the teams and players. 

Barr and I talked about NHL ’94 and the game’s enduring popularity 25 years later, the NHL94.com website and the “Pixelated Heroes” documentary. We then talk about the sports memorabilia industry and some of the gimmicks that trading card companies use today to stimulate sales. 

Run time is EXACTLY 15 minutes, so grab a beverage, click play and enjoy! 

Special thanks to Ron Barr and Sports Byline USA for the audio clip. 

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk
Follow Sports Byline USA on Twitter @SportsBylineUSA.

Top 10 Hockey Collectible Stories of 2018

On the surface, the 2018 calendar year may have seemed a bit slow when it came to hockey cards and collectibles. Only one company makes licensed NHL hockey cards, so there is no real head-to-head competition. Still, that didn’t stop one card company from foiling the plans of another. Plus, there was plenty of competition in a record-breaking auction. A few other significant happenings took place in the world of hockey collecting. Here is my list of the top hockey collectible stories for 2018. 

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Puck Junk’s Top Articles of 2018

Happy New Year! Before we get into new content for 2019, I wanted to do a recap of Puck Junk’s most-read articles of 2018, and a brief update on what’s been going on with this website.

First, I am happy to report that readership at Puck Junk was at an all-time high in 2018. Traffic for this site grew about 37% between 2017 and 2018. And let me assure you, it is much more gratifying to write when more people read what I put up here.

The increase in readership was in big part because several new writers have joined the Puck Junk team, giving their unique perspectives on hockey and hockey collectibles. Their fine work has made it possible to update Puck Junk more frequently since the start of the 2018-19 season; perhaps you have noticed that this site has been updated almost every day since October? 

Also, a lot of you wanted to know what happened to the Puck Junk Podcast and if it is going to return. It has been over a year since co-host Tim Parish and I recorded our last podcast. There are several reasons why the show has gone on hiatus, but basically it boils down to lack of time, technical problems and a decision for me to focus more on writing. Look, I love producing audio and video content, but those take substantially more time, and get substantially less traffic than a well-written article. But to answer the question, I think the Puck Junk Podcast will make its return sometimes this month, once I complete a large side project. 

Anyway, below are the top articles that were published on Puck Junk during the 2018 calendar year. If you missed any of these, be sure to give it a read.  

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Six New Members Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame

A Look at Each Inductee and Their Rookie Cards

The Hockey Hall of Fame inducted perhaps its most diverse group of honorees on November 12. Consider Martin St. Louis, who at 5 feet 8 inches was passed over in the NHL Draft because he was thought to be too small, and yet ended up being a leading scorer even at the twilight of his career. Then there is hulking, 6-foot-3-inch Aleksander Yakushev, who never played in the NHL but dominated during international play for the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Jayna Hefford was a mainstay for Canada’s international women’s team for 17 seasons, winning 12 gold medals, as well as becoming the all-time leading scorer in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Headlining the players’ category was Martin Brodeur, who is the all-time leader for NHL goalies in wins, shutouts and games played.

Inducted in the builders’ category was Willie O’Ree, who broke hockey’s color barrier 60 years ago as a player with the Boston Bruins, and then helped others follow in his footsteps for the past 20 years. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was also inducted as a builder for the growth the league has enjoyed over the past quarter century.

“He Will Take a Hit to Make a Play”

The first to the podium that night was NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He is the longest-serving active commissioner of any pro sports league, and the only active pro sports commissioner to be inducted into a Hall of Fame.

“To imagine myself as a permanent part of this magical place is overwhelming,” Bettman said, “and I am thrilled to be enshrined in this Hall with this group of exceptional honorees.”

Bettman was the only 2018 inductee who never played hockey, but still took a humorous look at what kind of player he would have been: “The hockey scouting report on me would be something like this: lousy skater, not much of a shooter, you’re not going to outwork him, he’ll be strong in the corners and in front of the net, and he will take a hit to make a play.”

When Bettman took over as NHL Commissioner in February 1993, the league was a mess. Read the full article at Sports Collectors Digest

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk

Upper Deck Giving Away Winter Classic Card Set in Chicago This Weekend

Upper Deck is giving away a free, six-card set of Winter Classic hockey cards this weekend at the Winter Classic Fan Festival in Chicago. The fest is at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millenium Park, Saturday, December 29 to Monday, December 31. The fest runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Fans who drop by the Upper Deck booth will get a pack containing six cards.
 
The checklist is as follows: 

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10 Things You Should Know About Blades of Steel

Thirty years ago, hockey video game Blades of Steel was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The game has stuck around, with several sequels and re-releases, as well as embedding itself into hockey culture, over the next three decades. 

Created by video game company Konami, Blades of Steel was originally a coin-operated arcade game released in 1987. It was ported to the NES in 1988, various home computers in 1990 and the Game Boy in 1991. But 30 years later, it is the Nintendo version that is best-remembered. Blades of Steel came out in a simpler time. It was just realistic enough to be cool, but easy enough that anyone could learn to play it in five minutes. Blades of Steel for the NES had fast-paced five-on-five action, some play-by-play narration and even fighting — and fighting had consequences, as the winner of the fight would get a power play, while the loser would literally get dragged to the penalty box. 

In celebration of the game’s 30th anniversary, here are 10 things that you should know about Blades of Steel

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Interview: Michael J. Sokyrka, NHL ’94 Music Composer

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for The Hockey News about NHL ’94 for the video game’s 25th anniversary. One of the people that I interviewed was Michael J. Sokyrka, who composed much of the music for the different versions of NHL ’94. We had a great conversation, but because of the sheer amount of information that I had to cover, as well as space limitations of a magazine, I was only able to quote Mr. Sokyrka once in my article. So, I decided to publish our conversation here, as it gives a fascinating look at how video game music — and specifically the music for NHL ’94 — was made back in the early 1990s. 

Sokyrka is a musician and a music teacher. One day, he transcribed some blues riffs for two young students to learn, which impressed their father, Rick Friesen — who happened to work for a company in Vancouver called Distinctive Software. The company needed someone with Sokyrka’s talents to make music for video games. Sokyrka took the job, and several years later the company was purchased by Electronic Arts and became EA Canada. NHL ’94 was the first of several hockey video games that Sokyrka worked on. 

Sal Barry: Had you worked with computers much prior to joining Distinctive Software? 

Michael J. Sokyrka: I had zero computer experience at the time. The first time I saw a mouse, I thought I had to speak into it. Everybody [at Distinctive Software] seemed to be having a good time. I was hired on the spot. I walked out of there thinking, what have I done, I just took on a job, and I got my teaching studio, how am I going to handle all of this? Needless to say, for the first seven years or so, I worked two jobs. I’d start my day at Distinctive Software at 7 a.m., and then teach piano lessons, and my day would finish usually around midnight. Then on the weekends, I was gigging.

SB: Are you a hockey fan?

MJS: I’ve always been a hockey fan. Continue reading “Interview: Michael J. Sokyrka, NHL ’94 Music Composer”

New faces and a few surprises revitalize annual Blackhawks Convention

The Blackhawks Convention has been a must-do for ’Hawks fans ever since the show started in 2008. This year, it took place on July 27-29 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago.

It was the 11th year for the popular show, where fans have the opportunity to meet and get autographs from players, shop for hockey merchandise and attend panel discussions. There is also an interactive room with activities like floor hockey, as well as a display from the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s a tried-and-true format that hasn’t changed much in the past 10 years. So, what could the Blackhawks do this year to mix things up and make the show feel fresh again?

For starters, the Blackhawks brought back two of its most iconic players: Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios. The pair were the most popular Blackhawks players during the 1990s, but neither had been a part of the Blackhawks Convention until now.

“It always seemed that the Convention was at the same time as something that I had already planned,” said Roenick, who played with the Blackhawks from 1988 to 1996. Read the full article at Sports Collectors Digest

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk

1994-95 Parkhurst SE Promo Card

During the 1994-95 season, Upper Deck sold a set of hockey cards called Parkhurst Special Edition — usually referred to as Parkhurst SE — in Europe. Even though the cards were printed in English, they were sold outside of North America, though many have eventually found their way back to this side of the Atlantic. Even though they were sold overseas, Parkhurst SE cards were printed in English. 

A while ago, I found this promo card for Parkhurst SE. It features Wayne Gretzky and gives more details about the set in English: 10 cards per pack, 48 packs per box, and a special collectors album to put the set in. 

But the back of the card was always a mystery to me. It is written in Swedish and Finnish, and I never knew what it said — until I got a little help from some friends on Twitter. 

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This is Why I Check the Bargain Boxes

I thought I’d end the week with a fun look at some cards I picked up at a recent show. Although I don’t really write too many “look at what I bought” blog posts anymore, I am still an avid hockey card collector. Last month, I went to the Chicago Sports Spectacular, and since I don’t have an infinite budget for frivolous things, I will almost always stop and look through the bargain boxes — because you never know what you may find. Here are some of the gems that I scored for loose change.

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