The Las Vegas Golden Knights had a very successful inaugural season, first winning 51 regular season games, then powering its way to the Stanley Cup Finals. No, the Knights didn’t win in the Finals — that would have been a little too perfect — but the team was still inspiring and made many new fans along the way. So, it is only natural that Upper Deck would capitalize on the team’s popularity and success and release a Vegas Knights boxed set. Anyone who found themselves cheering for the gray and gold should definitely give this set a look.
With the NHL season now two months in, I’m sure everyone is as happy as I am that hockey is back in full swing. Just like with the last few seasons, Topps Skate is back as well with another year of digital card collecting, trading, and competition.
For those not familiar with Topps Skate, it is a digital app for mobile devices, licensed by the NHL and NHLPA, that allows users to collect and trade cards as well as compete in chase contests and live, real-time competition.
What’s that you say? Topps doesn’t make hockey cards? Topps hasn’t made hockey cards since 2004?
Well, you would be correct…if we were talking about actual, tangible cards you can touch, smell, and throw in your bike spokes. But in this case, we are talking about digital cards that exist virtually, in the mobile device world, floating through the air as little ones and zeros. Topps has had a license to produce the app and make card designs since 2016. I don’t recommend throwing your phone into your bike spokes.
This year’s app is quite different from last year and received a heavy design face lift. For those familiar with other Topps digital apps, it now looks a lot like the Topps baseball app, Bunt. But since we focus mostly on hockey, I wanted to take some time to give our readers a basic overview of the app and also give my take on Skate as a whole.
Remembering Hockey’s First Jersey Cards
It’s a brisk, early morning in September of 1997. I’m sitting at a picnic table at an elementary school playground, just north of Pittsburgh. My nine-year old self is huddled up with a few friends, rummaging through the new cards we had acquired over the summer. We were all in awe over Jeffy’s Joe Thornton rookie card, when a boy with a Sidney Crosby-esque pencil mustache approached us.
“Pfft, you guys think that’s cool?” asked eighth grader Joey M. “Check this out.”
He laid something out on the table that blew our pre-pubescent minds: a Mike Modano 1996-97 Upper Deck Game Jersey card. We stared in amazement, like it was a winning lottery ticket.
Joey glared at us like we were mere peasants in his newfound collectors kingdom. He then slowly picked up the card and walked away, without another word, leaving us in utter disbelief.
The 2002-03 Minnesota Golden Gophers team set has a sharp design and is about as comprehensive as a team set can get. It includes everyone — everyone! — from future NHLers like Thomas Vanek to the team’s third-string goalie.
Trading card companies continued to raise the stakes during the 1992-93 season, as the hockey card market continued to boom. Fleer entered the marketplace with its premium “Ultra” set, while Score doubled down, making truly unique sets for the U.S. and Canadian markets. Coincidentally, for the first time in their 25-year partnership, Topps and O-Pee-Chee released hockey sets that were different in design from one another. Meanwhile, Upper Deck continued to thrive, while Pro Set barely limped to the finish line. A lot happened with hockey cards 25 years ago.
However, the biggest news in hockey collectibles at the time was that 19-year old rookie Eric Lindros was going to make his NHL debut. Up until that point, only Score could legally include Lindros in its sets, due to an endorsement deal he signed with Score in 1990. That deal expired once Lindros became an active NHL player. With his debut imminent, but no photo of Lindros in a Flyers uniform readily available, the card companies had to figure out how they were going to include “The Next One” in its hockey card sets.
Here are my rankings of all 13 major hockey card sets released during the 1992-93 season. I count Score Pinnacle “U.S.” and “Canadian” (or “English” and “Bilingual,” if you prefer) as separate sets for reasons I’ll explain later. Also, this list does not include Panini stickers, because most collectors don’t consider those as “cards.” Nor does this list include small sets like McDonald’s, or oddball stuff like Season’s Action Patches.
So, will Upper Deck be number one for three years in a row?
When the 1993-94 hockey season started, the Leaf Trading Card Company entered into the foray and released several hockey card sets. The company chose a rather significant superstar as their spokesperson – Mario Lemieux.
As a Pittsburgh Penguins fan in the early 1990s, it was exciting to see Lemieux heavily featured in all of Leaf’s promotional material. Given the health issues he faced the previous season, seeing Lemieux look so vibrant, and featuring him in his own 10-card insert set, seemed like a fitting tribute to my hero.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins captured their second title in as many years, it didn’t take long for the Upper Deck Company to continue their tradition of issuing a limited-edition set to celebrate the achievement. Released in August 2017 was this 18-card Penguins Stanley Cup Championship set, featuring the players instrumental to the Pens’ pursuit and capture of Lord Stanley’s mug.
After the modest, fourth-place finish of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey team, and an increasing nostalgia for the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” Topps issued cards of players from the 1994 U.S. National Team. Most of these players went on to play for Team USA at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and quite a few went on to have successful careers in the NHL afterward.
Team USA insert cards were found one in every 12 packs of 1993-94 Premier Series Two. If I remember correctly, Series Two came out around February of 1994, the same month the Olympics were taking place, so the timing was right. The set consists of 23 cards. Some of the more notable players in the set are Brian Rolston, Brad Marchant and Peter Laviolette.
In 1983, Walter Hill had a big idea. The 1984 Summer Olympics was set to take place in Los Angeles and baseball cards were experiencing a sharp rise in popularity. Hill and his company, Finder Image International, wanted to capitalize on the interest in both.
“I was pursuing an Olympic license for various products,” Hill said. “My friend at the Coca-Cola Company and I talked about trading cards, and I thought it was a good product, so we worked together to get a license from the Los Angeles Olympics Organizing Committee. Once the proposal was approved, we contracted Topps to manufacture the cards.”
With production help from Topps, Finder Image International issued a set of cards called “History’s Greatest Olympians” in 1983 and 1984. Actually, make that three sets.
One set, consisting of 99 cards, was sold in packs and as a boxed set. A variation of the set, using a different logo, was sold at 7-Eleven convenience stores. A third set, smaller in size at only 48 cards, was printed on packages of Coca-Cola products.
“History’s Greatest Olympians” reads like a who’s who of the quad-annual games from the 20th century: Cassius Clay, Jerry West, Jessie Owens, Jim Thorpe, George Foreman, Dorothy Hamill, Mike Eruzione and more. The back of each card gives a short story about that athlete’s feat of Olympic heroism. With the 2018 Winter Olympics taking place in February, collectors might want to give “History’s Greatest Olympians” another look. The set has enough legends, variations and oddities to make for a challenging – but not impossible-to-complete – series to collect.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.
The role of the enforcer in the NHL was at a crossroads starting with the 2005-06 season. Fighting and physicality were being legislated out of the NHL, as the league was putting an increasing emphasis on speed and skill. But one card company saw fit to put out a set of trading cards — the first, really — that celebrated the enforcer’s role in hockey. Tough Customers, released in 2005-06, showcases 25 of hockey’s most popular — or notorious — tough guys. It’s a neat set for collectors who like cards of “enforcers,” “goons,” and/or “policemen.”