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:
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.
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.
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.
From 1985-86 to 1990-91, both Topps and O-Pee-Chee printed special trading cards on the bottom of the boxes of hockey cards. If you think about it, these “box bottoms,” as they are usually called, are like the short prints of the vintage era because you only got four per box. You either had to buy the entire box of cards to get just four box bottoms, or find other ways to acquire them.
The 1987-88 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Box Bottoms set features cards of players who led their playoff-bound teams in scoring during the regular season; that is, they were on a team that made the playoffs and led their team in scoring during the regular season. This just might be the high-water mark of hockey box bottom sets, as 12 of the 16 players here were later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
46 greats from the ’93 All-Star Game
The 44th NHL All-Star Game, held at Montreal Forum on February 6 of 1993, was the end of an era for the league’s annual best-vs-best game. This was the last time the Wales Conference and Campbell Conference would square off; next season, they were renamed the Eastern Conference and Western Conferences, respectively. It was also the last time the All-Star Game uniforms would feature the familiar black, white and orange palette that had been the game’s color scheme since 1973.
The 1993-94 Stadium Club Hockey set featured a striking, 23-card insert set dedicated to the 1993 All-Star Game. The cards were seeded 1 in every 24 packs of Series One. One side of each card had a portrait of a Campbell Conference All-Star; the other side, his Wales Conference counterpart. Its combination of great players, good portraits and a timeless design makes for a cool insert set worth owning. Continue reading “Review: 1993-94 Stadium Club All-Stars”
What if Topps didn’t always play it safe?
What if Topp was not such a boring company when it came to hockey cards in the 1980s? While Topps made epic-sized, 792 card baseball sets that featured practically every player on a team, including bit players and first round draft picks before they even suited up for a game, their hockey sets were seriously lacking,
In that decade, Topps hockey sets were not much bigger than most non-sports sets, sometimes weighing in at a scant 165 cards. That is, if they even bothered to make a hockey set at all.
Those of us who started collecting hockey in the 1980s will remember when NHL players had to EARN a rookie card. While some exceptional players in the 1960s and 1970s got rookie cards during their rookie season–like Bobby Orr and Guy Lafleur–the 1980s were a different story. A player had to play a full season before they were granted cardboard. Even Mario Lemieux, who rewrote the record books in junior hockey and was drafted first overall, had to play in the NHL for a year before getting a card.
In 2003-04, Topps released an insert set called The Lost Rookies. Found 1 in every 12 packs of Topps Hockey, The Lost Rookies is a “what if” set that depicts 11 superstars on cards from their rookie year–such as Lemieux on a 1984-85 Topps card or Joe Sakic in the 1988-89 set. It is a very cool idea, and a great set for anyone who enjoyed hockey in the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s.
One of the harder-to-find insert sets of the 1990s
Remember when a print run of 10,000 copies felt small? That number is laughable now, as numerous insert sets today are limited to 99, 50 or even just 10 copies of each card.Of course, there are 1 of 1 cards to collect too, so tracking down a set limited to “just” 10,000 copies doesn’t seem too daunting. But back during the 1993-94 season, it was a good idea at the time, given the millions of cards printed during the hockey card boom.
The 1993-94 Donruss Elite Series insert set was a sign of things to come, a harbinger of serial numbers and shiny holo-foil. Given that insert sets became more and more numerous, stepping back and making something that was limited in print run and looked extremely different than the base set design made this insert set unique.
So, how does this set hold up today? Is it worth buying? Continue reading “Review: 1993-94 Donruss Elite Series”
6 cards, 12 illustrations of 90s greats
Inserted in packs of 1992-93 Pinnacle hockey trading cards, Team Pinnacle featured twelve of the greatest men to lace up skates in the 1990s. Two centers, two left wingers, two right wingers, two goalies and four defensemen are depicted in these action-oriented illustrations. While you’d think these dudes were starters in the NHL All-Star Game, or named to the NHL All-Star Team (as selected by the sports writers), that is not the case here. These guys are “Team Pinnacle”, as selected by Pinnacle (a.k.a. Score) Trading Card Company. Continue reading “Review: 1992-93 Team Pinnacle”
Ten-card set a must for goalie collectors
One of the coolest things that makes hockey so different is the uniqueness of the goaltender. Not only do hockey goalies wear padding all over their body to stop flying pucks, but they can have their mask painted any way they want – a tradition that started with Gerry Cheevers in the 1970s and continues to this day. You would never see a football quarterback paint his helmet differently than his teammates, or a baseball power hitter emblazon his batting helmet with his nickname. But in hockey, this is perfectly normal – hell it’s almost expected. From Cheever’s “stitches” to John Vanbiesbrouck’s “Panther”, custom goalie masks are as much a part of the game of hockey as an open ice hit, the slap shot or the Zamboni itself.
In 1993, Leaf Trading Card company released “The Leaf Set”, a high-quality hockey card set which featured several insert sets. One of these was a ten-card set called “Painted Warriors”, which keyed in on ten of the best goalies of the 1990s. Continue reading “Review: 1993-94 Leaf Painted Warriors”