In the opening pages of “Black Ice,” a 12-year old Valmore James is teaching himself to ice skate after-hours in a darkened hockey arena. Meanwhile, his pet dog is making a game of emerging from the shadows, knocking James to the ice, and running away. James believes that if he could learn to skate while dodging a charging Doberman, he would be able to avoid getting hit when playing hockey.
But during his career, it was other hockey players who would try to avoid getting hit by James. In his autobiography, “Black Ice: The Val James Story,” we follow James, as he makes the unlikely journey as a young man, transplanted from Florida to New York, who learns how to play hockey as a teenager and becomes the first African American to skate in the NHL. We also learn about the endless racially-charged hatred that he had to endure because of the color of his skin. Continue reading “Book Review: Black Ice: The Val James Story”
If you gaze at a minor league team photo long enough, you won’t see a sailboat, but you will probably find a few guys who went on to play in the NHL. It’s like watching a Burger King commercial from ten years ago starring your favorite television actor before they were famous. Only in this case, it’s a hockey player who was riding buses to far-flung midsize American towns, such as Cleveland.
So many stories about minor league hockey are of sad-sack franchises — the teams that can’t pay their players on time, have little support from the community, and end up folding or relocating in a few years. This is not one of those stories, because the Columbus Chill were not one of those teams. “Chill Factor: How a Minor-League Hockey Team Changed a City Forever” recounts the history of the Columbus Chill, one of the most successful minor-pro teams in hockey.
Just how successful was this team? The franchise got to go out on their own terms, turn a tidy profit and help build the city of Columbus into a serious contender for — and eventual winner of — an NHL franchise. Like any good story, there were setbacks along the way, but for once, the little guy comes out on top.
I am not really a collector of pucks, even though you think I was, considering that this blog is called Puck Junk. Pucks are an iconic and necessary part of hockey. But pucks are also hard to collect. They are heavy and take up a lot of space. Numerous pucks are made each season — not just counting one for each team, but all the commemorative, outdoor games, all-star game and other “one-offs.” And really old, or really unique pucks can go for hundreds of dollars. So I usually steer clear of pucks and stick to cards, which I enjoy so much more anyway. However, I recently gave in and added a few pucks to my hockey collection.
Compiling a list of the top 100 sports trading cards is a harder job than it sounds. Sure, you have the obvious choices, like the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, the 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan, the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky and — for those with really deep pockets — the T206 Honus Wagner.
But what comes next? In “Got ‘Em, Got ‘Em, Need ‘Em,” co-authors Stephen Laroche and Jon Waldman take on the unenviable task of listing the top 100 cards of all time. The duo does not focus solely on high-value cards. Instead, they select cards that have transcended the boundaries of their sport or that have made a historical impact on card collecting. It is a fascinating book that every collector should read.
Elmer Lach, a former Montreal Canadien and an honored member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, died on Saturday at the age of 97. He was the oldest living former member of the Les Habitants at the time of his passing. Lach played in the NHL from 1940 to 1954, and was the center of the “Punch Line” with Maurice Richard and Toe Blake on his wings. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966, and had his jersey number, 16, retired by the Habs in 2009. Despite all these accolades, Lach remained humble and fan-friendly, and always signed autographs for anyone who wrote to him. Continue reading “Thank You, Elmer Lach”
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. Continue reading “Book Review: He Shoots, He Saves”
Martin Brodeur announced his retirement yesterday, ending a remarkable NHL career. During the past two-plus decades, Brodeur won many awards and set a lot of records. He also had a diverse array of hockey cards over the past 25 years. When Brodeur was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1990, trading cards were just plain pieces of cardboard. By the time Brodeur’s career ended, cards were as decorated as he was. Here’s a look at the past 25 years of Martin Brodeur’s career, illustrated with some of his best hockey cards. Continue reading “Career in Cards: Martin Brodeur”
Longtime Chicago Blackhawks fans may recognize this patch. It was issued in 1989 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Chicago Stadium, which was the home of the Blackhawks back then, as well as the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. I missed out on getting this patch when it was a giveaway in 1989. Since then, it has been on my want list — but I finally nabbed one! Continue reading “Chicago Stadium 60th Anniversary Patch”