“I know what you’re thinking,” my friend told me when he loaned me this book, “the title is depressing. But the book isn’t.” Well, that’s mostly true.
“They Don’t Play Hockey in Heaven: A Dream, a Team, and My Comeback Season” is the story of Ken Baker, a former NCAA goalie and NHL prospect whose pro hockey aspirations were cut short by an undiagnosed brain tumor. Baker quits hockey and settles into a career as a journalist, interviewing celebrities for publications like People and US Weekly. But the effects of his tumor worsen, making Baker suicidal. Soon after, his brain tumor is discovered; most of it is removed, the rest is rendered benign by medication. He gets married and is about to settle into the “happily ever after.” That is, until Baker has what he refers to as “The Dream.”
Almost every season since 2000-01, Choice Marketing has issued a team set of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The 2015-16 Wilkes-Barre Penguins set is worth a look from hockey card collectors because of the nice design and, more importantly, because many of the players in this set went on to play in the NHL.
Most hockey fans undoubtedly remember the 2012 movie Goon, which starred Sean William Scott as a bar bouncer who makes it onto a minor league hockey team because of his fighting prowess. That movie — which now has a sequel called Goon: Last of the Enforcers — is very loosely based on this book “Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey,” which came out a decade earlier and is currently out of print. Despite the dissimilarities between the movie and the book, “Goon” is a book worth tracking down.
Earlier this month, Upper Deck released a new set of American Hockey League trading cards. Like the 2014-15 and 2015-16 AHL sets, this year’s AHL set is sold in packs and consists of 100 base cards and 50 short-printed cards. (The inaugural 2014-15 Upper Deck AHL set was released as a 100-card boxed set.)
This year’s AHL set is a good mix of prospects who will make it in the NHL, players who have been up-and-down between the NHL and AHL, and players who have not played much in the NHL but excel in the “A.”
A box of 2016-17 Upper Deck AHL trading cards costs around $40 and contains 20 packs. Each pack has five cards. I recently opened a box. See the results of the break…after the break.
Slap Shot came out 40 years ago and has endured as the greatest hockey movie of all time. However, there was never a set of Slap Shot cards to collect.
But as you probably know, some of the characters in the film were actually hockey players and did have cards made. Even better, some of the more recent cards are autographed and aren’t too difficult to track down, meaning that you can build a pretty impressive Slap Shot-themed collection.
If you are so inclined to “foil up” your collection a bit, here’s a list of cards to look for.
The Chicago Wolves, the American Hockey League affiliate of the St. Louis Blues, gave away a team set of trading cards towards the end of the 2015-16 season. This year’s Wolves set has a wide player selection, but making it truly memorable is the gritty, cool-as-hell design that you’d expect to see on superhero cards instead of minor league hockey cards. Yet, the Wolves pull it off, making for one awesome-looking set.
For a third year in a row, Upper Deck has produced a set of trading cards of American Hockey League (AHL) players. The AHL is the top developmental circuit for the NHL. Many players who play in the AHL go on to play at least a little bit in the NHL, making this a sort of future prospects set.
The 2015-16 Upper Deck AHL Hockey set came out in April of 2016. A box costs around $65 and has 20 five-card packs. Being a fan of minor league hockey, I could not wait to get my hands on this product, and recently busted a box. Here is what I found inside:
Most of us who collect can recall a great hockey card that shows a forward celebrating a goal or a goaltender making a save. But great cards of the non-players — the coaches, GM, and other hockey operations staff — are far and few between. You might get a card of a coach just standing behind the bench. or a card of a GM giving that deer-in-headlights look. Nothing special, really. But this card of former Colorado Eagles Head Athletic Trainer Chris Porowski makes for a nice exception.
Instead of awkwardly smiling for the camera, or standing in the background, Porowski is shown helping a fallen Eagles player. Team trainers are the “first responders” when a player is hurt. Depending on the severity of the injury, seconds can matter and quick thinking is vital. So it is cool to see a hockey card that shows an athletic trainer doing what they are trained to do.
Also making this card great is the Star Wars-inspired logo in the upper left corner, which reads “2006-2007: The Eagles Strike Back.” This is based on the logo used for the second “Star Wars” film, “The Empire Strikes Back.”
So, what were the Colorado Eagles striking back against? The Eagles were Central Hockey League champions for 2005, but lost in the second round of the playoffs in 2006. Thus, their 2006-07 campaign was about “striking back” and reclaiming their throne as CHL champs. And strike back they did; the Eagles won their second CHL championship in 2007. ■
Bill Keenan is not yet a household name for hockey fans, but that might soon change. He played Division 1 college hockey at Harvard, but injuries limited him to just six games. After that, Keenan headed overseas to play minor league hockey in Belgium, Germany and Sweden.
He retired in 2012 and soon started writing his autobiography entitled “Odd Man Rush: A Harvard Kid’s Hockey Odyssey from Central Park to Somewhere in Sweden–with Stops Along the Way” (reviewed here). It is a fun, humorous tale of a young man trying to make a comeback in a foreign land. Others have apparently found Keenan’s tale entertaining, too. “Odd Man Rush” is currently ranked 23rd overall in the Hockey Biographies category on Amazon.com.
Keenan is back in college, studying business, and is a contributor to Stan Fischler’s newsletter, “The Fischler Report.” I recently spoke with Keenan about writing his book, the highs and lows of his career, playing against a 10-year old Sidney Crosby and why he decided to retire. And if you haven’t read “Odd Man Rush” yet, don’t worry — this interview contains no spoilers.
Sal Barry: I thoroughly enjoyed “Odd Man Rush” and did not want it to end.
Bill Keenan: That’s probably the biggest compliment I could imagine. I know that feeling, certainly not with my own book, but with some of the books that I like a lot.
SB: I didn’t know who Bill Keenan was before I got a copy of your book. Why would someone want to read “Odd Man Rush?”
Smart drafting and quality development are the two key reasons why the Chicago Blackhawks have been successful over the past half-decade. Many of the prospects that the ‘Hawks draft end up playing a season or two with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League, blossoming into NHL players. This year, the IceHogs released a new set of trading cards, which includes many players who may go on to become the newest ‘Hawks mainstays.
Every year since they joined the AHL, the IceHogs have either given away or sold in their team shop a trading card team set. And historically, the IceHogs do a great job, including practically every player and listing all of their statistics, while dressing it up in an appealing design. This year is no exception.