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:
2006-07 Colorado Eagles card – Chris Porowski
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?”
BK: A couple of reasons. Whether you played hockey or not, whether you played a sport or not, I think a lot of this is about your average kid. Continue reading “Interview: “Odd Man Rush” author Bill Keenan”
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.
A funny thing happened while I was reading minor-league hockey player Bill Keenan’s autobiography “Odd Man Rush: A Harvard Kid’s Hockey Odyssey from Central Park to Somewhere in Sweden–with Stops Along the Way.” Originally, I did not have too much interest in reading the book, other than to write a review about it. But as I got closer to finishing it, I found myself slowing down and wishing that the book wouldn’t end. That’s sounds crazy, but “Odd Man Rush” is a fun story about a kid who dreams of playing professional hockey, even if he has to go to the ends of the earth to do it.
Last night, I spent three hours binge-watching Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story. The plan was to watch half of the miniseries one night before bed, and the other part the next night, but it was so much fun that my girlfriend and I decided to watch it in one sitting — bedtimes be dammed!
The made-for-TV miniseries, which originally aired on CBC in 2010, is about everyone’s favorite — or sometimes least favorite — hockey commentator Don Cherry. The two-part biopic chronicles “Grapes” long minor-league hockey career then gets into his coaching career and eventual tenure on Hockey Night in Canada. It was written by his son, Tim Cherry.
Considering that Upper Deck became the exclusive trading card licensee of the American Hockey League, it is a relief that teams can still produce their own sets. While Upper Deck has made two attractive sets dedicated to AHL players the past two seasons, team-issued sets are always the most comprehensive, featuring almost everyone on the team, from future NHLers to career journeymen to bubble players.
Earlier this year, the Springfield Falcons — top affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets — released a 25-card set for the 2014-15 season. It’s a colorful set that has baseball to thank for its unique, eye-catching design.
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.