The set that was truly a “head” of its time
Perfection. There is no other word to better describe the 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee Hockey set. Hands down, it is the best hockey card set from the 1980s. It might even be the best hockey set made during the “O-Pee-Chee Era” (1968-1993). The ’84-85 O-Pee-Chee set achieves perfection because of its fantastic design, excellent photography and comprehensive player selection – not to mention that it includes the rookie cards of five future Hall of Fame players.
Player selection 5 out of 5
For 11 seasons starting in 1974-75, O-Pee-Chee hockey sets were comprised of 396 cards. This set – monstrous in comparison to its 165-card Topps counterpart – dedicates 339 of its 396 cards to various NHL players, giving us a fantastic range of players from each team.
Since the set was released in Canada, the Canadian teams tend to be represented a bit more, but not by much. U.S.-based teams average 15 to 17 cards, with a few exceptions here and there – only 11 Penguins cards, but 20 different Red Wings! Canadian-based teams average about 19 cards each. Considering that an NHL roster is 20 players, this set manages to capture not only the stars and superstars, but many of the depth players too.
Several prominent rookie cards are found in this set. Hall of Famers Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Doug Gilmour, Pat Lafontaine and Cam Neely all make their first cardboard appearances here. Other notable RCs include Pat Verbeek, Tom Barasso, Dave Andreychuk, Patrick Flatley and Gary Leeman.
Front Design 5 out of 5
The design is where the 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set truly shines, setting it apart from other sets of the decade. The front of each card features both an action shot and a head shot – a first in hockey card design. The use of both types of photos on one card would not be utilized again until the hockey card explosion of 1990, where printing a second picture on the back became the norm.
The larger photograph on each player card uses an actual game action shot, and not the usual shot taken during warm-ups or play stoppages that typified hockey cards of the 1980s. About a dozen or so warm-up type shots managed to sneak into this set, but otherwise it uses exciting photos of players fighting for the puck or skating hard; or goaltenders handling the puck or making a save.
What really makes the design click is the small portrait shot in the lower right corner. Almost every goalie card has a head shot of him without his mask, while many of the cards of skaters show the player without his helmet. This was a great feature given the time, considering that by 1984 all goalies wore masks and the majority of players wore helmets, making them less recognizable to fans.
But the design itself must not be discounted. Bright, eye-catching colors that match the player’s uniforms border each card, giving them a “team-centric” feel. Both the player name and the team name are written across diagonal stripes, further enhancing the sense of action and motion. The rounded corners along the top borders subtly mirror the rounded border arcing over the head shot photo.
Thankfully, O-Pee-Chee did not attempt to shoehorn in the team logo. Doing so would have made the card feel cluttered, distracted from the photographs, and otherwise ruin such a perfect design.
Back design / stats & info 5 out of 5
Hockey card sets of the 1970s toggled between showing a player’s complete career statistics, or showing just the previous year and their totals. But by the 1980s, O-Pee-Chee (and Topps) featured a player’s complete professional statistics, even listing stats accrued in the World Hockey Association when applicable.
Also included is the player’s height, weight, if they are a left or right shot, birth date, birthplace, current hometown, first professional season, and how they were acquired by their current team (draft, trade, etc.). When space allows, a short biographical paragraph – in both French and English – give us more detail about the player. All these facts help us to better know the players. Too bad most current card sets barely manage to list a player’s height and weight, let alone birthplace or how acquired.
The text on the back of the cards is printed in dark blue ink over a pink, white and magenta background, making for a colorful design that is also easy to read. O-Pee-Chee could have left it at that, but managed to incorporate a silhouette of a hockey stick, which breaks up the space and adds a diagonal (yay!) to an otherwise static and horizontal design, all while drawing attention to the O-Pee-Chee logo at the bottom. Even the card backs are appealing.
Subsets 5 out of 5
Good hockey card sets of the era managed to also serve as a record book, highlighting awards and accomplishments from the previous season. In addition to 3 checklist cards, 5 different subsets inform us about what went down during the 1983-84 season.
All-Star Teams (12) – Cards of the 6 First-Team and 6 Second-Team All-Stars. Each card lists the pictured player’s career accomplishments on the back.
Team Leaders (21) – The front of each Team Leader card lists the leader of that team for goals, assists, points, power play goals, short-handed goals and game-winning goals. The back lists stats of the team’s top 9 or 10 scorers and top 2 or 3 goaltenders.
Trophy Winners (7) – Cards for the winners of the Art Ross, Hart, Calder, Lady Byng, Norris, Masterton and Vezina Trophies. But why were the winners of the Selke, Smythe and Jennings Trophies omitted? The Trophy Winner cards have a colorful design, resembling the base cards but substituting the head shot photo for a picture of the trophy in question.
Stat Leaders (8) (back)- Some of these Stat Leaders cards are totally redundant – you mean Art Ross Trophy winner Wayne Gretzky led the NHL in points? Really? Personally, I think this was an excuse to make 4 more Gretzky cards (he led in goals, assists, points and power play goals).
Record Breakers (6) – These cards highlight significant happenings from the prior season, including Gretzky’s 51- game scoring streak, Brad Park breaking Bobby Orr’s record for assists by a defenseman and Dale Hawerchuk’s record-setting 5-assist game.
The only way this set could improve is if it included cards of the overlooked trophy winners, as well as a card about the Edmonton Oilers winning the Stanley Cup. But those are very minor complaints.
The next season, O-Pee-Chee hockey sets would shrink in size and again resort to using boring photos taken during warm-ups and stoppages of play. That leaves the 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set as the last great set of its era – a high-water mark that few sets would ever eclipse.
No other set from the O-Pee-Chee Era managed to succeed as well as this one. From its dynamic and colorful design to its use of exciting action photography – not to mention its broad player selection – this set gets it all right. Rookie cards of Yzerman, Chelios, Lafontaine, Gilmour and Neely put it over the top, making this an epic, must-own set. The 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set is one that no hockey card collection should be without.
Here are the top 5 rookie cards in this set.
67 – Steve Yzerman – In his 22 seasons with the Red Wings, Yzerman scored 1,755 points, won 3 Stanley Cup championships and was the playoff MVP in 1998. (back)
129 – Pat Lafontaine – He scored 1,013 points in 15 seasons, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003. (back)
185 – Doug Gilmour – Gilmour played 20 seasons in the NHL, winning the Selke trophy in 1993 as the league’s best defensive forward, and went on to score 1,414 points in 1,474 games.(back)
259 – Chris Chelios – Chelios played a mind-boggling 26 seasons in the NHL, won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defensemen 3 times and won 2 Stanley Cup championships.(back)
327 – Cam Neely – The pre-eminent power forward of from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, Neely hit the 50-goal mark 3 times, including 50 goals in 44 games during the 1993-94 season. (back)
DOUBLE OVERTIME BONUS
Five cards with exciting action photos.
24 – Gilbert Perrault – The Sabres’ star jostles for position in front of the net against Doug Jarvis of the Washington Capitals. (back)
44 – Rick Patterson – Patterson attempts to poke check the puck away from an unseen attacker. (back)
124 – Pat Flatley – The Islanders’ rookie celebrates scoring a goal. (back)
172 – Mike Bullard – Penguins center crashes into Caps goalie Al Jensen. (back)
329 – Andy Schliebener – Canucks’ D-man clears the crease of Devils’ Don Lever. (back)
TRIPLE OVERTIME BONUS
I can’t get enough of this set. So here are 10 cards that feature goalies with mustaches.
30 – Bob Sauve – Through-traffic photograph appears to be taken from the high slot area. (back)
32 – Murray Bannerman – Bannerman had a sweet ‘stache AND an even sweeter goalie mask. (back)
61 – Eddie Mio – The Red Wings goalie hugs the post and makes a save. (back)
104 – Gilles Meloche – Stick save by the longtime NHL netminder. (back)
115 – Ron Low – Down but not out, the Devils’ goalie strives to stop an attacking Capitals player. (back)
119 – Glenn Resch – “Chico” shoots the puck. The Devils’ goalies lacked defensive help – both combined for a miserable 4.27 GAA – but they sure didn’t lack facial hair! (back)
135 – Billy Smith – Kick save by Battlin’ (and bearded) Billy. (back)
201 – Al Jensen – Jensen and teammate Pat Riggin won the Jennings Trophy in 1983-84 as the NHL’s best goaltending tandem. (back)
289 – Richard Sevingy – The Nordiques netminder seems to be watching the action from afar. Perhaps the play is developing in the neutral zone? (back)
317 – John Garrett – A kick save! A Flying V hockey jersey! What more does this card really need? (back)
396 card set
Card size: 2 1/2″ wide x 3 1/2″ tall
Click here to download a printable checklist