In Memory of…

1970-71 O-Pee-Chee card #231 – Terry Sawchuk

1970-71 O-Pee-Chee card #231 - Terry SawchukWhen a player changes teams, card makers always found a way to respond. Current companies like Upper Deck and Panini will get a very recent photo that shows the player with his new squad, while back in the day Topps and O-Pee-Chee would alter the photo to “change” the player’s uniform–or at the very least mention the trade somewhere on the card. But how do card companies respond when a player passes away? This heavy topic is almost always avoided by card makers. There have been a few notable exceptions, like this tribute card of Terry Sawchuk released by O-Pee-Chee in their 1970-71 set.

Sawchuk was a talented, yet tragic, character in the history of the game–a hockey hero who was his own worst enemy. In 21 NHL seasons, he won the Calder Trophy, the Vezina Trophy 4 times, the Stanley Cup 4 times, was named to the First All-Star Team 4 times and the Second All-Star Team 4 times. He established the record for most shutouts – a record that stood for 39 years until broken by Martin Brodeur in 2009.

But Sawchuk also had a darker side: a career plagued by injuries, depression and alcoholism. He died in 1970 after getting into a drunken fight with a teammate that he roomed with, first at a bar and later at the house they rented. An awkward fall caused internal injuries, which led to his untimely death a month later. Before his death, Sawchuk accepted responsibility for the altercation. A sad end to a brilliant career.

1970-71 O-Pee-Chee card #231 - Terry SawchukO-Pee-Chee could have ignored this entirely and omitted Sawchuk from their 1970-71 set. But instead they chose to honor him with this card. The heavy black letters and gray background give the card a somber, reserved feel when compared to the bright, neon colors used throughout the rest of the set. But Sawchuk’s smiling visage keeps the card from becoming too depressing. Underneath him it reads “In Memory of one of Hockey’s Greatest Goalies”.

The text on the back eulogizes for the fallen netminder:

Born – Winnipeg, Manitoba – December 28, 1929
Died – New York City – May 31, 1970

Terry Sawchuk, one of the greatest – if not the greatest goaltender in Hockey history, played more seasons – more games and recorded more shutouts than any other Netminder in National League History.

Terry – appeared in 971 Regular Season Games
– in 101 Stanley Cup Play-Off Games
– Shutout the Opposing Team 103 Times
– Lifetime Goals Against Average 2.52 Goals per Game

One of Terry’s career highlights was 1952 Stanley Cup Play-Off with Detroit Red Wings. They won play-offs in eight straight gamesand Terry had 4 shutouts and allowed only 5 goals in other four games for a brilliant .62 goals against average.

Looking at this card today, I wonder what it would have felt like to see this card back then – to be a 10-year old Toronto Maple Leafs fan opening a pack of cards in 1970 and getting this one? Perhaps I’d feel a touch of sadness, or a tear start to form in the corner of my eye.

This card is a fitting tribute. It elicits simultaneous feelings of sadness and awe, much like Sawchuk himself.


Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

3 thoughts on “In Memory of…”

  1. The other one I remember is the Pelle Lindbergh from 1985-86. Topps was released too early to make any mention of his passing, but OPC put a little banner on the bottom with the years of his life on it. That was kind of a sombre card to pull as well.

    I remember finding that Sawchuk (well, obviously not that particular one) in a shop in the mid 80s. It was always a special card.

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