A major league set of the minor league teams
In 1988, a trading card company called ProCards issued a large minor league hockey card set. It consisted of teams from the American Hockey League (AHL) and the old International Hockey League (IHL). Many players who would go onto NHL careers appeared in this set–including Ed Belfour and Mark Recchi.
ProCards first hit the scene in 1985 when they released a team set of the Reading Phillies (AA) baseball team. They would go on to produce over 1,000 different team sets of minor league baseball teams over the next 10 years.ProCards issued minor league hockey team sets from 1988-89 to 1991-92. In their debut year for hockey, ProCards released team sets of all 14 AHL teams and 5 IHL teams (the other 5 IHL teams did not get cards issued for some reason).
Cards were issued as polybagged team sets, and sold at minor-league hockey rinks with a suggested retail price of $3.00 per set. Collectors and dealers could also order the sets directly from ProCards.
Player Selection 5 out of 5
The large NHL sets issued by Topps, O-Pee-Chee and Panini during the 1988-89 season usually consisted of about 8 to 12 cards per team, focusing on the best-known players. ProCards, on the other hand, tried very hard to include every player in each team set, even if it meant using a less-than-ideal photograph. A total of 465 cards were issued, making this the largest hockey set released in 1988-89. Each team set consists of around 20 to 25 cards, though some have more. The New Haven Nighthawks, for example, have a set consisting of 32 different cards.
Some teams stick to cards of just players and coaches, while other teams include cards of trainers, equipment managers and anyone else they could think of. For example, the Peoria Rivermen set had a card of their administrative assistant, while the Maine Mariners set included a card of their public relations guy.
Though some of the cards are a bit frivolous–really, the PR guy?–overall ProCards offered us a very expansive set of minor league hockey players. Each team has a few players who would go on to the NHL, so it is cool to see cards of players “before they made it.” Some of the future NHLers in this set include Mark Fitzpatrick, Ron Tugnutt, Tim Cheveldae, Tony Twist, Eric Weinrich, Jocelyn Lemieux, Ken Baumgartner, Neil Wilkinson, Pat Jablonski, Paul Ysebaert, Stephane Beauregard and Shaun Van Allen. All of these players would enjoy some level of success at the NHL level in the coming decade. Of course, there are numerous cards of career minor leaguers and former NHLers, too.
The only major drawback is that team sets were not issued for the IHL’s Flint Spirits, Denver Rangers, Salt Lake Golden Eagles, Milwaukee Admirals or Fort Wayne Komets.
Front Design 4 out of 5
The cards sport a simple, functional design. The bright red borders practically screams at you for attention, making the cards stand out in an era where most cards had white borders. A beige hockey stick contains the team name, player name and position. The front also has a white circle with the appropriate league (AHL or IHL) logo. Here, the team logo instead of league logo might have looked better.
Like the design, the photography is also functional and not overly-exciting. Most of the pictures are of the player posing in a dimly-lit rink setting. Some of the photos are too dark, and many of them are poorly composed or just outright dull. A few are kind of neat though, like the player stopping or shooting the puck. Cards for the Baltimore Skipjacks and Utica Devils use game-action photos, which provides a bit of variety. Also, a few cards use photos supplied by parent club. Nicer photos would have contributed to a better overall design; then again, the sub par photography is a big part of what gives this set its character.
Back Design / Stats & Info 3 out of 5
The cards are unnumbered. Each card gives the basic biographical data for each player: birthplace, birth date, position, shoots, height, weight and how acquired. Up to 4 lines of statistics are included, but not always.
For example, some cards of first-year players have their stats from juniors, while others cards simply state “1st year in professional hockey.” If a player played in Europe, the NHL, or for international competitions, stats for those are included too.
Interestingly, some cards also have advertisements on the back. Cards of the Muskegon Lumberjacks advertise Burger King, Saginaw Hawks cards advertise CarQuest and cards of the Kalamazoo Wings have a logo for Eagle Snacks.
This set is a must-have if you are a fan of hockey cards from the 1990s because many of the players depicted would go on to play in the NHL. It isn’t a perfect set, but it gives us a great view of many players at the dawn–or twilight–of their careers.
Here are 5 cards of players who went on to enjoy long and successful NHL careers.
Ed Belfour – Eddie the Eagle would go on to play 17 years in the NHL and was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. I think the Saginaw Hawks goalies missed “photo day,” as the cards for Belfour and the other two Saginaw goalies use photos supplied by the Chicago Blackhawks. (View back)
Jyrki Lumme – Lumme ended up playing 14 years in the NHL and continued to play pro hockey in Europe until he was 41. (View back)
Jeff Hackett – “Hack” would play in the NHL from 1988-89 to 2003-04 and was a starting goalie for the San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens. (View back)
Cliff Ronning – Ronning was only in the minors for 12 games in the 1988-89 season, where he scored 11 goals and 20 assists He was present when the hockey card photos were taken, as he is a part of the Peoria Rivermen team set. Ronning played 17 seasons in the NHL. (View back)
Mark Recchi – In his only minor league season, Recchi scored 50 goals and 49 assists for the Muskegon Lumberjacks. He went on to play 1652 games in the NHL, scoring 577 goals and 956 assists. He retired in 2011 and will probably be inducted into the Hockey Hall of fame when eligible. (View back)
DOUBLE OVERTIME BONUS
Here are 5 cards of men who would go onto successful coaching careers.
John Tortorella – Once upon a time, the future coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers was just a humble assistant coach with the New Haven Nighthawks. (View back)
Terry Murray – This was Murray’s first year as a head coach in the AHL. He would go on to become the head coach of the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers and Los Angeles Kings. (View back)
Claude Julien – Julien spent the 1980s and early 1990s in the minor leagues, only appearing in 14 NHL games. He would become an NHL head coach in the 2000s, coaching for the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins–where he coached them to a Stanley Cup victory in 2011. (View back)
Darryl Sutter – Sutter is shown in his first year as a head coach. After two seasons of coaching in the “I,” he went on to coach for 14 seasons. Most recently, he led the Los Angeles Kings to a Stanley Cup championship in 2012. (View back)
Bruce Boudreau – “Gabby” was winding down his career in the minors as the captain of the Springfield Indians. Soon, he would become a coach, working behind the bench every season from 1992 to present. (View back)
TRIPLE OVERTIME BONUS
Here are 5 cards that I find interesting for one reason or another.
Greg Hotham – The Newmarket defenseman flips the puck towards the camera. (View back)
Shaun Van Allen – Van Allen’s card is the only one in the entire set to use a black and white picture. The photo might have been supplied by either the Cape Breton Oilers or the Edmonton Oilers. Despite having a crappy “first card ever,” Van Allen went on to play 794 games in the National Hockey League. (View back)
Mark Hatcher – This 6-foot-7 behemoth is the older brother of Kevin and Derian Hatcher. Mark retired from pro hockey in 1985, but attempted a comeback with the Washington Capitals in 1988–most likely because of the success of his younger brother Kevin. Mark would play a season in the AHL and then retire for good. (View back)
Don Nachbaur – The Hershey Bears captain celebrates scoring an empty-net goal. (View back)
Richard Brodeur – This is the last card of “King Richard” issued during his career. Brodeur’s professional career lasted 18 seasons between the WHA, NHL and minor leagues. (View back)
– 346 AHL cards
– 119 IHL cards
Card size: 2 1/2″ wide x 3 1/2″ tall
Click here to download a printable checklist