After the modest, fourth-place finish of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Hockey team, and an increasing nostalgia for the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” Topps issued cards of players from the 1994 U.S. National Team. Most of these players went on to play for Team USA at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and quite a few went on to have successful careers in the NHL afterward.
Team USA insert cards were found one in every 12 packs of 1993-94 Premier Series Two. If I remember correctly, Series Two came out around February of 1994, the same month the Olympics were taking place, so the timing was right. The set consists of 23 cards. Some of the more notable players in the set are Brian Rolston, Brad Marchant and Peter Laviolette.
Player Selection (4.5 out of 5)
Twenty of the 23 players in the Team USA set went on to play on the 1994 Olympic team. Chris Ferraro, Jim Storm and Ian Moran were all cut before the Olympics, but are in this set because they were still on the National Team roster at the time the set was being put together. Likewise, the three late adds to the National Team — Garth Snow, Peter Ciavaglia and Ted Drury — are not in this set.
Both Brian Rolston and Todd Marchant went onto long and successful NHL careers after the Olympics, each appearing in over 1,000 games. Ian Moran, Darby Hendrickson and Mike Dunham also became NHL regulars. Peter Laviolette went on to a long and successful coaching career, and is currently the coach of the Nashville Predators.
On the other end of the spectrum, goaltender Jon Hillebrandt was the third-string goalie for the Olympic team, and did not appear in any Olympic games. Nor did he play in the NHL. However, I am fond of his card because he played for the University of Illinios-Chicago (UIC) Flames, a college hockey team that played in the CCHA. (Yes, Chicago actually had a Division 1 NCAA hockey team once upon a time.) It was cool to see a guy on the local team go to the Olympics, even if he didn’t play in a game.
Front Design (4 out of 5)
The fronts of the Team USA insert cards use a full-bleed photograph, and have the player’s name and the Team USA logo in gold foil. Even in 1993-94, using full-bleed photos on trading cards was not done too often, which made this set stand out a bit. Back then, the gold foil probably seemed cool, but now it seems a bit tacky — and, of course, it never scans well.
Stats & Info / Back Design (5 out of 5)
The backs of the Team USA insert cards have one of the nicest designs I’ve seen used on a trading card. The back uses a second, different photograph, vitals like height and birth date, a short bio, and complete statistics for that player — including all college minor pro and NHL experience, if they had any. The cards also mention what NHL team had that player’s rights; a nice touch, as more and more Olympic players were eventually finding their way onto NHL teams.
All of these elements are arranged in front of an American flag backdrop. There’s a lot going on here, and the design can almost looks cluttered, but the use of a tight color palette — red, white and blue, obviously — make these some of the nicest-designed hockey cards from the mid-1990s.
The 1993-94 Topps Premier Team USA insert set looks nice, and some of these players did go onto lengthy NHL careers. But The ’94 U.S. Olympic team — which finished 8th out of 12 — wasn’t particularly memorable like the 1980 team, nor does this set have rookie cards of any future NHL superstars. Even Rolston and Marchant, who played over 1,100 games in The Show, had rookie cards issued in sets from prior years. But if you like cards of players from the National and/or Olympic tournaments, then this one is fairly easy to find and inexpensive.
Here are front and back pictures from every card in this set. USA!
Did you watch hockey during the 1994 Olympics? Leave a comment and share your favorite memory from the ’94 Winter Games. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.