The Flint Spirits had a great 1987-88 season. Much of that success was owed to future NHLer John Cullen, who led the International Hockey League in scoring with 157 points (48 G, 109 A) in 81 games, and then led his team in the playoffs with 26 points (11 G, 15 A). Cullen was named IHL rookie of the year. Unfortunately, the Spirits lost the Turner Cup Finals to the Salt Lake Golden Eagles. Still, the team had a pretty good run, as well as a decent set of trading cards.
The 1987-88 Flint Spirits team set is a typical minor-league team issue, with darkly-lit photos and an underwhelming design. But that’s pretty normal for 1980s minor league hockey cards.
Player Selection (5 out of 5)
The set consists of 20 cards, all being players and no coaches, checklists or team photo cards. Ray LeBlanc — yes, THAT Ray LeBlanc — is the only goalie in this set. LeBlanc played 60 out of 82 possible games for the Spirits that year, with the rest of the games divided up between six other netminders. Two players in the set would go on to have long NHL careers: John Cullen and defenseman Ron Stern.
Front Design (3 out of 5)
Card fronts are dominated by a portrait of the player in a dimly-lit hockey rink. (Really, could they turn on some lights?) So, it is hard to tell where the player’s hair ends and the background begins, as they tend to blend together on many of the cards. Dark photo are typical for minor league hockey card sets (such as in the 1988-89 ProCards AHL/IHL set), considering that this set probably had a production budget of $0 and was most likely given away to fans who bought a $3 game ticket. Still, I wish the pictures were a little brighter.
The team name “Flint Spirits” runs vertically along the left edge of the photo, with the player’s name underneath. The upper-right corner of the photo is rounded. For some reason, the Spirits logo appears twice at the bottom of the card. It’s not the prettiest design, but at least it is unique. Though maybe the player’s number could have been placed in the empty space between the logos.
Stats & Info / Back Design (5 out of 5)
Each card back has vitals (height, weight, etc.), a short biographical paragraph, and the player’s complete statistics.
Don Waddell, who is currently the General Manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, has 11 lines of stats on the back of his card, stretching back to the 1978-79 season. The design itself is no-frills, but it is easy to read, so I’ll take that any day over some horrible over-designed card with background patterns, ghosted logos or poor contrast.
Like most minor league team sets, this isn’t a “must-have” for your collection unless you collect minor league team sets or like some of the players found in the set. The 1987-88 Flint Spirits set has first cards of John Cullen and Ronnie Stern, who went onto notable NHL careers, as well as a few others who had brief stints in the NHL.
Here are cards of five interesting players found in this set:
Keith Gretzky – This is the first-ever trading card of Wayne Gretzky’s younger brother, Keith Gretzky. He was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres, but did not make it to the NHL (view back).
Chris McSorley – And here is a card of Marty McSorley’s younger brother, Chris. (I wonder if Chris McSorley protected Keith Gretzky when they played together on the Spirits.) Anyway, Chris went on to become a longtime minor league hockey coach, and one of the most-successful coaches in the Roller Hockey International league that played in the 1990s (view back).
Ray LeBlanc – LeBlanc would lead Team USA during the 1992 Winter Olympics, and played one game for the Chicago Blackhawks. I bought this set because it has LeBlanc’s first minor league card (view back).
Victor Posa – Posa played two games for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1985-86 season, and was the first Blackhawks player that was born in Italy (view back).
Don Waddell – Waddell has worked as a hockey executive since 1988-89, and is currently the General Manager of the Carolina Hurricanes (view back). ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.