February is a month devoted to love. The shortest month of the year features as its centerpiece Valentine’s Day every February 14. It’s a day devoted to buying flowers and greeting cards for that special guy or girl in your life.
For those of us who collect hockey cards, Valentine’s Day could also be a day to reflect on what cards we love the most. Whether you’re a set collector or you just buy up singles (or both!), everyone has cards they love most.
A major part of the hobby for those of us who have been around for a while is nostalgia. It isn’t unusual to associate a card or set with a special moment from our past, especially if your collecting days date back to childhood. I can still tell you 30 years later where I was when I purchased or pulled a certain card.
Yes, loving little pieces of cardboard featuring photos of men in hockey gear isn’t for everyone. Having said that, this hobby is a lot more than that. It’s about love of a sport, fandom around a certain team and a connection to the people and places of our past. In other words, it’s more than cardboard.
Here are three cards from my collection that I love most and why:
❤️ 1971-72 Guy Lafleur O-Pee-Chee RC
I primarily collect rookie cards of Hall of Famers these days. No other card says vintage to me than Guy Lafleur’s 1971-72 rookie card. The famed right winger is featured only in the O-Pee-Chee edition of the set.
The set’s design is considered by many as one of the best in hockey card history – a sentiment I agree with – and also features rookie cards of future stars Ken Dryden and Marcel Dionne. I now own the Dryden and Dionne cards as well, purchases I made only in the past few years. It should be noted that the Topps set from that year features 132 cards, while OPC’s release has 264 cards. The OPC version also has, for the first time, backs that differ from the Topps edition. They are laid out horizontally and have bios in both English and French.
I purchased a raw version of the Lafleur card back in 1991 at my local card store. It was one of the first cards issued before I was born that I ever purchased. I still have it. I will forever cherish it.
❤️ 1980-81 Mark Messier O-Pee-Chee RC
A player who was always second fiddle to Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier remains one of my favorite players ever. His rookie card, released during the 1980-81 season, pictures him waiting to take a face off.
Anyone who ever saw Messier play over his 25 years in the NHL knows of the grit he possessed. While he’s pictured as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, he will forever be remembered by me, and legions of fellow New Yorkers, for helping the Rangers capture the Stanley Cup in 1994, ending a 54-year drought. It remains the last time the team has lifted the trophy.
Although Topps also issued a hockey card set in 1980-81, it did not include Messier’s rookie card. In fact, “Moose” would not get a hockey card in the United States until the 1984-85 Topps set.
❤️ 1990-91 Eric Lindros Score RC
He was supposed to be the next Wayne Gretzky. While Eric Lindros had a decent career, he never lived up to the hype that surrounded him in the 1990s.
It was in 1990, at the start of the overproduction card era and multiple card manufacturers, that Lindros made his first appearance on a trading card. Although he’s featured in his minor-league Oshawa Generals uniform, this Score card was on everyone’s want-list.
I owned six of these cards back in the ‘90s featuring “Future Superstar” emblazoned across the top. They were supposed to help someday pay for my kid’s college educations. It was hockey’s must-have card of 1990-91, much like the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card was to baseball fans. Whereas the Griffey RC has appreciated in value, the Lindros RC has not. Nonetheless, I still have a copy of this card because it reminds me of my high school collecting days.
I’ve seen this card in dollar boxes at card shows in recent years. It doesn’t matter. This card brings back so many memories for me – regardless how many millions of them are out there.
Speaking of rookie cards, Upper Deck recently released an eight-card set called The First Peoples Rookie Cards that highlights NHL’s Indigenous players. The set features players who were never issued a rookie card. You can read my story at Sports Collectors Digest about the set and what inspired its creation.
What cards from your collection do you love most? I’d love to know in the comments below.
Clemente Lisi is a lifelong Rangers fan who first started collecting cards in 1986. He collects both vintage and modern with a focus on rookie cards. Follow him on Twitter @ClementeLisi.