The Russian Penguins: An Oral History

The Bizarre and Unforgettable Partnership Between the Pittsburgh Penguins and CSKA Moscow

It was about the pucks and bucks, first and foremost, but lest we forget the acrobats, blood-soaked mascots and accidental on-ice sex acts. There’ll never be another partnership like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and CSKA Moscow, which changed Russian hockey forever.

It’s 1993, and the historic CSKA Moscow program – a.k.a. the Central Red Army Hockey Club – is nearing defeat. All of the team’s best players – Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov and many others – have headed for the greener pastures of the NHL. Funding for sports clubs is no longer a priority for the Russian government, and CSKA is broke. It can’t afford uniforms or equipment, and almost no fans come to watch the team.

SERGEI BRYLIN: (Left winger, CSKA 1991-92 to ’92-93 & CSKA/Russian Penguins 1993-94) The whole country was going through a transition, from the Soviet Union to Russia. Obviously, hockey wasn’t the main priority. My first two years playing for the Red Army were pretty challenging years.

CSKA reaches out to several NHL teams looking for support. The Pittsburgh Penguins answer the call. The Penguins’ ownership group, which includes Tom Ruta, Howard Baldwin and his wife Karen Baldwin, forms Penguins Army International Limited, a joint venture between the Pens and Central Red Army. Superstar Mario Lemieux and actor Michael J. Fox are also involved as silent partners.

TOM RUTA: (Co-owner, Pittsburgh Penguins; co-owner/president, Russian Penguins) We created a company where the Pittsburgh Penguins owned 50 percent and the Russian partners owned 50 percent. That’s the structure they required at the time. You couldn’t have Americans owning 51 percent of a Russian company.

HOWARD BALDWIN: (Co-owner, Pittsburgh Penguins; co-owner/chairman/CEO, Russian Penguins) We thought we could make money because good players were coming from the Red Army team. If a Russian player was drafted, the NHL team who picked him would have to pay a pretty fat fee to his Russian team, I think it was around $250,000 for a first-rounder.

RUTA: At first, we’d give all the draft money to CSKA, until they got on their feet, and then we’d split it with them. So, in the beginning, they’d be able to rebuild their program and pay all their bills. And then eventually, we’d get a 50-percent share.

HOWARD BALDWIN: We also thought a partnership would give us an edge in knowledge on Russian players and give us a way to get sponsorships, because North American companies were looking to come over and start doing business in Russia.

RUTA: The Red Army was a great hockey program, and Howard didn’t want to see it die. And it was dying for want of a small amount of money. Read the rest of the story at The Hockey News.

Puck Junk Podcast: May 13, 2020

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay Hockey Cards

In this episode of the Puck Junk Hockey Podcast, Sal Barry and Tim Parish reminisce about 1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay Hockey, which was a modern day “tall boys” card set that didn’t go over with collectors too well. They also talk about the American Hockey League cancelling the rest of its season, and Brendan Leipsic getting waived by the Capitals after making misogynistic comments on Instagram. 

Show Notes and Links:
The Guy Lafleur Disco Album (Puck Junk)
AHL cancels the rest of its season (AHL website)
Article about the NHL’s potential plans to restart the season (ESPN)
Capitals waive Leipsic after misogynistic comments made public (CBC)
National Sports Collectors Convention rescheduled (website)
Upper Deck Game Dated Moments cards for Week 31 (website)
Upper Deck E-Pack (website)
Every 1993-94 Hockey Card Set Ranked (Puck Junk)
We also reflected on collecting hockey in 1993-94 in Podcast #41

Some images of 1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay cards

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #116 – Wayne Gretzky

Card backs had a large picture and up to 10 years of stats. 

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #54 – Jeremy Roenick
JR was the spokesman for Fleer Trading Cards.

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #1 – Stu Grimson
Yep, Stu was card #1 in this set. 

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #88 – Doug Barrault
Barrault actually played for the Chicago Wolves from 1995-96 to 1997-98.
(I erroneously said that he played with the team in 1994-95.)

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #50 – Dirk Graham
I *love* the photo on this card! 

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #426 – Jocelyn Thibault

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #416 – Bryan Trottier

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #147 – Ron Hextall (and yes, the team name is there, right above his name. I couldn’t see it until I scanned the card.)

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #459 – Neil Eisenhut (Rookie Card)
This was his only NHL card.

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #354 – Chris Pronger

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay #508 –  Peter Laviolette (Rookie Card)

1993-94 Fleer PowerPlay Series 1 wrapper

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.
Follow Tim Parish on Twitter @TheRealDFG.
Podcast music: “Power Play” from the album Lafleur!

Subscribe to the Puck Junk Hockey Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play MusicSpotifyiHeartRadioStitcherPodchaserPocketCastsCastbox , Castro,
OvercastTuneIn and SoundCloud.

Love hockey? Join the new Puck Junk Facebook Group 

Support this podcast and buy a shirt from the Puck Junk Online Shop

Video: Sal Barry Guest Appearance on Pittsburgh Hockey Now

I was a guest on Pittsburgh Hockey Now, discussing my article for The Hockey News about the Russian Penguins. For those who don’t know, the Russian Penguins were a joint venture between Russia’s Red Army hockey club and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins from 1993 to 1995. If that sounds like a crazy idea, well…it was. The Russian Penguins had everything from strippers to mobsters, as well as a few future NHL players, too. I also show off a few rare pieces of Penguins memorabilia. 

Love hockey collectibles and/or hockey culture? Join the new Puck Junk Facebook Group and follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk

Puck Junk Podcast: March 31, 2020

Neo-Retro Parkhurst Hockey Card Sets

In this episode of the Puck Junk Hockey Podcast, Sal Barry and Tim Parish discuss the latest happenings around the world of hockey, including the cancellation of the KHL  in Russia– what took them so long? — and the postponement of the NHL Entry Draft and Award Show. Then they talk about the three “Neo-Retro” Parkhurst Hockey card sets: Missing Link, Tall Boys and ’66’67 Parkies. These wonderful sets came out in the 1990s, but featured designs and players from the 1950s and 1960s.

Show Notes and Links:

Commons 4 Kids Charity (site)

1997-98 Pacific Cramer’s Choice Patrick Roy Jumbo card:

A few Sportscaster cards for your reference:

Weird looking Eddie Lack Bobblehead figure.

Eddie Lack’s retirement announcement video (Twitter)

Taco commercial starring Eddie Lack (YouTube)

Jonas Hiller’s awesome “matte black” goalie mask

Jonas Hiller wearing glasses at the 2011 NHL Fantasy Draft

Toronto Sports Card Expo (site)

1994 Parkhurst Missing Link Johnny Bower card:

1994 Parkhurst Missing Link Checklist (Trading Card DB)

1994 Parkhurst Tall Boys Jean Beliveau card

1994 Parkhurst Tall Boys Checklist (Trading Card DB)

1995 Parkhurst ’66-67 Bobby Orr card:

1995 Parkhurst ’66-67 Checklist (Trading Card DB)

Puck Junk Facebook Group (Facebook)

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.
Follow Tim Parish on Twitter @TheRealDFG.
Podcast music by Jim “Not the Goalie” Howard.

Subscribe to the Puck Junk Hockey Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play MusicSpotifyiHeartRadioStitcherPodchaserPocketCastsCastbox , Castro,
OvercastTuneIn and SoundCloud.

Love hockey? Join the new Puck Junk Facebook Group 

Support this podcast and buy a shirt from the Puck Junk Online Shop

Puck Junk Podcast: January 9, 2019

1993-94 Hockey Card Retrospective

Sal Barry and Tim Parish go oldschool and discuss their memories of collecting hockey cards during the 1993-94 season — what was great about that year, what could have been better, and why Sal says it was the last truly fun year of hockey card collecting. Plus, they talk about some new card releases, including the 2019-20 Upper Deck MVP Hockey retail boxed set.


Show Notes and Links:
2019-20 Panini Select Hockey Cards (info)
2016 Leaf Jack Eichel Collection Boxed Set (review)
Every 1993-94 Hockey Card Set Ranked (article/review)
1993-94 Donruss Ice Kings Inserts (review)
1993-94 Topps Stadium Club All-Star Inserts (review)
1993-94 Topps Team USA (review)

Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.
Follow Tim Parish on Twitter @TheRealDFG.
Podcast intro and ending music by Jim “Not the Goalie” Howard.

Subscribe to the Puck Junk Hockey Podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play MusicSpotifyiHeartRadioStitcherPodchaserPocketCastsCastbox , Castro,
OvercastTuneIn and SoundCloud.

Support this podcast and buy a shirt from the Puck Junk Online Shop

Every 1993-94 Hockey Card Set Ranked

The 1993-94 season was my favorite year to collect hockey cards. Everything about that season was just so right for me. I was living with my Grandmother and going to a local junior college, so my cost of living was low. I was working full-time at a card and comic book shop, so I could buy new cards at a deep discount. I had just gotten my drivers licence, so I could drive around Chicago to other card shops or local shows to find the last few inserts I needed for a given set. Plus, I was still promoting a monthly neighborhood show, so a lot of times people would bring me cards that I needed. My situation in life made collecting easy for me that year.

As for the cards themselves, the 1993-94 season was the last year before hockey card collecting got out of hand. Packs were still affordable, with most between $1 and $3. (The 1994 NHL Lockout would change that, but that’s a story for another time.) There were really no short prints, other than the odd insert, so sets were fairly easy to complete. There were some great insert sets, but not so many different insert sets like it is today, where you can buy a box of cards and get 40 different inserts across 10 different insert sets. There were five different card companies competing with each other, so they had to try hard to do better than one another.

For example, Topps finally got with the program and printed its flagship set on quality card stock, with gloss coating and full-color backs. The company also issued the set in two series, so it could include rookies and traded players in their new uniforms later on that season.

Unfortunately, there were some casualties. Pro Set had gone bankrupt in 1992-93, and while it tried to issue a set for the 1993-94 season, its license was revoked by the NHL. The NHL also mandated that companies could only issue two sets per season, so Topps had to jettison its unpopular Bowman Hockey set, while O-Pee-Chee stopped making its own smaller, premium “Premier” set, as the “Premier” name would be used by both Topps and O-Pee-Chee that year for their large, two-series card sets.

One addition to this year’s ranking is how each company included Alexander Daigle in their sets. Daigle was selected first-overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Pinnacle Brands — which made the Score and Pinnacle hockey card sets — had worked out a deal with Daigle, so that only they could picture him in a Senators uniform until he played in an NHL game. The other companies could not use a “Draft Day” photo, nor could they use photo manipulation to put his head on a different Senators player’s body. Thus, they had to get a little creative in how to picture that season’s hottest rookie in their hockey card sets that year.

As I have done with the 1990-91, 1991-92 and 1992-93 sets, here is my retrospective and ranking of every hockey card set issued in 1993-94.

Continue reading “Every 1993-94 Hockey Card Set Ranked”

1994 New York Rangers Stanley Cup Championship Replica Ring

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the New York Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup Championship. Earlier this season, the Rangers gave away a replica Stanley Cup ring to fans who attended the February 8, 2019 game vs. the Carolina Hurricanes — and it is awesome! 

Continue reading “1994 New York Rangers Stanley Cup Championship Replica Ring”

1993-94 Stadium Club Proof Card

Being a collector of oddball items, there was no way I could pass up this 1993-94 Topps Stadium Club proof card of Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux. Measuring 2 7/8″ by 3 7/8″, the proof card is 3/8″ bigger in width and height, showing some of the photo that was ultimately cropped out.

Continue reading “1993-94 Stadium Club Proof Card”

Re-imagining the 1993 NHL Entry Draft

The 2018 NHL Entry Draft was this past weekend, where hundreds of prospects hoped to get drafted and make it to the NHL — while dozens of NHL GMs also hope the prospects they drafted make it to the NHL.  

I imagine that being an NHL GM with a high draft pick — preferably first overall, but even within the top 10 — would be fun; but the later picks, not so much. Because after selecting the generational talents, if any, and the highest-ranked players by position, drafting prospects becomes a lot more challenging.

The same goes for fantasy re-drafts. I’ve “re-imagined” the NHL Entry Drafts for 1990, 1991 and 1992. Making the top five or ten picks are fun, but after that, they are a lot of work!

Yes, we know how all of these players panned out, but who would you take with the 15th-overall pick in 1993: the 10th-best scorer, the fourth-best defenseman, a solid goalie or a total bruiser? 

Obviously, there are no right or wrong answers here, and that is part of the fun. So, knowing then what we all know today, who would the Senators take with the first-overall pick in the ’93 Draft — Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya, or someone else? — and who would the Penguins take with the 26th pick?

Let’s find out. 

Continue reading “Re-imagining the 1993 NHL Entry Draft”

Review: 1993-94 Leaf Mario Lemieux Collection

When the 1993-94 hockey season started, the Leaf Trading Card Company entered into the foray and released several hockey card sets. The company chose a rather significant superstar as their spokesperson – Mario Lemieux. 

As a Pittsburgh Penguins fan in the early 1990s, it was exciting to see Lemieux heavily featured in all of Leaf’s promotional material. Given the health issues he faced the previous season, seeing Lemieux look so vibrant, and featuring him in his own 10-card insert set, seemed like a fitting tribute to my hero. 

Continue reading “Review: 1993-94 Leaf Mario Lemieux Collection”