Book Review: Hockey Card Stories by Ken Reid

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Back in August, I was looking for a specific book.  I finally located a copy at the Barnes & Noble in Utica.  However, while perusing the shelves that day, I happened upon this striking cover.  Yes, covers do catch the eye of those of us who are browsers, and sometimes results in sales, such as on this day.  The title is self explanatory, but the cover was cool in that it has the waxy feel of an old fashioned pack of hockey cards.  Thumbing through it sold me.

Growing up, hockey was my sport.  In most all sports in gym class I was the kid chosen last…except in floor hockey.  I couldn’t skate a lick, learning while playing in a house league in Plymouth (and don’t get me started on the politics of that fiasco, with my coach a Michigan Republican Senator who…well, damn, I said don’t get me started).  Still, hockey was my sports forte.  And with that, hockey card collecting.

Reading through this book, I found it to be an interesting and fun trip down memory lane.  If you’re looking for critical or literary writing, this isn’t for you.  The author has an almost teen-age voice in each of these bits about the 59 hockey players and their cards, which is fine for reliving this hockey nostalgia.  See, back in the day, there were those of us who collected hockey cards because we enjoyed the sport and the cardboard representations of its players, not for the financial investment purpose.  It’s where my inspiration for shooting sports action photography – specifically hockey in the past, soccer today – originates, and probably author Ken Reid’s inspiration to go into sports broadcasting.  He’s a sports anchor on Sportsnet Connected.

I once amassed a nice collection of hockey cards, beginning with the first set I put together through opening packs – the 132-card 1971-72 Topps – and all the way through to the early 90’s.  In my day, there was only O-Pee-Chee and Topps, the former had the exact same cards as the Topps, but with an additional checklist of cards and sold in Canada.  I still have some of them, and thought it might be fun to take the chapter titles that Reid used and add a few of my cards and thoughts.  His book interviews the players on his cards, which is cool, especially when the player having a hockey card issued meant something to him.

Strike a Pose:

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Yes.  It was the long hair of Garry Unger that made him one of the coolest players in the NHL.  The first NHL game I went to was at the Olympia on January 9, 1971.  The Red Wings defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2.  Unger played for the Red Wings, and even though legend Gordie Howe was on the ice in his last season as a Red Wing, it was the long flowing hair of Unger that caught my attention.  About a month later, Unger was traded to St. Louis with Wayne Connelly for Red Berenson and Tim Ecclestone.  Not even a month in to following this team and they traded a favorite of mine.  Unger went on to having a great career, playing over 1,100 NHL games and setting the iron man record of 914 consecutive games (later broken by Doug Jarvis).  The 1972-73 Topps card still in my collection.

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1972.  The year I strapped on skates for the only season of little league hockey for me.  That same season, the Red Wings dressed rookie Henry Boucha.  His Topps 1973-74 rookie card shows a poised, clean-shaven, thick-haired young man.  However he became a fan favorite sporting a headband instead of a helmet.  He even made an appearance at the Plymouth Cultural Center, where I played, to sign autographs.  I remember owning a headband, but not allowed to wear it in lieu of a helmet.  A wise thing for a ten year old learning to play the game while at the same time learning to skate.  This 1974-75 Topps card remains in my collection, depicting him more accurately than his rookie card had.  He played two seasons for the Red Wings, in 143 games, with 33 goals and 26 assists, before being traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Danny Grant.

Making it look Mean:

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I agree with Reid that the 1973-74 Phil Roberto card is a classic of all cards when it comes to the game’s aggressive nature.  And if I remember correctly, the Billy Smith card from that season looks as if it was taken just after this fight, as he is putting him and his equipment back together.

I always thought this Cam Connor card from the O-Pee-Chee 1976-77 WHA set had an intimidating look.  Connor, a career pugilist, racked up 904 penalty minutes in 274 games in the WHA, and additional 256 penalty minutes in 89 NHL games.

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Keith Magnuson played his entire 589 NHL game career with the Chicago Blackhawks.  And the defenseman was one of the feistiest players of his day.  The look of his 1972-73 Topps card, with Magnuson in the penalty box, and photographed with a fisheye lens, was a clear guide of where to direct your gaze if you wanted to see Keith Magnuson at a hockey game.

The WHA:

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I loved the WHA.  Though having not seen a game until the late 90’s when I found a DVD of the final Avco Cup trophy game, I still loved reading about the WHA in its section of The Hockey News.  My dad subscribed to the hockey weekly, which had articles on every team in the NHL, a section for the WHA, and sections for the other minor-pro leagues and Canadian Juniors.  The box score for every NHL and WHA game was published in them,  Being from Metro Detroit, you’d think I would have been a fan of the Houston Aeros and the New England Whalers, for that is where Gordie Howe and his two sons, Marty and Mark, played together.  And Bobby Hull being a former Blackhawk, I shouldn’t be rooting for the Winnipeg Jets.  However, the duo who kept Hull in the limelight – Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg – were favorites of mine.  At the time, the great debate was which right winger was better – Hedberg or Guy Lafleur.  Both were of the same age, and both were in the prime of their careers.  From 1974-1978, Hedberg scored 236 goals, 222 assists, for 458 points in 286 games.  Lafleur had 225 goals, 287 assists, for 512 points in 308 games during the same years.  However, when Hedberg joined the New York Rangers after the WHA folded and the NHL absorbed four of its teams, Lafleur racked up more points than Hedberg in the three seasons from 1978-1981.  But Lafleur was a part of the legendary Canadiens dynasty of the late 1970’s.  Would he have had the same production on a team of lesser talent than the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA, or New York Rangers?  It always made for a fun argument.

I had every one of the O-Pee-Chee WHA sets complete at one time.  I’ve sold all but the 1976-77 set from which these two cards come from.

A good book about the WHA is Ed Willes’ The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association (McClelland and Stewart, 2005)

The Goalies:

There was something about Rogie Vachon that drew me to putting him among my favorite goalies growing up.  I had liked the LA Kings uniforms back then, and he became an all-star goalie on an average team.  Where the Drydens and Cheevers and Parents and Espositos got all the accolades, Vachon stood on his head for the Kings back in the day.  I like this 1974-75 Topps card which features Vachon in the Kings garb and the old-style goaltender equipment from the 1970’s.

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Then, there were awesome goaltenders on horrible teams.  Gilles Meloche was that guy.  I, too, liked the Oakland Seals/California Golden Seals uniforms – each variation from season to season.  And though the team was pretty much a given two points for any team they faced, Meloche made it a hard-earned two points.  The 1973-74 Topps Card again shows the goaltender equipment of the 70’s in the Seals uniform, and the 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee card has him decked out in the Cleveland Barons red, where the Seals migrated to in 1976 before being merged with the Minnesota North Stars two years later.

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By the mid-Seventies, I had lost my interest in the Red Wings.  They never won games, were never in the playoffs, and they kept trading away my favorite players.  When one of them – Marcel Dionne – was traded to the LA Kings, I started to claim them as my favorite team.  However, there was no Internet or ESPN back then, and seeing a Kings game on Hockey Night in Canada was rare.  With the expansion in 1974 adding the Kansas City Scouts (and Washington Capitals) to the league, the Scouts had me peeking in their direction.  Former Red Wing legend, Sid Abel, was the general manager of the team, and brought over one of my favorite Wings, Guy Charron, and others.  After two seasons, the team left Kansas City for Colorado, but not before drafting a young defenseman from the Toronto Marlboros.  More on that later, however that move to Colorado and the players that were emerging there drew me.  I was becoming a Colorado Rockies fan.

Doug Favell’s mask is the reason for this card’s presence.  Favell had a career playing for the Flyers and the Maple Leafs before coming to Colorado in 1976 to finish his career.

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And one cannot talk about goaltenders, the Colorado Rockies, and the 1970’s without mentioning Hardy Astrom.  This 1980-81 O-Pee-Chee card is the only one of the goalie that Don Cherry gained a lot of his material from.  Cherry coached the Rockies in the 1979-80 season where he had Astrom between the pipes in 49 of them.  But it wasn’t all bad for the Swedish goalie.

On Saturday, February 25, 1978, the Rangers were to play the Montreal Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada.  The Habs were on a record streak of 28 games without a loss.  And the Rangers started the rookie Swede in goal against the league powerhouse.  Astrom went on to stop 29 shots and the Rangers won 6-3, snapping the Candiens streak.

Cool:

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There were a lot of cool cards during the years, but I chose these because they represented the Colorado Rockies, the team I was becoming a fan of, and because they were all action photos.  It was shots like these that inspired me to shoot sports action photography.  Posed photos are nice, but to capture humans practicing their humanity, whether it be skating on the ice and scoring a goal, making a save, kicking a ball downfield on a soccer pitch, fans creating plumes of smoke, or humans performing compassion in action, I find a sense of creativity and beauty of capturing those moments as they happen.

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And, well, this is the ultimate cool.  This was the guy who was drafted by the Kansas City Scouts, and began his career with the Colorado Rockies.  I rooted for my namesake for the obvious reason – if he was on a Stanley Cup winning team, our name would be engraved on the Stanley Cup!  It took almost 40 years, but as the Assistant Coach of the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks, (and again in 2015), the dream has been realized.  Now I have to see the Stanley Cup with our names etched on it.

I got to see him play live, once, at Joe Louis Arena for the New Jersey Devils on October 8, 1983 in the Red Wings home opener.  The Devils won, 6-3.

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Airbrush:

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I no longer have what I considered the classic airbrush card, but this one will do.  My first favorite player, Marcel Dionne, was traded from the Detroit Red Wings to the Los Angeles Kings in the summer of 1975.  This 1975-76 Topps card shows him in the Kings purple jersey, however wearing number 12 – the number he wore as the Red Wings’ captain during the 1974-75 season.  In LA, he took the #16 jersey.

But the airbrush I remember was from the 1974-75 Topps Jacques Lemaire card.  Lemaire played his entire twelve-year career as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.  But for some reason the O-Pee-Chee/Topps  company airbrushed him into a Buffalo Sabres uniform and displayed him as a player on the Buffalo Sabres.

The 80’s:

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The 1980’s hockey to me meant the Quebec Nordiques and the New Jersey Devils.  I became a fan of the Devils after having followed the Rockies and their move to New Jersey.  They developed young talent due to high draft picks from finishing low in the league.  It was the Nordiques I found myself rooting for most often in the playoffs.  I thought Peter Stastny was an amazing player, and human being, defecting from Czechoslovakia with his brother, Anton, in 1980.  He played the decade with the Nordiques, then was traded and played four seasons with the Devils, ending his career with a season in St. Louis.

Error Cards:

I liked the Steve Larmer/Steve Ludzik rookie errors from the 1984-85 Topps/O-Pee-Chee sets, like Reid.  So I think I’ll take this moment to point out the only error I uncovered in Reid’s book.

On Page 94, Reid begins Chapter Five: Cool Cards with the 1977-78 Pat Hickey card.  The content of the chapter talks about Hickey being traded from the Rangers before Hickey was to appear on the “Hockey Sock Rock” video, sung by a number of the Rangers’ players.  On Page 95, Reid writes, “But Hickey wasn’t in the video.  It turns out he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings before Espo, JD, Dave Maloney and Ron Duguay made the famous video.”  At the bottom of the page, he quotes Hickey.  “We did this film for an ad and then we got on a plane and went to Los Angeles and that’s when I was traded for [Barry] Beck.”

The Colorado Rockies fan in me cringed.  No.  Hickey was traded to Colorado for Barry Beck.  Beck was the first round draft choice (#2 overall) of the Rockies in 1977.  In his third season with the Rockies, Beck went to the Rangers for Hickey, Lucien Deblois, and Dean Turner.  Hickey never played for the Kings.

The other reason I remember that trade is because of the third wheel in the deal.  Dean Turner was a player trying to break into the NHL.  From Dearborn, Michigan, he was the son of a local news personality – Marilyn Turner.

Rookies:

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The first year I started buying cards at the store, tearing open the packs to get at the cards to complete the 132 card set was the year of the Ken Dryden rookie card.  The cerebral Dryden came out of Cornell University, played six games at the end of the 1970-71 season, then surprised the Boston Bruins in the first round in seven games.  He then led the Habs past the Minnesota North Stars in six games in Round Two; then another seven game battle against the Blackhawks to win the Conn Smythe Award for being the MVP of the playoffs.  Dryden went on to be the #1 goaltender for the Habs throughout the 1970’s, with the exception of the 1973-74 season where he went to work as a law clerk for a Toronto law firm while in a contract dispute with the Canadiens.

His books, The Game: A Reflective and Thought Provoking Look at a Life in Hockey (Macmillan Company of Canada, 1983) and Home Game: Hockey and Life in Canada (McClelland and Stewart, 1990) are classics and good reads for the hockey aficionado.

Hall of Famers:

Reid writes about the 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee (and Topps) card of Phil Esposito wearing slacks.  When I read that, I recalled the card, and that his teammate, Ken Hodge was also immortalized on a hockey card in slacks.

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O-Pee-Chee/Topps must have liked the look, because they repeated it in the 1972-73 set.

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Reid’s chapter on Espo is a reminder of the character he was.  Individual characters seem to be lost in today’s team sports, unfortunately.  This 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee card shows him in the New York Rangers look of the late 70’s, a jersey I thought was cool.  It also happens to be an uncorrected error card, as its stats incorrectly show Espo scoring 78 goals in 1972-73 (he scored 55 that season).

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When it comes to Hall of Famers, though, my favorite all-time player is Patrick Roy.  He emerged much like Ken Dryden did, winning the Conn Smythe in his first season as the Habs won the 1986 Stanley Cup.  His idiosyncrasies and confidence made him a character as well as the NHL’s greatest goalie.

In 2001-02, Topps issued a parallel set, which I tried to collect because they were formatted like the 1971-72 set – the set that began it for me.  I haven’t completed that set.

DSC04028Reid’s book obviously took me down memory lane, and into the boxes and 9-pockets of cards I still have.  If you collected hockey cards and followed the sport back in the 70’s and 80’s, you’ll find enjoyment in this book.

I stopped collecting hockey cards shortly after the market flooded with companies like Upper Deck, Score, Pro Set and Fleer entering the fray.  I also left hockey behind as well.  The game has changed too much, not necessarily for the better.  Instead, I’ve rediscovered my appreciation for “the beautiful game.”  These are the only cards I collect now – Major League Soccer cards.  It’s very simple, a single set each year, first released by Upper Deck, then within the last couple seasons, by Topps.  It’s just like back when only O-Pee-Chee/Topps existed in the hockey card world.

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