Sunday, January 26, 2020

Courtnall Brothers

I began playing hockey around the age of 12, which is rather late. 

Although a healthy portion of roller hockey over the first couple of years helped develop my hands for passing, I wasn't a good shooter. And goalies at the high-school ice hockey level were tougher to score against. I had a lot of catching up to do. 

That's where the Courtnall brothers came in. 

Snazzy VHS cover, isn't it?

As you can gather from the video's title, the lessons in The Shooter's Edge focused on shooting and scoring. The instruction was rather insightful, with a key point being that when you're in a shooting position, your eye-level view of the goalie and the net behind him is misleading. That's because the puck is all the way down there on the ice and a couple of feet to the side of your sight line, so the actual areas of open net are best viewed from the puck's perspective. Accordingly, portions of the video were shot with a camera that was sitting on the ice surface, right behind the puck. Interesting, right?

The Courtnall brothers, both established NHLers at the time, also revealed common ways in which goaltenders get themselves out of position, and how to take advantage as a shooter. 

Well, after watching from beginning to end, I took my newfound knowledge up to the nearby park where a bunch of us played roller hockey after school and on weekends. We began the game, and almost immediately a loose puck found me about 10 feet to the side of the net, just above the goal line. I took the puck and darted toward the net, and noticed the goalie beginning to cheat off the near post in an effort to follow my momentum across the crease. That's when I recalled some video knowledge and promptly snuck a shot into that little gap between the near post and his foot.


Assists to Geoff and Russ Courtnall. 

And since this is a trading card blog, here they are, captured on cardboard.

1991-92 O-Pee-Chee #305 Geoff Courtnall and #119 Russ Courtnall

Although Geoff is almost three years older than Russ, both brothers started their NHL careers with a handful of games during the 1983-84 season. 

Geoff signed with Boston as an undrafted free agent during the summer of '83, while Russ was Toronto's 1st-round pick (7th overall) in the entry draft that same summer.

And since that's not the only way their careers matched up, I created a few tables to provide a nice visual.


(17 seasons)
(16 seasons)

(15 playoff appearances)
(12 playoff appearances)

(Career highs in bold)
(1988-89, Washington)
(1992-93, Minnesota)

To say those numbers are solid would probably be a bit of an understatement. And what's cool to me is that each brother put up those numbers in different ways.

Younger brother Russ was one of the fastest skaters in the league, which helped make him a formidable penalty killer. He scored 29 career shorthanded goals, which is still good for 23rd on the all-time list. Over his career, Russ suited up for the Maple Leafs, Canadiens, North Stars/Dallas Stars, Canucks, Rangers, and Kings, and posted 20-goal seasons for all of those teams aside from the Kings. 

Geoff was a bit bigger, grittier, and more physical (he was no slouch in the speed department either), won a Stanley Cup with Edmonton in 1987-88, and then really took off the following year for Washington. A few seasons later, in 1992-93, he scored 11 game-winning goals for Vancouver, placing him in a tie for 1st in the NHL with Alexander Mogilny and Adam Oates. He was a 30-goal scorer seven times, and suited up for the Bruins, Oilers, Capitals, Blues, and Canucks.

Overall, two excellent careers, wouldn't you say? And both brothers hit the 1,000-game mark. That's really impressive.

So here's to the Courtnall brothers. I only wish I still had that VHS cassette and a VCR.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

They Called Him "Garbage Pail Ted"

When Ted Williams was a boy, he'd stand in center field with a bag of baseballs and proceed to throw each one into the mouth of a tipped-over garbage pail positioned at home plate. It's how he developed his arm strength and his accuracy. It's also how he earned the nickname "Garbage Pail Ted".

1959 Fleer #26, Ted Williams

That last statement is not true.

No one ever called Ted Williams "Garbage Pail Ted". But throwing baseballs into a garbage can from the outfield? At least that part of the story is plausible, isn't it?

Regardless, there is a reason I fabricated the tale.

Recently I picked up the Ted Williams card above as part of a trade. Here's the back of the card.

It's the oldest Ted Williams card I own. Along with it I received a few nice rookie cards, including 1989 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and Craig Biggio, and 1989 Upper Deck Gary Sheffield and John Smoltz. 

And do you know what I traded away in exchange?

A stack of original Garbage Pail Kids trading cards. Seems like nonsense, right?

But still, it wasn't perfectly easy to get rid of some of those weird cards from the '80s. I remember opening packs of them with my sister and my mom back then, all of us laughing at the rhyming or alliterative names, the variations, and of course the lowbrow artwork.


The nine cards shown abovealong with a handful of othersdo remain in my collection, and they're enough to bring back those fond memories. As for the rest of them, well, they're in the hands of a collector who's closer to completing some sets. And I have a few great baseball cards to show for it, including a vintage Ted Williams card. Everyone wins.

So here's to Ted Williams. And here's to one of the more bizarre trades (and blog posts) I've made.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

From the Favorites Box: Mark Gastineau, 1982 Topps #168

A series where I post some thoughts about favorite cards. Previous cards in the series are available here.

If I were to use just one football card to describe the sport to a person who'd never seen it, this might be the card I'd choose. 

Now, you could show that person a card of a quarterback in a throwing motion, or a wide receiver stretching out to catch a pass, or a running back dodging defenders. Those kinds of images make attractive cards. Those positions are the glamorous ones.

But to me, you can't define football (especially older-school football) without showing the Goliaths, the behemoths on the line, grappling with each other for every inch of real estate they can gain. Defending. Attacking. Pushing. Countering. You can hear the NFL soundtrack by Sam Spence, can't you?

And for a few years in the 1980s, hardly anyone did the attacking part of it better than defensive end Mark Gastineau. Look at the card above again. He's being double-teamed (as he often was), but still appears to be giving both of those Cleveland Browns more than their share of trouble. That defender on the lefthis jersey is soaked in mud and water, as if Gastineau has already walked all over him a few times.

And really, how are either of them going to stop a guy who's 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, and can run the 40 in 4.5 seconds? Even his hair and mustache combo is all-pro.


To provide an example of the damage the five-time Pro-Bowler did on the gridiron:

In 1983, the year after the football card shown above was released, Gastineau put up 19 quarterback sacks to lead the league. In 1984 he would lead the league again with a whopping 22. Then in 1985 he'd add another 13.5, good for 6th place. Hard to top that three-year total.

I'm not going to mention much about the "sack dances" that ruffled so many feathers back then, although I can understand why they did elicit such a response. I probably wouldn't have liked them, either. And did other defensive linemen display histrionics like that in the 1980s? No.

But it's not easy to toil in the trenches, battling with 300-pound monsters on the pass rush all day. What made Gastineau different was that despite the grind, he still somehow played the sport with passion and a childlike effervescence. Maybe the sack dances stemmed from that sort of enthusiasm, and not from the desire to taunt a defender or quarterback. That's only a guess, and it might be painting too kind of a picture, but in any case I'm not going to criticize the guy for it. Besides, I'm sure the home-team fans ate that stuff up.

For reminding us that it's possible to toil in those trenches, succeed, and even have fun doing it, 1982 Topps #168 has a spot in my box of favorites.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Completed Set: 1984-85 Topps Hockey

The 1984-85 Topps Hockey set is terrific, but it's also a bit of a puzzler. Here's a classic clip from The Simpsons to set the theme.

Let's apply that back-and-forth discussion to this set, but in a much less mysterious, dark, cursed kind of way:

First, the 1984-85 hockey design was clearly inspired by the 1983 Topps Baseball release, which might make you think the designers were being a bit lazy. 

That's bad.

But at the same time, adjustments were made to that design to give it a more active, angular look that really works for hockey. And the colors match each team better than they do in the baseball set.

That's good!

I mean, just look at these three cards and tell me the combination of action and design scores anything but a 10 out of 10:

Next, the size of the set. It's minuscule. There are only 165 cards in all, compared with 396 in the O-Pee-Chee version. 

That's bad.

But at the same time, that size makes it relatively easy to complete, even 35 years after its release. I just completed my second set, in fact.

That's good! 

That minuscule size means Topps left out some very attractive rookie cards. Cam Neely, Doug Gilmour, and Chris Chelios rookies only appear in the O-Pee-Chee version.

That's bad.
However, the absence of those cards makes the Topps set more affordable.

That's good! (Sort of.)

So as a hockey card collector, what do you do?

Well, I still say you should go for it. You can probably find a large stack of these cards for a reasonable price, and with the set being so small, one large stack means you can be more than halfway to a complete set.

You can even do what I did a few years ago when I was building this set for the first time: Buy a wax pack or two, open them, and add some of those cards to your setyou know, the old-fashioned way. 

Packs are not as cheap as they used to be, partly because Topps used a heat-sealed tamper-proof plastic wrapper for that year's hockey packs instead of the standard wax wrappers (another puzzler!), but the nostalgia you'll feel will be worth it.

And another reason to try that out? Well, because the entire set consists of only 165 cards, and each pack contains 15 cards, there's a pretty decent chance you'll find at least one or two star players in your pack. Take one of the packs I bought for an example:

That's the first Topps card for Housley and Bellows, Barrasso's All-Star card from his rookie year, Coffey and Bourque are HOFers (as is Housley), and of course the Yzerman rookie card (another HOFer). All in the same pack.

Here are a few other cards from the set that I enjoy.

Watch as Guy Lafeur and Mike Bossy show you proper crossover technique (left-over-right and right-over-left), while Michel Goulet shows you very nice form on a pass.

The goalies had some nice cardboard in this set. On the right, there's Billy Smith with the kick save. In the middle, Gilles Melloche makes an equally nice stick save. On the left, it's Murray Bannerman with the great combo of turtleneck, old-school mask, leather pads, and super-cool 80s font on the Canadien goalie stick.

Here's Brian Sutter busy doing a Sutter brother thing (not giving an inch), plus Ken Morrow jumping into the action and a Pat LaFontaine rookie card. Note that the O-Pee-Chee version of this set contains all six Sutter brothers. The Topps version did not include Duane and Rich. I wonder if all six of them went over to the Topps headquarters to rough some guys up for that omission.

And here's Wayne and Mike on the All-Star card design, plus the checklist. They fit all 165 cards between the front and back.

Finally, here's an example of a card back. When space allowed, Topps did a nice job with the write-ups, often mentioning a highlight or two from the player's previous season. I like how they kept the hockey stick in the same neutral color as the border, which helps keep it subtle and in the background.

Now let's get back to the bad-good thing, because we've got more.

A total of 171 cards (or 162) would have made more sense for the 9-pocket page. A total of 165, however, leaves just three cards alone on the last page. 

That's bad.

And it's befuddling, because in that era Topps did consider how many cards would fill that last page in the binder. Just think of all the baseball sets that consisted of 792 cards. 

With no Topps version of a hockey set in 1982-83 or 1983-84, however, maybe it was a late decision by Topps to even produce a set in 1984-85, and 165 cards made for more efficient printing somehow.

Next, the distribution of cards per team. Perhaps Topps was hasty in trying to reduce the set by so many cards (396 down to 165), because here's the shakeout of base cards per team:
14 cards: Islanders
12 cards: Bruins, Red Wings, Rangers
11 cards: Sabres, Black Hawks, Whalers, North Stars
8 cards: Capitals
7 cards: Devils
6 cards: Kings, Flyers
5 cards: Penguins, Blues
3 cards: Flames, Oilers, Canadiens, Nordiques, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Jets

That's bad. (Also, wow, no love for the Canadian teams.)

To take one example of the odd distribution, the Whalers (last place in their division, missed the playoffs) received 11 cards in the base set, while the Oilers only received threeCoffey, Gretzky, and Kurridespite winning the Stanley Cup the season prior. No Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Grant Fuhr, Andy Moog, Dave Semenko, or Charlie Huddy. They did have four of the All-Star cards at the end of the set as well, but three of those four were exactly the same playersCoffey, Gretzky, and Kurri. Messier was the fourth All-Star card.

So that's that. Overall, I think I count more "that's bad" than "that's good". But the design is so terrific that it certainly makes up for some of the bad. And regardless of the strange nature of this set, I'm happy to have completed it a second time. 

How do you feel about 1984-85 Topps Hockey? More good? More bad? Leave a comment, and thanks as always for reading.