Saturday, February 22, 2020

Subset: 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team Rookie Cards

40 years ago today, this was the scene in Lake Placid, New York: 

The next day, this was the headline in the newspaper:

When The Miracle on Ice happened, I was barely a toddler. I didn't even get into the sport of hockey until I was in high school in the 1990s. But the story of this group of college kids, their coach Herb Brooks, and their collective accomplishment still grabs me pretty hard. It always has. It probably always will.

And I think that's really saying something. Time goes on in sports, and often there aren't many details of a championship that cement themselves in our minds. Sometimes we won't even recall who won the championship when we think back to particular seasons. But 40 years later the Miracle is still talked about, largely because it went well beyond the sport of hockey and the Olympic games. 

The Cold War and corresponding arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union had gotten a little more hostile and nuclear, and the world was watching anxiously. The tension couldn't help but spill over to Lake Placid. After all, the world was watching the Olympics, too. And although it might seem like an exaggeration to say this now, back then it was "us versus them", and many Americans felt like the US team almost had to win for the sake of the free world.

To provide just one example of the impact the victory had, there are stories of people across the States who were listening to the game on the radio in their cars, and when the final buzzer sounded they pulled over, got out, and with tears of joy in their eyes began to embrace complete strangers who'd also pulled over—all to the sounds of even more cars passing by and honking rhythmically, U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! 

And to cap off this remarkable story, two days after the Miracle, the US team went on to defeat Finland to claim the Gold Medal.

Because of all this, and because this is a trading card blog, I'd like to show the first hockey card of each player from that US Olympic team who went on to play in the NHL. We'll go in chronological order.

Dave Christan, forward (defenseman during the Olympic tournament)
Warroad, Minnesota / University of North Dakota
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 0 G, 8 A, 8 PTS, 6 PIM
NHL career: 1009 GP, 340 G, 433 A, 773 PTS, 284 PIM

Christian played for 5 teams across 15 seasons: Winnipeg, Washington, Boston, St. Louis, and Chicago. His best season was 1985-86 with Washington (80 GP, 41 G, 42 A, 83 PTS). Remarkably, Dave's father Bill and uncle Roger were members of the 1960 US Olympic hockey team that also won a gold medal. The family owned and operated the Christian Brothers hockey stick company for many years.

Fun fact: Similar to a few of the other Olympians, Dave Christian began playing for his NHL team just a few days after the Olympic tournament ended. And on his very first shiftseven seconds into ithe scored his first NHL goal. As of this writing it's still a record for the quickest goal into an NHL career.

Steve Christoff, forward
Richfield, Minnesota / University of Minnesota
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS, 6 PIM
NHL career: 248 GP, 77 G, 64 A, 141 PTS, 108 PIM

Christoff played with Minnesota, Calgary, and Los Angeles across five NHL seasons. It must have been amazing to suit up for his hometown North Stars right after the Olympic tournament. Along with Olympic teammate Dave Christian, Christoff received some consideration for the Calder Memorial trophy. (Awarded to the rookie of the year.)

Jim Craig, goaltender
Easton, Massachusetts / Boston University
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 6-0-1, 2.14 GAA, .916 SV%
NHL career: 30 GP, 11 W, 10 L, 7 T, 3.78 GAA, .857 SV% 

Craig was the big hero in goal for the Olympic team, starting every game and standing tall against some incredible international talent. After the tournament he'd play parts of three seasons for Atlanta, Boston, and Minnesota. 

As you've noticed by now, the 1980-81 cards for each Olympian received the special "USA Hockey Team" stamp—on the Topps and O-Pee-Chee versions. It certainly provides some indication of how big the US victory was. 

Mark Johnson, forward
Minneapolis, Minnesota / University of WisconsinMadison
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 5 G, 6 A, 11 PTS, 6 PIM (led team in points)
NHL career: 669 GP, 203 G, 305 A, 508 PTS, 269 PIM

Johnson was a talented forward who bounced around the NHL for 11 seasons and had success wherever he went, reaching the 20- and 30-goal mark a bunch of times. He scored two goals against the Soviet team in the Miracle game. He also played for the US National Team in numerous World Cups and Canada Cups throughout the 1980s, putting up pretty good point totals there, too.

Rob McClanahan, forward
Saint Paul, Minnesota / University of Minnesota
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 5 G, 3 A, 8 PTS, 2 PIM
NHL career: 224 GP, 38 G, 63 A, 101 PTS, 126 PIM

McClanahan played for Buffalo, Hartford, and the Rangers across five NHL seasons. His best season was 1982-83 with the Rangers (78 GP, 22 G, 26 A, 48 PTS, 46 PIM). Guess who coached that team? Yep. Herb Brooks. Know who else was on that team? Fellow Olympic teammates Bill Baker, Dave Silk, and Mark Pavelich.

Ken Morrow, defenseman
Davison, Michigan / Bowling Green State University
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS, 6 PIM
NHL career: 550 GP, 17 G, 88 A, 105 PTS, 309 PIM

Morrow is the most decorated of this groupnot for the personal point totals, but for the team accomplishments. How's this for a story: A few days after winning the gold medal in February of 1980, the NHL team that drafted you, the New York Islanders, calls and tells you they need another defenseman to shore up their blue line for their upcoming playoff run. You step into the lineup and play in the final 18 regular-season games, then blast through the playoffs and help your team win its first Stanley Cup. And then you'd win the next three Stanley Cups as well. The guy's feet probably never touched the ground from 1980 to 1984.

One personal stat I would like to point out is Morrow's career plus/minus totals. He's plus 142. That's top 60 all-time for defensemen. I know the legitimacy and value of plus/minus has been criticized over the past few years, and with reason, as it's not a perfectly accurate indicator. But still, if you're a defensive-minded guy like Morrow, it's a pretty good number, and still means you're doing well at preventing goals from going into your net while helping your team score into the other net. It's even more impressive considering Morrow accumulated that number across only 550 games. 

You know who's got an even better career plus/minus? The next guy in our list. He's at plus 203.

Mike Ramsey, defenseman
Minneapolis, Minnesota / University of Minnesota
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 PTS, 8 PIM
NHL career: 1070 GP, 79 G, 266 A, 345 PTS, 1012 PIM

Ramsey is another member of the Olympic team who played in more than 1,000 NHL games. He suited up for 18 seasons total, mostly with Buffalo (then a couple with Pittsburgh and three with Detroit). Ramsey was selected 11th overall by Buffalo in the 1979 Entry Draft, and was talented enough to be named to four NHL All-Star teams. 

While with Detroit, he was teammates with defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov, who was on the 1980 Soviet Olympic team. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when the two of them were reintroduced in that locker room. I wonder what sorts of conversations they had about their Olympic experience over the years. And speaking of his time in Detroit, if Ramsey could have just lengthened his career a few more months and stuck around for the 1996-97 season and playoffs, he would have hoisted the Stanley Cup with those Red Wings, and with Fetisov.

Neal Broten, forward
Roseau, Minnesota / University of Minnesota
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS, 2 PIM
NHL career: 1099 GP, 289 G, 634 A, 923 PTS, 569 PIM

The third player on this list to have played in more than 1,000 NHL games, Broten logged 17 NHL seasons, 13 of those with Minnesota. He won the Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 1994-95, where he put up 7 goals and 12 assists in 20 playoff games. Four of those goals were game-winners. 

His best season was 1985-86 (80 GP, 29 G, 76 A, 105 PTS, 47 PIM). Across his career he received Calder, Selke, and Lady Byng consideration. 

Fun fact: Broten went back to college after the Olympics, helped Minnesota to an NCAA championship, and won the Hobey Baker award as the best NCAA hockey player of the year. That means he's an NCAA champion, an Olympic gold medalist, and a Stanley Cup champion. Ed Belfour is the only other person to have done that. Additionally, Broten is the only person to have won a Hobey Baker award, Olympic Gold, and Stanley Cup.

Mark Pavelich, forward
Eveleth, Minnesota / University of Minnesota Duluth
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 1 G, 6 A, 7 PTS, 2 PIM
NHL career: 355 GP, 137 G, 192 A, 329 PTS, 310 PIM

Pavelich was superbly talented, as evidenced by his near-point per game totals across his career. He played in 7 NHL seasons, 5 with the Rangers. Have a look at these goal totals in his first three NHL seasons: 33, 37, 29. 

During the 1982-83 season he scored 5 goals in one game (and he's still the only US-born player to have done so). Injuries reduced his game totals and scoring totals after his first few seasons, however.

Bill Baker, defenseman
Grand Rapids, Minnesota / University of Minnesota
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 1 PTS, 4 PIM
NHL career: 143 GP, 7 G, 25 A, 32 PTS, 175 PIM

Baker suited up for Montreal, Colorado, St. Louis, and the Rangers. It doesn't seem like he got much of a chance to be an everyday player until he was reunited with coach Herb Brooks in 1982-83 with the Rangers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he put up his best personal totals that year, playing almost a full NHL season for the first time (70 GP, 4 G, 14 A, 18 PTS, 64 PIM).


Jack O'Callahan, defenseman
Charlestown, Massachusetts / Boston University
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS, 2 PIM
NHL career:  389 GP, 27 G, 104 A, 131 PTS, 541 PIM

O'Callahan played games across seven NHL seasons, all with Chicago and New Jersey. He had a great playoff run with Chicago in 1984-85, the year this card was issued (15 GP, 3 G, 5 A, 8 PTS, 25 PIM).

Dave Silk, forward
Scituate, Massachusetts / Boston University
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 5 PTS, 0 PIM
NHL career: 249 GP, 54 G, 59 A, 103 PTS, 271 PIM

Silk was hampered a bit by injuries over his seven-year NHL career, but still played a respectable amount of games with the Rangers, Boston, Detroit, and Winnipeg. His best season was perhaps with Boston in 1983-84, where in only 35 games he scored 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points.

Here are the team members who did not earn an NHL trading card:

Mike Eruzione, forward
Winthrop, Massachusetts / Boston University
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS, 2 PIM
Scored the famous game-winning goal against the Soviets. No playing record after the Olympics.

John Harrington, forward
Virginia, Minnesota / University of Minnesota Duluth
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 0 G, 5 A, 5 PTS, 2 PIM
Played the 1980-81 season for Lugano in Switzerland (38 GP, 40 G, 54 A, 94 PTS, 22 PIM). Played for the US National Team from 1981 to 1983 and the US Olympic Team in 1984.

Steve Janaszak, goaltender
Saint Paul, Minnesota / University of Minnesota
1980 Olympic Tournament: 0 GP
Played one game with the North Stars and two games with Colorado. Played in the minor leagues through the 1982-83 season.

Buzz Schneider, forward
Grand Rapids, Minnesota / University of Minnesota
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 5 G, 3 A, 8 PTS, 4 PIM
Spent the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons playing with SC Bern in Switzerland.

Eric Strobel, forward
Rochester, Minnesota / University of Minnesota
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 PTS, 2 PIM
Played part of one season with the Rochester Americans of the AHL.

Bob Suter, defenseman
Madison, Wisconsin / University of WisconsinMadison
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, 6 PIM
Played for the US team at the 1981 Ice Hockey World Championships. In 1981-82 played one full season in the CHL with the Nashville South Stars.

Phil Verchota, forward
Duluth, Minnesota / University of Minnesota
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS, 8 PIM
Played the 1980-81 season for Jokerit in Finland. Played with the US National Team in 1982-83, and the US Olympic Team in 1984.

Mark Wells, forward
St. Clair Shores, Michigan / Bowling Green State University
1980 Olympic Tournament: 7 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS, 0 PIM
Played the 1980-81 season and then the 1981-82 season with a few different teams in the minor leagues.

I hope you can see that some of the players from the 1980 US Olympic Team had really great (and perhaps overlooked) professional careers. And for those who didn't make the NHL ranks, it wasn't the end of the world. The team was made up of humble guys who grew up in small towns or on farms and ranches, enjoyed playing hockey, and came together to be part of a magical experience. If playing in the pros didn't work out after that, they moved on with their lives. It adds another amazing note to the whole story. 

If you want even more evidence of the scale of the victory, almost all 12 of the cards shown above mention something about the 1980 Olympics on the back. 

On Jim Craig's card, for example: 

Helped U.S. Team to stunning upset victory over Soviets
in the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. 

And even on Jack O'Callahan's 1984-85 card, five years after the event: 

Played on US Gold Medal team in 1980 Olympics.


Finally, if you'd like some additional inspiration, I can make four recommendations:

(1) The 2004 film Miracle. Disney did an excellent job telling the story, despite some moments that were perhaps enhanced and "Disney-fied" a little bit. Kurt Russel did a fantastic job playing the role of coach Herb Brooks, and the game-action scenes throughout the film are really well done and quite realistic. A main reason is that the actors who portrayed the members of the team were accomplished hockey players themselves.

(2) If you want the story without Disney-fication, a great book is The Boys of Winter. Author Wayne Coffey delves much deeper into each player, their humble backgrounds, and how the team came together to carry out one of the biggest upsets and greatest sports stories of the 20th century.

(3) The December 22, 1980 issue of Sports Illustrated. Since 1954, the ultra-popular magazine bestowed a "Sportsman of the Year" award to one athlete. The Miracle on Ice was so special, however, that for 1980 the editors changed the title of the award to Sportsmen of the Year so they could award it to the entire US Olympic hockey team. Here's a link to that issue in The SI archive, where you can read a fantastic article about the award (beginning on page 30). You'll not only get an excellent look into the 1980 team and the Olympic tournament, but also what was going on in the world at the time.

(4) The actual game. Search YouTube and you'll find highlights from the ABC television broadcast with Al Michaels and Ken Dryden. And here's the call from ABC radio, synced with the video footage. I like that one the most, because the commentator was right there in the crowd, and his commentary is just so raw and jubilant. You can also find highlights from games the US played against other teams throughout the tournament. (For example, the final game against Finland that clinched the Gold Medal was just as good.)

Whether you're a hockey fan or not, I hope you'll do at least some of that reading and watching as a way of celebrating the incredible victory 40 years later.

Thanks for helping me pay tribute to the event for a little while here on the blog.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

From the Favorites Box: Sandy Alomar, 1973 Topps #123

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

Now batting for the Angels. . . number two. . . second baseman. . . Sandy Alomar. . .

That announcement through the P.A. system could be right where we find ourselves as we look through the thin black frame and into the story being told on this card.

Mr. Alomar has just stepped into the batter's box, there's a lull in the crowd, and the catcher is silently transmitting signals to the pitcher who stands on the mound about 60 feet away.

The thing is, sometimes we don't think about how much hard work a hitter puts in every single day just to get into that batter's box. Physical training, mental training, batting practice, studying tendencies of various pitchers. Even choosing the right model bat takes time and effort.

And if a hitter plugs all of those variables into the equation successfully, the result is bound to be a boost in confidence. It's a pretty great feeling for an athlete to have. And if you look closely at this card, you'll see that Alomar's got it.

It's in the way he's hitching up his pant leg with one hand while he twirls the bat toward the pitcher with the other. You can't help but think the next scene in the story will involve Sandy grabbing that bat with both hands, getting into his stance, and drilling the next pitch somewhere.

For putting in all the work, day in and day out, in order to step into the batter's box with confidence, 1973 Topps #123 has a place in my box of favorite cards.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee Dating Game (Episode 8)

Welcome back to The 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee Dating Game, where we'll randomly select three eligible bachelors from the set and you, the reader, will choose which one wins that date with a special lady. How do we know they're bachelors? Why, it says so right on the back of their hockey cards, that's how!

Previous episodes are available here.

Ron Greschner from the New York Rangers was our big winner from episode 7.

Now, let's start the 8th round and introduce the bachelors chosen by our randomizer! [APPLAUSE]

Bachelor number 1: Left Wing from the New Jersey Devils, Brent Ashton
Bachelor number 2: Defenseman from the Chicago Black Hawks, Keith Brown
Bachelor number 3: Left Wing from the Boston Bruins, Brad Palmer

Let's find out more about these gents from the back of their cards

We've got three rather interesting bachelors this week! Let's find out who intrigues you the most, studio audience. Who's the winner?

Bachelor number 1: Brent Ashton, who drives his sports car to the golf course in his leisure hours.

Bachelor number 2: Keith Brown, public speaker and former Winter Hawk.

Bachelor number 3: Brad Palmer, teenage logger turned hunting man.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

A Custom Card Kisses the Sky

Today's custom card was inspired by an underrated baseball player from the 1980s, and features a guitar legend from the 1960s.

First, the original card:

1982 Topps Traded #2T, Jesse Barfield

Any idea who the look-alike is? Here are some hints:

His instrument of choice was almost always a Fender Stratocaster.

He wondered if you were experienced.

Instead of Blue Jays, think Purple Haze.

Got it?

Here's the custom card:

The resemblance is a little more of a stretch than some of the other customs I've made, but there are still a few similarities between the two guys, don't you think? And besides, there was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to put Jimi Hendrix on a baseball card.

I decided to use Jimi's formal name of James because Topps would have probably done the same thing back then. As for his position, I kept it as is. I figure a guy with such creativity and bravado would take more kindly to running around the outfield than he would being stuck at a corner infield position, for example.

And look a little closer. The Hendrix signature is well known, so I was able to find a good example of it online. Then I removed Jesse's signature and added Jimi's on a slight angle to match.

As for the man himself, what is there to say that hasn't already been said?

There's a lot left to wonder about, of course. Jimi's sound was really evolving as the new decade dawned (1969 into 1970, that is). If you haven't listened to any of his recordings with the Band of Gypsys, I highly recommend it. Makes you wonder what sort of music he would have been creating in 1982.
And you know what? If Jimi were still alive in 1982and for this exercise, a young baseball playerI think Toronto would have been a good fit. 

"New York is so plastic," I can hear him say, "and the West Coast scene has changed". 

In Toronto, maybe he'd find some peace of mind.

Plus, it would give him an opportunity to create a mean rendition of O Canada for the guitar. He'd play it before every home game, and then exchange his Stratocaster for a baseball glove and trot into the outfield as the umpire yelled PLAY BALL!

The crowd would go wild.

And here's some interesting information I discovered while creating the card: Although he played the guitar left-handed, Jimi was somewhat mixed-handed. For instance, he threw with his left hand but wrote with his right hand. Maybe this would have made him a rarity like Rickey Hendersonthrows left, bats right. You see many more ballplayers do the oppositethrow right, bat left.

But let's get back to Jesse Barfield for a moment, because he was no slouch either.

Go back and watch game three of the 1985 ALCS between the Blue Jays and Royals. The link should take you to the 40:40 mark of the video, where in the bottom of the fourth inning alone Barfield makes three terrific catches on the wet turf at Kauffman Stadium to retire the side and keep the game closethe most impressive grab around 41:38. Afterward, commentator Tony Kubek mentions how much more confident the young Barfield had become since the Blue Jays stopped platooning him.

In the top of the next inning he'd come up to the plate with a man on first, and what do you think he did? Yep. Around the 45:52 mark he belts a two-run homer to tie the game.

The Royals would take the game 6-5, ended up winning the series 4 games to 3, and would also go on to win the World Championship, of course. But Barfield had himself a great year for the Jays. The most impressive stat? Get this: He put up a rare "triple-double" of 27 home runs, 22 stolen bases, and 22 outfield assists.

He kept rolling into 1986, his best overall season, as he tallied 170 hits, 35 doubles, and 40 home runs (led the AL); put up a .289 average; won the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards; and was named an All-Star. He'd also take home a Gold Glove Award the following year.

In the early '90s I remember he had a couple of good seasons with the Yankees, too. Unfortunately, injuries really slowed him down after that, and he wrapped up his career while still in his early 30s.

Back to Hendrix now, as I often like to create a second custom card. Here it is, based on the 1982 Topps In Action subset. Natural fit, right?

I used the name Jimi for this one, because the card shows him as Jimi Hendrix the musician, not James Hendrix the baseball player.

Now go listen to whatever Hendrix songs you've got in your library, and enjoy the day.

Thanks for reading, as always.