The 1977-78 Topps hockey set arrived at an interesting point in time.
The NHL was pretty entertaining throughout the decade. Leading goal scorers like Guy Lafleur, Phil Esposito, and Marcel Dionne were putting home 50 or 60 per season, and plenty of other veterans like Bobby Clarke, Gilbert Perreault, and Bobby Orr were easily breaking the 100-point mark. However, it was still B.G.E. (Before the Gretzky Era.)
What does that mean, exactly? Well first, scoring would increase even more in the 1980s, which must have made card collecting even more exciting for young kids of the era. Secondly, in 1979 the NHL would pluck four teams from the struggling World Hockey Association. Adding those teams meant more players on cards for collectors to collect. And third, some of the league's brightest stars like Orr, Mikita, and Cheevers were nearing the ends of their careers. They'd soon be replaced by new Canadian stars like Bourque, Bossy, and Gretzky, as well as an influx of exciting players from Europe and the States.
All that being said, the 1977-78 set is a touch on the light side when it comes to star power, rookie cards, and financial burden. And that's precisely why I set out to make it my first completed hockey set of the '70s.
But let's get back to the stars. The first few cards of the set feature league leaders.
Steve Shutt had a career year, hitting the 60-goal mark. His teammate Guy Lafleur hit 56, and Marcel Dionne put home 53, including the 200th of his absurd career total of 731.
The next two cards feature the assist and point leaders, respectively, but what really catches the eye in this set is card number 4.
Penalty minute leaders?!?
Got to love that. And I suppose the existence of this card is an indication of the style of play back then, as well as what interested the fans. Bad dudes were on the ice and on cardboard.
If you're wondering about the totals, Dave Williams accumulated 338 penalty minutes, Dennis Polonich racked up 274, and Bob Gassoff finished at 254. Noted tough guy Dave Schultz finished just off the podium with 232.
And that penalty minutes card wasn't all. Have a look at the guys on these next few cards.
The Flyers (a.k.a. Broad Street Bullies) and Bruins (a.k.a. Big Bad Bruins) were two of the roughest teams of the '70s, as you can see here. On the left, Orest Kindrachuk has just finished trading haymakers with someone, and has the wounds to prove it. In the middle, Don Saleski and Garry Howatt are grappling, but both seem more interested in something off to the side there. And on the right, Wayne Cashman shows a poor Captials player a wrestling move he saw on TV last night.
But wait, there's more!
Willi Plett cools off in the penalty box while Hartland Monahan looks for his other glove, likely after a scrap. (The teammate behind him is also gloveless, look.) And on the right, Rookie Dave Farrish listens respectfully to a referee's explanation of a penalty call. I like how teammate John Davidson is giving the ref a good stare-down, refusing to even remove his goalie mask.
But the 1977-78 set wasn't all about the rough stuff, of course. There's a surprising amount of action captured on cardboard, too.
The Red Wings got their share of nice action shots. I'm impressed by the camera work and the low angles. The images above almost make it seem like you're right there on the ice, especially on that middle card.
Same with the image of Bobby Schmautz on the left. Looks like you just passed him the puck. In the middle, Dave Forbes is about to cut toward the net from the left wing. He's doing a nice job keeping his head up and assessing his options. On the right, noted speedster Pat Hickey really wants the puck, and I don't think the Capitals player behind him is going to catch up.
Here, Pit Martin gives us a good look at the type of skates players were wearing in 1977. Dennis Kearns looks like he's digging toward the corner to throw a body check on a poor winger. And there's Andre Savard, fending off a hook from a Captials defender.
Next, an example of a card back.
The hockey stick on the left is a nice design element, and the player's name across the top really stands out. The card number is in a bit of an odd place, but you can find it alright. Underneath the stats you have some nice bullet points describing the player (when space allows). And finally, there's a cartoon at the very bottom of each card. Here are a few of my favorites.
The 1977-78 set featured team cards as well (they had checklists on the back).
The North Stars went for a high-angle view, while the Flyers went more face-on, and had no problem showing off some recently won hardware. For those of you keeping tabs at home, the trophy on the left is the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to playoff MVP Bernie Parent in 1974 and 1975, and teammate Reggie Leach in 1976. The middle trophy is the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, awarded to the Western Conference Playoff Champions. The Flyers won it from 1974 through 1977. And on the right you have the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL MVP. Bobby Clarke won it in 1973, 1975, and 1976.
On the subject of teams, this set includes cards from three teams that are now defunct.
Also now defunct, the glorious brown leather pads that goalies once wore. If you enjoy those "waffle board" blockers as much as I do, you'll enjoy this set.
And here are three legendary players who were almost at the end of their careers.
Bobby Orr does look strange on a Black Hawks card. (Note how Topps airbrushed him into the Hawks jersey, but left his teammate in the background in his Bruins jersey.)
The set also features a few record-breaker cards, and adds a nice, bright banner to the tops of the all-stars, as you can see on Borje Salming's card in the middle. On the right, a pleasant color combination for the checklists.
The final three cards in the set briefly document the NHL's run to the Stanley Cup championship. It's a nice little wrap-up. I especially like that middle card. Those two Bruins teammates look like hungry wolves chasing down their prey.
And that's that.
Although this set is absent of the big studs of the 1980s, and although the design is largely borrowed from 1977 Topps baseball, there's still some good merit to be earned. It's one of those sets that a collector can warm up to as they're putting it together. I'm happy I've completed it.
Thanks for reading, as always.