Sunday, November 29, 2020

Completed Set: 1977-78 Topps Hockey

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.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

100th Post (And an Upcoming Giveaway)

I've reached a milestone here at Nine Pockets:

100 blog posts!

Because I add content here once a week, every Sunday, 100 posts means I've been at this for almost two years now. That's small potatoes compared with many of you blogging veterans out there, but I'm happy that I've been able to come up with enough content to fill that many Sundays. So happy, in fact, that I'm going to have a little giveaway soon in order to celebrate and to thank all you readers for spending some time here.

But because this is a trading card blog, let's tie in some cards first. Here are two sports-related milestones involving the number 100, along with cardboard representation.

Baseball: 100 Stolen Bases in a Season

About a dozen players have accomplished this feat. The list of pre-1900 players consists of Tommy McCarthy, Hugh Nicol, Artie Latham, Charles Comiskey, John Montgomery Ward, Billy Hamilton, and Jim Fogarty. Modern-era players joining them are Maury Wills and these three guys.

Hockey: 100 Assists in a Season

This stat will give you a good indication of just how much time Wayne Gretzky spent on another planet throughout his career.

The Great One recorded 100 assists in a season eleven times, putting up as many as 163 during the 1985-86 season. Only two other NHL players have reached the milestone, and they each did it only once: Bobby Orr, with 102 assists in 1970-71, and Mario Lemieux, with 114 assists in 1988-89.

Just as amazing as the feat itself, Gretzky's 11 seasons of 100+ assists were consecutive. (From 1980-81 through 1990-91.)

Now let's get back to the giveaway. Here are some details:

  • The list of prizes will appear on my upcoming two-year anniversary post (about a month from now), complete with pictures.
  • At least a dozen prizes will be available, mostly trading cards of various quantities and vintages.
  • One prize per person, first person to claim the prize with a comment will get it.

Simple as that. 

So keep your eyes peeled, and thank you as always for reading.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

From Ice Rink to Game Grid

Today's custom card takes a different route than many before it. In fact, you might say it takes a virtual route.

Here's the original card. Note the Cooper-brand helmet in particular:

1981-82 O-Pee-Chee #193, Doug Wickenheiser

When I look at these helmets—especially from certain angles like the one this 1981-82 card affordsI can't help but think of a science-fiction film from the same decade. Are you thinking of the same one?

If nothing is coming to mind, here are some hints:

The film featured groundbreaking computer animation. 

Instead of an ice rink, the characters in this film did battle on something called a "game grid".

From 1996 to 1998, the NHL used a special puck that left a glowing trail on television screens when shot hard enough. More than a decade earlier, this film had Light Discs that left a glowing trail when thrown.

Got the film?

Here's the custom card:


Suddenly Doug Wickenheiser has found himself digitized into a computer world, his bleu, blanc, et rouge replaced with a Tron uniform. But don't worry. He's a professional hockey player. He'll do just fine on the game grid.

As for the other design elements, I changed the team name to Tron and the position from center to user (in English and French, just like the original O-Pee-Chee card). I also changed the Canadiens logo on the bottom right to a stylized Light Disc, or "Identity Disc" as it's also called.

With those elements out of the way, look at that helmet once again. There's not much doubt that the Tron props department modified some Cooper helmets for actors to use in the film. It's just an unmistakable shape, and it makes for a cool hockey connection. See?


And there's even one more connection to be made.

Tron appeared in theaters during the summer of 1982. At the very same time, hockey-loving kids were probably still sorting through their new 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee cards, including Doug Wickenheiser's #193 up there at the top.

I wonder if any those kids watched the film in theaters, recognized the helmets from their hockey cards, and yelled out, "Hey, that guy is wearing a Cooper hockey helmet!"

Regardless, the film may have inspired Mr. Wickenheiser, because he put up his finest offensive numbers the following season: 25 goals, 30 assists, 55 points, and a 15.6 shooting percentage.

His career totals: 10 NHL seasons, 556 GP, 111 G, 165 A, 276 PTS, 286 PIM, 16 GWG, 11.2 S%.
But right now it looks like he's ready for his next game on the grid.

And that raises a fun question: Which hockey player, past or present, would make the best Tron competitor? 

It would have to be a player with a combination of speed, skill, and smarts. Excellent offensive and defensive abilities would be a plus. A working knowledge of physics and geometry would also help. 

Wayne Gretzky? Pavel Datsyuk? Sergei Fedorov? Jaromir Jagr? Gordie Howe?

I might choose Gordie. He'd probably just walk onto the game grid, derez his competitor with one punch, and walk right back out.

Leave your choices in the comment section.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee Dating Game (Episode 13)

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.

The big winner of episode 12 was Paul Woods.

Now let's start the 13th round and introduce the bachelors chosen by the randomizer! [APPLAUSE]

Bachelor number 1: Defenseman from the Edmonton Oilers, Kevin Lowe
Bachelor number 2: Right wing from the Minnesota North Stars, Dino Ciccarelli
Bachelor number 3: Goalie from the New York Rangers, Steve Weeks

Remarkable! After a complete lack of goaltenders on the show through the first 11 episodes, the randomizer has now selected a goalie in two straight—and they're both from the New York Rangers! 

Let's find out more about all three gents from the back of their cards.

Quite an interesting trio this week. Who's the winning guy? Take your time and choose wisely!

Bachelor number 1: Cooking enthusiast Kevin Lowe.

Bachelor number 2: Dino Ciccarelli, one of the most popular North Stars. (Dino! Dino!)

Bachelor number 3: For those about to rock: Steve Weeks.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

From the Favorites Box: Charlie Moore, 1986 Topps #137

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

Here's an example of excellent timing:

On that day at the ballpark, a Topps photographer had the camera aimed at Charlie Moore and clicked the shutter at just the right moment. 

The veteran catcher is about to unleash a throw toward what looks like third base. His cage is already off (note the soft baseball capold school). Dirt is being kicked up around home plate. The runner must be scurrying to the bag in a panic, knowing a laser beam will be headed toward the third baseman's open glove in an instant.

And for those of you who like a classic powder-blue uniform, you've got that here as well.

As for the man on the card, Charlie Moore was a utility guy of sorts: catcher, outfield, designated hitter. Over his 15-year career he even played a few innings at second and third base, with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage (three chances, three assists).

His best year came in 1983, when playing mostly the outfield he set highs in games played (151), plate appearances (605), and a whole bunch of offensive categories: 150 H, 27 2B, 49 RBI, 11 SB, 55 BB.

But since this particular card features him as a catcher in action, here's one more stat: For his career, Mr. Moore would throw out a total of 272 base runners at a clip of 36%. That total of 272 puts him ahead of names like Todd Hundley, Ron Hassey, and Ozzie Virgil. The percentage puts him ahead of names like Brad Ausmus, Mike Scioscia, and Tony Pena.

Let's get back to that card now. Look at the image once again, but try this:

Take the baseball out of his right hand and replace it with a spear. Take the mitt off his left hand and replace it with a shield. 

You'd practically be in ancient Greece. 

And there you'd surely see Charlie Moore's pose painted on pottery and set in sculpture.

It's something, isn't it? The field of battle might be different, but Moore is a still a warrior on that card. And if you're the kind of sports fan who keeps a personal Mount Olympus of athletes, then Charlie Moore could be an Olympian in the original sense of the word.

For a timeless pose that reminds us of the feeling of excitement that sport has brought—and will always continue to bring—1986 Topps #137 has a spot in my box of favorite cards.