Thursday, September 29, 2016

Patrice Bergeron Jersey Card

Patrice Bergeron is making quite a nice little reputation for himself on the international stage with Team Canada, what with six world titles now that he has helped secure the 2016 World Cup thanks to scoring the game-tying goal with three minutes left in the decisive game. On the powerplay, no less.

He has also won gold at the Olympics (2010 and 2014), the World Championships (2004), the Spengler Cup (2012), and the World Juniors (2005). He won the MVP title in the latter, playing on a team that included regular national team teammates Sidney Crosby and Carey Price.

The two-time All-Star and Stanley Cup champion (2010-11, becoming the 25th member of the Triple Gold Club) also has three Selke Trophies as the league's best defensive forward, in an era where Jonathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa and Tomas Plekanec are also active (and dominating the two-way aspect of the game).

Here he is sporting his country's colours and the alternate captain's "A", on card #GJ-PB from Upper Deck's 2014-15 Series 2 set and UD Game Jersey sub-set:
It features a red game-worn Team Canada jersey swatch that matches the one he's pictured in.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

D.J. Shockley Sweet Spot Signatures Card

As I mentioned before, my favourite insert sub-sets of all time belong to Upper Deck's Sweet Spot Football sets; here's one from the 2006 Sweet Spot Signatures series, card #SSS-DS in the collection, which contains a miniature helmet he signed in silver sharpie:
It features quarterback D.J. Shockley, a star for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, and winner of the SEC Championship Game MVP Award in 2005.

Drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, he spent four years with the team, usually in a third-string role. He may have had a chance to be a starter when Michael Vick was convicted of staging dog fights in 2007, but he tore his ACL, which sidelined him for the year; he was on the practice squad for the rest of his tenure in the NFL.

He finished off his career with a year and a half with the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks, behind another former NFLer, Jeff Garcia.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Box Break: 2016-17 Upper Deck MVP Hockey

It's that time of year again, where I can go to the pharmacy to get my diabetes meds and leave with an additional box of cards; this time, it was a 24-pack blaster of Upper Deck's 2016-17 MVP set:
The box was on sale, $26.99 instead of $29.99, which comes up to $31.25 after taxes, for 120 cards.

Here's how I fared:

Three Rookie Cards, of Mark McNeil, Hudson Fasching and Steven Santini:
Three Silver Script fac-simile autograph cards, of Sean Monahan, Thomas Vanek, and John Carlson:
One Silver Script Rookie Card, of William Nylander:
One Gold Script of Nicklas Backstrom, numbered 12/165:
One NHL Territory card of Gabriel Landeskog:
One Leading Lights card of Mark Scheifele (the scan doesn't do these foil cards justice):
And six "Puzzle Back" cards that have the regular-issue picture of a card in the front with the card number and information there as well, with the back being a 1/9 piece of a picture of another player; case in point, this two-card comparison of the regular-issue (left) and Puzzle Back (right) cards of Nathan MacKinnon, with the back showing Erik Karlsson's right arm:
The regular backs show up to five years' worth of statistics.

There were 19 regular-issue cards of players currently on Canadian teams (easier for me to get signed), including these two of my hometown Montréal Canadiens, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher:
I also got nine "High Numbers" cards, including two of retired Hall Of Famers, Bobby Hull and Al MacInnis (but also of Zach Parise, Alex Ovechkin, Filip Forsberg, Henrik Zetterberg, Morgan Rielly, Kris Letang and Father Time himself, Jaromir Jagr):
As usual with these types of boxes, I failed to get an actual autograph or jersey card.

All told, however, these are a slight improvement on last year's set. They keep that faux-classic style, only the "Script" inserts have the fac-simile autographs, the pictures are action shots with the action behind faded out so it doesn't look like an awful crop, and the colours are crisp.

I give it an 8/10.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Andre Dawson Swatch Card

Officially, seven former members of the Montréal Expos are in Cooperstown, in the baseball Hall of Fame. Two of them, Gary Carter and Andre Dawson, are there as representatives of the defunct franchise. The others are manager Dick Williams, first baseman Tony Pérez, pitchers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, and manager Frank Robinson (inducted as a player). Outfielder Pete Rose used to be in the Hall wearing the Cincinnati Reds' cap, but he was banned for gambling.

As an Expo, Dawson was the star center fielder, a three-time All-Star who won six straight Gold Gloves, three Silver Slugger awards in four seasons, was named Rookie Of The Year in 1977, a one-time hits leader (189, in 1983) and two-time MVP runner-up.

He signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs during the 1987 training camp, aiming to play for a team that had natural grass in their home stadium to spare his aging knees in what then-general manager Dallas Green was forced to call a dog-and-pony show, as collusion in MLB prevented the Cubs from making him a decent offer.

The Hawk ended up the second-lowest paid member of the team, on the way to earning NL MVL honours on the strength of a league-leading 49 home runs and 137 RBIs. He also won the Golden Glove that year and the next and was just the second hitter ever to hit 400 career home runs with 300 career steals, a feat equalled by three more players since. He remains one of just eight in the 300/300 club. He was an eight-time All-Star in total.

In his own inductment speech in 2005, former Cubs teammate Ryne Sandberg lobbied to get Dawson in the Hall:
No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson. He's the best I've ever seen. I watched him win an MVP for a last-place team in 1987 [with the Cubs], and it was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen in baseball. He did it the right way, the natural way, and he did it in the field and on the bases and in every way, and I hope he will stand up here someday.
 This card is a tribute to him, #11 from Donruss' 2010 Americana set and Century Collection sub-set, manufactured by Panini:
It features a white game-worn swatch from a Major League baseball team - seemingly the Cubs.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jack Johnson Autograph Card

Much has been said about Team USA's dead-last finish at the World Cup, particularly about John Tortorella's coaching style and the make-up of the team assembled by Dean Lombardi and Brian Burke, notably the absence of proven (and speedy) goal-scorers such as Phil Kessel, Kyle Okposo and Bobby Ryan, as well as the absence of a Justin Faulk or a Kevin Shattenkirk on defense instead of Erik Johnson or Jack Johnson.

You might recall that last name as either the best defenseman on the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets for a while (say, prior to their trade for Seth Jones) or as the punchline to a surprising headline in 2014, when he filed for bankruptcy (his parents took high-interest loans in his name).

All of which doesn't take away from the fact that, at his best, he is a 30-to-40-point producing defenseman in the NHL. It's not quite what is usually expected from a third-overall draft pick (Carolina Hurricanes, 2005), but that's a #2 or #3 defenseman on most teams, and a #1 on a weak one. His seven points in six playoff games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 213-14 led all Jackets players, after all.

He's also won every type of medal with the American team: gold (2005 U-18s), silver (2004 U-18s and 2010 Olympics), and bronze (2007 World Juniors).

Here he is wearing the Los Angeles Kings' former black-and-gold uniform, on card #GG-JJ from Upper Deck's beautiful 2007-08 Ice set and Glacial Graphs sub-set:
It's a see-through plastic card (the text from the back can be seen at the top-right portion of the scan) that he signed in blue sharpie.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ilya Bryzgalov Jersey Card

Another Canada-Russia game, another blowout...

One guy who is missed in today's NHL is goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, hockey's "Spaceman", who was always good for a great quote. This time around, he had a few choice odd bits for ESPN's Craig Custance regarding the 2010 Olympics, where Team Canada came out to a 7-3 win against Team Russia, in a performance he said:
They came out like gorillas out of a cage. (...) Big picture. Small picture, total domination by Canada. (...)
Not gorillas, more like Orcs from The Hobbit. You watch that movie, right? Big. Mean. Scary.
Sure, he probably meant Lord Of The Rings, but the point remains that the evil Canadians always seem to have that mix of grit and talent to wreck everything on their way to gold.

That, and exceptional coaching:
Canadian coaching much, much better than coaching in Team Russia. They're not in the same league.
 Here he is sporting the Philadelphia Flyers' current/retro orange (now-home) uniform on card #PHI-IB from Upper Deck's 2012-13 Black Diamond set and Double Diamond Jerseys sub-set:
It features two burgundy game-used jersey swatches from his days with the Phoenix Coyotes, prior to his career taking a down turn when away from the teachings of Sean Burke.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Mikael Backlund Cloth Card

The World Cup might have an impact on the NHL's standings this coming season; the Dallas Stars are hardest-hit, what with Tyler Seguin, Radek Farsa and Ales Hemsky suffering injuries and Valeri Nichushkin signing in the KHL, and the Florida Panthers have lost Aaron Ekblad just weeks after granting him a new $60M contract.

The Calgary Flames have also lost a big piece of their offense when Mikael Backlund suffered a concussion after a crushing Sami Lepisto hit. He'd just had his best season in the NHL thus far, breaking the 20-goal and 40-point marks for the first time. He had been called upon by Team Sweden to replace none other than captain Henrik Zetterberg...

Here he is on card #CL-MBA from Panini's 2013-14 Totally Certified set and Clear Cloth sub-set:
It features a decent-sized game-worn jersey swatch, guaranteed by Panini.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Neal Broten Autographed Card

Minnesota North Stars founder Walter Bush, who was also a one-time Hockey USA President, died earlier today, at 86 years old. Per AP:
The Minneapolis native was enshrined into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980, the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000, and the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2009. Awarded the Olympic Order in 2002, he managed the 1959 U.S. national team and 1964 U.S. Olympic team, serving on the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1963.
Bush was selected the NHL's Executive of the Year in 1972 by The Hockey News, and won the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1973 for his contributions to the sport in the United States. As USA Hockey president, Bush played a large role in the addition of women's hockey to the Olympics in 1998.
As a tribute, I thought I could feature the player who, to me, best represents the North Stars, perhaps the player who had his best seasons wearing the green and yellow uniform (save perhaps for Bobby Smith): Neal Broten.

Both his brothers Paul and Aaron also played in the NHL, but Neal was the All-Star in the family.

A star with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (with whom he won the NCAA championship in 1979), he followed his head coach Herb Brooks to the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics and was a part of the famed "Miracle On Ice" edition of Team USA - a pretty sweet deal for a 20-year-old who would return to College Hockey and go on to win the Hobey Baker Award as its best player.

He then joined his home state North Stars - who had drafted him 42nd overall at the 1979 draft - at the end of the 1980-81 season, scoring twice in their final three games, and posting 8 points in their first of two Cinderella Stanley Cup Final runs. His actual rookie season was spectacular, scoring 38 goals (a career-high), with 60 assists and 98 points.

His career-high for points - 105, the first American-born player to surpass the 100-point mark - came in 1985-86, but he was a point-per-game player until the 1989-90 season (85 points in 80 games).

His best playoff performance was the 22 points (including 9 goals) in 23 games in the team's second Cinderella run, in 1990-91.

He followed the team to Dallas in 1993 but was traded to the New Jersey Devils early in the 1994-95 campaign, culminating in his lone Stanley Cup win, after posting an impressive 19 points (including 7 goals) in 20 games, second-best to Stéphane Richer's 21 on the defensive-minded team coached by Jacques Lemaire. He and Ken Morrow (of the powerhouse 1980s New York Islanders) are the only two members of the Miracle On Ice team t have their names on the Stanley Cup.

His final season, 1996-97, was more difficult, suiting up for the Devils just thrice and spending time with their IHL affiliate Phoenix Roadrunners before getting traded to the Los Angeles Kings for future considerations, then put on waivers and claimed by the Dallas Stars to finish his career with the franchise he'd started it with.

Here he is taking the puck to center ice in the North Stars' white (home) uniform, on card #28 from Score's 1991-92 (American Edition) flagship collection, which he signed in blue sharpie:
He retired having played 1099 regular-season games, scoring 289 goals with 634 assists for 923 points, with 35 goals and 63 assists for 98 points in 135 playoff games.

To me, he's the quintessential North Star (apologies to Smith and Mike Modano), and the best Minnesota-born player, ahead of Zach Parise.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ryan Smyth: 4 Autographed Cards

I wrote to Ryan Smyth when he announced his retirement during the 2013-14 season, adding four cards I'd hoped he'd sign for me to the package; I received all of them back today, signed in black sharpie, with his usual unique handwriting on them.

Smyth may be nicknamed Captain Canada for having, well, captained Team Canada a record six times at World Championships and for being the only player ever to lead the team to gold at all major events - Olympics (2002), World Championships (2003 and 2004), World Cup (2004), World Juniors (1995) and Spengler Cup (2012) - but he is also recognized as one of the three penultimate Edmonton Oilers, with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.

He finished his storied NHL career with 386 goals, 456 assists and 842 total points in 1270 regular-season NHL games, and another 28 goals, 31 assists and 59 points in 93 playoff games, but his contributions were always about more than mere numbers anyway. He was often the hardest-working man on the ice - nay, in the league.

His leading by example and leaving everything on the ice at every game led to his wearing an "A" on his jersey for most of his career, as can be attested on the following three cards of him with the Oilers, all from Upper Deck and all showing him wearing he team's white (home) uniform from the turn of the millennium:
On top is card #82 from Fleer's 2005-06 Fleer Ultra set, where he is fighting for position with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' Niclas Havelid; the card in the middle sees him forechecking, with Ales Hemsky holding the middle behind him, on card #319 from UD's 2005-06 Series 2 collection; and the card at the bottom is from the beautiful 2006-07 SPX set.

I also included a card of his with the Colorado Avalanche, #70 in the 2007-08 SP Authentic set, showing him wearing the team's pretty awful burgundy Reebok Edge jersey:
I did so to commemorate that magical week he had upon signing with the Avs as a free agent where he put together a string of three consecutive three-point games between December 1st and 9th, 2007.

He had just come off of two straight 36-goal seasons, and the Avs were hoping he could delay the mid-thirties decline most power forwards go through, and he almost did, flirting with the point-per-game average in Denver but with injuries starting to take their toll.

The Avs traded him to the Los Angeles Kings after he posted 26 goals and 59 points in 2008-09, numbers that declined to 22 and 53 (in 67 games, mind you) to 23 and 47 (in 82 games), prompting L.A. to send him back to Edmonton, where he finished fifth in team scoring with 46 points in 2011-12, then 13 in 47 games, then 10 goals and 23 points in 72 games in his final season, in 2013-14.

Better numbers than many other players but, then again, Ryan Smyth was a better player than most. He certainly had a lot of heart. And he can't get hockey out of his mind, as can be attested by the fact that he half-ended his retirement to play in the Chinook senior league last year...

Monday, September 19, 2016

Butch Henry Autographed Card

Today I thought I could check off a second player for #27 from my Expos Numbers Project. No, I never got an autograph from Vladimir Guerrero, possibly the most talented Expo of all time, but I did get one from Butch Henry:
That's card #518 from Pinnacle Brands' 1995 Score set, which he signed in black sharpie.

Henry's best season came in 1994, as was the case with many players who donned the grey version of the away uniform. That year, he went 8-3 with a 2.43 ERA with one save in 24 games (15 starts).

He finished his seven-year season with a 33-33 record and 3.89 ERA after also suiting up for the Houston Astros, Colorado Rockies, Expos, Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners. He had to retire early (in 2003) because of arm injuries.

He then turned into managing in the minor leagues, winning manager of the year for the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball in 2006.