Friday, June 29, 2007

89-90 O-Pee-Chee

O-Pee-Chee's ability to make very simple, yet totally awesome cards was uncanny. I can't think of a single set from the company's first season in 68-69 to their 91-92 set that I don't like (I'll get to the 92-93 set in a later post). 89-90 was the end of O-Pee-Chee's monopoly on NHL hockey cards and they finished their reign with a simple, if unspectacular, set that still rules as hard as just about any set released since.

I think it is probably safe to assume that the same people involved with this set were involved with the other sets I've already covered on this blog (90-91 and 91-92), so you get the same problems that those sets faced: too many close-ups and not enough actions shots. I guess whoever was in charge of photography for O-Pee-Chee liked to get all his photographs out of the way during the warm-up so he could sit back and enjoy the games. As a result you get a lot of shots of guys standing around and unfortunately few shots of guys in action.

Like the other O-Pee-Chee sets before it, 89-90 O-Pee-Chee has a simple two-colour back (or does that count as three?) with each player's NHL (and, where applicable, WHA) stats. O-Pee-Chee didn't need to bother with holograms, extra pictures or even full colour backs; they knew they had the formula down, so why mess with it? As an extra courtesy, O-Pee-Chee crudely painted over the jerseys of some of the players who were traded or signed away from their teams in the off-season so you don't have imagine what they would look like in their new team's jersey.

Five of my favorites:
#17 - Patrick Roy - A classic.

#63 - Randy Cunneyworth - More from the collection of horribly painted jerseys. I guess Randy Moller was traded too late to get a paint job.

#299 - Buffalo Sabres - The Sabres team card features Dave Andreychuk tripping a Boston Bruin.

#51 - Glen Wesley - Wesley looks like a father you'd see yelling at his kids when you're at a fast food restaurant in some small town in the middle of nowhere.

#285 - Steve Weeks - When Steve Weeks wants to look back on his hockey career, all he has to do is pull out his O-Pee-Chee cards to see he spent a lot of time on the bench.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

94-95 Slapshot Vancouver Voodoo Team Set

I don't actually own this set yet. I took the photos from an ebay listing. This seems like such an amazing set that I can't help but write about it now. But first, a little background information:

The Vancouver Voodoo played in the RHI, which stands for Roller Hockey International, from 1993 to 1996. The RHI was, as far as I know, the world's first professional roller hockey league. The League was started by Dennis Murphy (the same man responsible for the American Basketball Association, World Hockey Association, and World Team Tennis) and Larry King (who was also involved in World Team Tennis). According to an article that the man who made this fine RHI website sent me, the two got the idea for the league when they were driving around discussing World Team Tennis. They saw some people playing roller hockey and decided right then to start the new league. Murphy's goal was to make roller hockey one of the top four sports in the world.

The RHI was made to appeal to the younger "extreme sports" generation. The RHI's rules were similar to the NHL with a few significant differences:
  • only five players were on the playing surface
  • minor penalties were 1.5 minutes, major penalties 4 minutes
  • there were no blue lines, just a center line that was used for both offsides and icing calls
  • the RHI used a 3.5 oz red plastic puck (compared to a 5.5oz black rubber puck in the NHL)
  • game consisted of four-12 minute periods
  • there was no overtime: tie games went straight to a shootout
The rules made for a faster, more offensive game. The RHI averaged 16.7 goals per game, compared to the NHL average (at the time) of 7 goals.

The league was mainly stocked with career minor leaguers, US College players, and a few NHL has beens. Most notably, St. Louis Blues goaltender Manny Legace started his professional hockey career with the Toronto Planets in '93, while four time Stanley Cup Champion and Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier ended his professional career playing nine games for the Pittsburgh Phantoms in '94 scoring nine goals and adding thirteen assists. Other notable players include Dave 'Tiger' Williams who suited up for one game in '93 while he was the coach of the Vancouver Voodoo (he scored a goal and got an assist and took a minor penalty), former NHL tough guys Craig Coxe and Link Gaetz, and female goalie sensation Manon Rheaume, who played at least one game for three different teams over four seasons. Actors Alec Baldwin and Matthew Perry were both drafted in the tenth round of the '96 draft, unfortunately neither played a game in the league.

The league started off well with twelve teams competing in the inaugural season in which the Anaheim Bullfrogs would defeat the Oakland Skates to win the first Murphy Cup. The league doubled in size for its second year and things seemed to be taking off for the RHI with games televised on ESPN and celebrities and NHL'ers joining the league as coaches (like former Montreal Canadien Yvan Cournoyer) and owners (like Tony Danza who owned the Philadelphia Bulldogs). Although attendance increased to an average of 4292 fans per game in '94 (from 3768 in '93), seven teams would not return for the '95 season and another three would move cities. The number of teams continued to decrease for each of the next two seasons and in 1998 the RHI went on a hiatus. A new league, Major League Roller Hockey took the RHI's place for '98 season and the RHI's most successful team, the Anaheim Bullfrogs went on to win the first and only MLRH championship.

In 1999, the RHI returned as a single entity league, which means that the league owned all the teams rather than having individual owners in each city (this is similar to how the XFL operated). League commissioner Ralph Backstrom (the former Montreal Canadien who was, coincidentally, also the first person to patent in the in-line skate) blamed the league's former problems on rapid expansion combined with unstable ownership of many of the teams. Eight teams competed in the RHI's final season, with the St. Louis Vipers defeating the Anaheim Bullfrogs for the final Murphy Cup. The RHI officially folded in 2001.

Of the thirty-one franchises that would compete over the six years the league existed, seven would move at least once and eight would not last more than one season. While the RHI may not have left a very long or memorable legacy of great hockey, what they did leave was an amazing legacy of the worst logos, jerseys and team names in the history of professional hockey--and maybe in the history of organized sports altogether.

This is a tough list to make, but here's nine of my favorite RHI jerseys/logos:
#9 - Orlando Rollergators - This looks like a comic book character that a nerdy kid would draw in grade six.
#8 - Florida Hammerheads - It's a good thing they put rollerblades on it just in case you forgot what sport the shark was playing.
#7 - St. Louis Vipers - The final team to win the Murphy Cup is also the first team to use snakes to form the numbers on the back of their jerseys.
#6 - Las Vegas Flash - I guess since no one can really say how you are supposed to draw a flash, this barfy looking logo is as good as anything.
#5 - Toronto Planets - It takes guts to let a kindergarten class design your team's logo.
#4 - Phoenix Cobras - The logo is bad, the jersey colours are worse.
#3 - Vancouver Voodoo - I have one of these jerseys on the wall behind my bed. Every morning I look at it and think about a wonderful time when jerseys like this were still cool.
#2 - Portland Rage - Do you think the same guy designed most of these jerseys? Maybe it was a project for the remedial graphic design class.
#1 - New Jersey Rockin' Rollers - Look at that guy playing guitar on his hockey stick while rollerblading on a CD!!! It blows my mind!

And finally, getting back the cards... I only have pictures of four of them, so here they are:

#2 - Dave 'Tiger' Williams - If only I could get my hands on one of those Vancouver Voodoo ties.

#3 - James Jensen - All the tough years struggling through the minor pro leagues of North America paid off when Jensen tasted victory in back to back years with the Anaheim Bullfrogs in the MLRH, and then the St. Louis Vipers in the RHI.

#21 - Ryan Harrison - At least the all-star game jerseys were ugly too.

#1 - Checklist - Look at the cards in this set! There's a card for voodoo dolls, merchandise and their mascot!

While you're on your RHI kick, I suggest you check out these sites:

RHI Stats - I used this site heavily for information for this post. The guy who runs it, Gary Griffaw, even sent me and article on the league's founding fathers. You may want to skip right to the team logos and jerseys. - Another site with most of the logos.

Anaheim Bullfrogs Commercial - There aren't many RHI videos around, but here's an awesome commercial I found on YouTube talking about the Anaheim Bullfrogs/LA Blades rivalry.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Budget Draft Sets!

1991-92 Ultimate Draft Picks

Ultimate's first and only draft set is one of the worst sets of hockey cards I've ever seen. If you bring players together specifically for a photo shoot, wouldn't you want to make sure that you actually get a good photo of each player instead of this?

With 90 cards, but only 53 players, there are lots of repeats and lots of poorly thought out cards such as their black and white portrait shots that only have the Ultimate logo on the back and can only be described as "gay". And I don't understand why all the players are wearing jerseys that say "Smokey's." Is that a restaurant?

As for the "investment quality" of this set (which was "extremely limited" to only 150,000 sets), I think it cost $5 back in '92, and now you can't even get a dollar for it on Ebay.

Four cards:
#39 - Frederick Lundquist - This guy was not at the regular photo shoot.

#58 - Pat Falloon - If all the cards in the set were like this one, it may have been okay.

#90 - Face the Future - Whose face is it? At least they remembered to put their company logo on the back again.

#89 - Overview - A company that makes a draft set shouldn't make mistakes like calling the QMJHL the "Quebec Montreal Junior Hockey League" on the back. It wouldn't take a lot of research to find out that the 'M' stands for 'Major'.

1990-91 7th Inning Sketch WHL

7th Inning Sketch released the most comprehensive junior sets ever made. In 91-92 they released a set for each of the three CHL hockey leagues with between 268 and 400 cards per set. Because their sets are so thorough you get cards of a lot of players who didn't make it in the NHL.

This set is definitely lower quality than most of the NHL sets (maybe not lower than Pro-Set), but they did a good job of keeping the design simple. Like Pro-Set 90-91, 7th Inning Sketch includes coach cards, and they even step it up a notch with a few arena cards. I don't want to speak to soon, but I'm pretty sure no other company has made cards for arenas. It's just dumb enough to be awesome.

I only have the first 99 cards of this set, so I can't really do my five favorite for the whole set, but here are a few of the best from the first third of the set:

#19 - Cory Schwab - Even in budget sets, horizontal goalies cards always rule.

#83 - Richard Matvichuk - It's the same photo that's on the card in Classic's draft set (see last post)! He does get a different photo for the back.

#57 - Joel Dyck - This guy is a good example of the kind of players you get in this set. Joel Dyck never made the NHL; he has spent most of his professional hockey career playing for the Nippon Paper Cranes in the Asia League. He also played for the Calgary Rad'z in the far too short lived RHI (Roller Hockey International).

#93 - Saskatchewan Place - This arena card has trivia on the back! The answer is 'a'.