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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Lost Rookies: 1988-89 OPC Mario Brunetta

   When I was a child, Mario Brunetta was a favourite of mine.  I used to do mock leagues, with boxscores and trading cards.  I have a notebook or two full of seasons tucked away somewhere in my parent's basement.  What I did find were the trading cards, unfortunately, Brunetta was out of my mock league, the "Super Hockey League" before I started making cards.  

  Brunetta, born in Quebec City, was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the 8th round, 162nd overall in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft.  Brunetta played two more seasons in the AHL before turning pro in 1987.  Following a quick audition with the Fredericton Express, going 4-1-0, Brunetta was called up to the NHL.   After losing his first NHL start, 5-4 in overtime, to the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 31, 1987, Mario bounced back in his next start beating the Harford Whalers, 5-3 on November 7th.  Mario was the back-up the majority of the season to incumbent Mario Gosselin, but had a nice ten game run in February to March.  He went 8-2-0, .905 and 2.81 during that stretch, before finishing the season losing 4 straight games, allowing a combined 21 goals.  

  The Nordiques acquired Bob Mason in the 1988 offseason, and along with Ron Tugnutt, pushed the two Marios, Brunetta and Gosselin for creasetime.  After a solid win over the Minnesota North Stars, Brunetta quickly lost ground in the race for the crease, allowing 18 goals in 166 minutes, 6.51 GAA, over the next four games he played.  He was demoted and finished the season with the Halifax Citadels.  

1989-90 OPC Mario Brunetta

 The 1989-90 season was not much better for Brunetta.  He started the season with Halifax but was called up to the Nordiques in November.  As like the previous season, he won his first game, and then things went downhill over the next few.  He was sent back to the AHL after going 1-2-0, .869, and 4.08 in six games.  The Nordiques were historically bad during the 1989-90 season.  They tied the record for least points by an non-expansion team, 31 points, and worst win percentage by a non-expansion team, .194.  The Quebec goalies combined to set a record by most goalies used in a NHL season with 7, since beaten.  Brunetta finished the season, and his North American career, in the AHL.

1990-91 Bowman Mario Brunetta  

  After not finding any appealing offers to stay in North America, Brunetta followed his family roots to Italy.  He played four season in Italy while becoming an Italian citizen.  As a citizen, he represented Italy thrice at the World Hockey Championships, in 1995, 1998 and 2002, and also at the 1998 Winter Olympics.  After playing twelve seasons in Europe, Brunetta retired at age 35.  

  Although he had a few minor league and European cards during his playing days, Mario never had a NHL.  The obvious choice was a 1988-89 card.  I was a huge fan of Brunetta, and fellow Nordique rookie, Jason Lafreniere.  While neither panned out in the NHL, I am pretty sure they were MVPs in my fictional SHL.

1988-89 OPC #275 Mario Brunetta (RC)

1988-89 OPC #275 Mario Brunetta (RC)

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Lost Cards: 1990-91 OPC Borje Salming

  During the 1970s, with the influx of expansion teams and watering down of talent, games in the NHL were often being decided by fists shots, just as much as they were with wrist shots.  The game became far more rough and brawls became more common place.  At the same time, a new group of pioneers were joining the NHL, the Europeans.  They brought along with them a reputation of being highly skilled, but soft, and easily physically intimidated.  In the 1973, Borje Salming was one of three Swedish players to join the NHL. 

  The first Swedish trained player to try the NHL was Ulf Sterner in 1965.  Not used to the physical style of play, Sterner played one season in North America, appearing in 4 NHL games, before retruning to Sweden.  In 1969, the IIHF, hockey's main governing body in Europe, adopted body-checking rules similar to the NHL.  This made the jump from Europe to North America a bit easier.  In 1972,  Thommie Bergman became the second European trained player to play in the NHL, when he signed on with the Detroit Red Wings.  The following season, three players made the jump from Europe, as Salming and Inge Hammarstrom signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tord Lundstrom signed with the Red Wings.  Out of the four Swedish players, it was Borje who made the biggest impact.

  The discovery of Salming was a bit of a fluke.  The Maple Leafs sent scout Gerry McNamara to Sweden to scout Inge Hammarstrom.  Instead he was captivated by Salming.  McNamara was so impressed, he corralled Salming in the team's dressing room and asked him to join the Leafs on the spot.

  Salming notched an assist in his first NHL game, against the Buffalo Sabres on October 10, 1973.  His first goal didn't come until January 23, 1974, against Michel Larocque of the Montreal Canadiens.  Salming finished the season with 5 goals, 34 assists for 39 points.  He finished third in Calder voting for best rookie.  OPC bestowed "The King" with a rookie card in the 1974-75 OPC set, but it was a posed shot, so here's an action upgrade.  

1974-75 OPC Borje Salming (RC)

  Borje quickly became one of the NHL's best defenceman and fan favourite in Toronto.  So enamored were the fans, that Borje was nicknamed "The King".  Over the next six seasons, Salming was a member of the 1st Team All-Star once and five times as a 2nd Team All-Star.  He set career highs with 78 points in 1977-78 and had 19 goals in 1979-80.  More important than any of the statistics, Salming earned the respect of his opponents with his toughness.  Swedish and Europeans were categorized as timid and soft.  In particular, Swedish players were referred to as "Chicken Swedes".  While Salming didn't drop the gloves very often, he played a physical style and refused to be intimidated.  Salming proved that some European players had the determination and toughness to be stars in the NHL.
  OPC/Topps did fairly well with Salming cards, giving him action or on-ice shots for most of his cards.  There was one in particular I felt needed an upgrade, the 1977-78 OPC.  Not only does it suffer from a corny pose, Salming is not even looking at the camera.  

1977-78 OPC Borje Salming

  By the late 1970's, more Western Europeans were coming over.  Eastern Europe was made up of Communist states and the players were not allowed to join the NHL.  In 1979, the NHL had a mid-season three game series, coined the Challenge Cup, with the Soviet Union.  Salming was one of three Swedes, along with 23 Canadians, to play for the NHL All-Stars.  Salming was pointless in three games as the Soviets defeated the NHL All-Stars two games to one.  It would have been cool if OPC had a subset or inserts of the players from the Tournament in the 1979-80 set.  Could you imagine if the set had a Vladislav Tretiak rookie to go along with the Gretzky?

1979 OPC Borje Salming (CC)

  The 1980s were dark days for the Leafs and Salming saw his point totals drop off.  After scoring a career high of 78 in 1977-78, Salming's point total decreased every season for the next 10 seasons.  One part of the issue were injuries.  During the 80's, Salming only played 70+ games twice.  A knee injury in March ended Saliming's 1984-85 season.  The next season he missed over two months due to injury, playing only 41 games.  
  In May of 1986, Salming admitting in an interview that he had tried cocaine "five or six years ago, but not since".  This admission came shortly after Sports Illustrated posted an hockey article of an alleged Edmonton Oilers cocaine problem.  The NHL set their drug rehabilitation program back decades by suspending Salming for the entire 1985-86 season.  By the time the season started, his suspension was reduced to eight games.  
  The 1986-87 season got worse for Salming.  On November 26, 1986, Salming suffered one of the more infamous on-ice injuries.  After being knocked down in the goal crease, Salming had his face stepped on by Gerard Gallant, who was being pushed backwards over Salming.  Salming received 250 stitches in his face.  The "Chicken Swede" returned to play in two weeks with a giant scar running up his face.  Salming looked more like a James Bond villain than a hockey player, white kitty-kat and all.
  Salming played 16 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs.  His last card as a Maple Leaf was in the 1988-89 set, a warm-up shot.  Not a fitting way to cap Salming's time as a Maple Leaf.

1988-89 OPC Borje Salming

  Salming signed as free agent with the division rival Detroit Red Wings during the 1989 off-season.  Salming was tired of losing and was hoping a chance at a Stanley Cup.  Salming joined the Red Wings in time for OPC to give him the airbrush treatment.

1989-90 OPC Borje Salming

  The switch of teams for Salming saw a switch of fortune for those teams.  The Red Wings went from first place in the Norris to last and out of the play-offs.  While the Maple Leafs, who had missed the play-offs  the previous season, climbed the standing to 3rd in the Norris.  Salming played in 49 games, netting 19 points.  1989-90 was Salming's final season in the NHL.  He returned to Sweden to play three more seasons, including the 1991 Canada Cup and 1992 Olympics.  In 1996, Salming became the first European-trained NHLer to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

  Salming's retirement from the NHL left him out of the 1990 junk wax boom.  I kept it old school and created a 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee to cap off his career.

1990-91 OPC #533 Borje Salming
1990-91 OPC #533 Borje Salming

Friday, October 16, 2020

Lost Cards: 1988-89 OPC Willi Plett

  Willi Plett is the career leader in all statistical categories for players born in Paraguay.  Willi Plett is the only player born in Paraguay to play in the NHL.  His parents immigrated from Russia to Germany and then to Paraguay after World War II.  Willi born in 1955, moved with his family to Canada in 1956.
  Drafted in the 5th round, 80th overall, in the 1975 Draft, by the Atlanta Flames, Plett made his debut on December 17, 1975 against the Minnesota North Stars, notching two shots on goal in a 3-2 loss.  Plett played 4 games for the Flames in 1975-76, without scoring a point or a penalty minute.  He spent the majority of the season with the Tulsa Oilers of the CHL.  Plett had 9 points in 9 play-off games as the Oilers won the Adams Cup as CHL Champions.
  Plett made a big impact with Flames in 1976-77, culminating with winning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.  Willi began the season in the CHL but was recalled after scoring 12pts and 68 PIM in 14 games.  His first career NHL goal came against Gary Simmons of the Cleveland Barons on November 12, 1976 in a 3-3 tie.  Plett scored 7 goals and 7 assists in his first 10 games.  For the season, Plett scored 33 goals, 56 points and 123 PIM.  He led the Flames, and all NHL rookies in goals.  
  The next three seasons were a bit of a disappointment for Plett, as his scoring totals dipped from his rookie season.  He had 43 points in both 77-78 and 78-79 before dropping to 32 in 80-81.  In the same stretch his PIM increased each season, a trend that would continue during his tenure with the Flames franchise.  The Flames were a disappointment in Atlanta as well.  Although they were better than .500 in the regular season during Plett's four seasons, the team lost in the first round each year, going a cumulative 2-10 in those four play-offs.  Off the ice, the situation was more dire, as the team struggled to have 10,000 home attendance for its games and were playing in an out-of-date arena.
  The team was sold and relocated to Calgary for the 1980-81 season.  OPC gave the team the airbrush treatment for its set, removing the logo from the jerseys.  A few seasons later when the Colorado Rockies moved to New Jersey, OPC took a set of early or pre-season photos and had all the players in their new uniforms.  I'm going to give Plett the Rockies/Devils treatment and update his 1980-81 card in a Calgary Flames jersey.

1980-81 OPC Willi Plett

  The move to Calgary seemed to energize the team and Plett.  In Calgary's first NHL game, Plett a goal and two assists.  Plett set, or tied, career highs in several categories, including goals, 38, and points, 68.  He seemed to particularly like playing in Calgary, scoring 25 goals and 46 points in 38 home games.  The Flames finally won a play-off round, with Plett scoring the series winner in double-overtime, as they advanced all the way to the Conference Final.  Plett had 12 points in 15 play-off games.
  There was a dip in Plett's scoring the next season, as he dropped to 21 goals and 57 points.  Plett set a Flames record, since broken, with 288 PIM.  The Flames as a team regressed, as they dropped from 92 points to 75 in the regular season, and were swept in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks.
  In the 1982 offseason, Plett, along with a 4th round draft pick, was traded to the Minnesota North Stars for Steve Christoff, Bill Nyrop, and a 2nd round draft pick.  It's a unremarkable trade as neither of the draft picks amounted to anything, Nyrop opted to play in Germany instead of Calgary and Christoff was dealt away after a season.  
  Plett score a goal and assist in his first game as a North Star and two minutes into his in second game, he got suspended for 7 games for a retaliatory lumberjack chop with his stick to the back of Greg Stefan's head.  Plett finished the season with 25 goals, 39 points, 170 PIM in 73 games.  Prior to this season, Plett had increased his PIM total in each of his 6 full seasons as a Flame.  Plett had a card in the 1983-84 OPC set.  It turned out to be his last during his career.
  Decreasing PIM was a trend that found Plett being a healthy scratch from the Stars line-up early in the 1983-84 season.  Plett and coach Dave Mahoney were having differing views as to Plett's style of play and amount of ice time.  16 games into the season, Plett had 6 points and 25 PIM.  Frustrated by Plett's decreasing truculence, Plett was benched.  Plett must have hot the message.  After retruning to the line-up, Plett had 33 points and 291 PIM in 55 games.  He set a career high with 316 PIM during the 1983-84 season.  

1984-85 OPC Willi Plett

  The following season was marred by injuries for Plett.  He missed time due to shoulder and groin injuries, which would resurface during the rest of his NHL career.  In 47 games, Plett scored 14 goals, 28 points and 157 PIM.  He had a good play-offs, scoring nine points and 67 PIM in nine games.

1985-86 OPC Willi Plett

  The 1985-86 season saw the continued decline of Plett's offensive numbers, while shoulder injuries continued to limited him.  Plett scored 10 goals, 17 points and 231 PIM in 59 games. 

1986-87 OPC Willi Plett

    The trend continues as Plett fails to score double-digits in goals for the first time in his career.  He has 6 goals, 11 points and 261 PIM in 67 games played.

1987-88 OPC Willi Plett

   Plett's time in the Black and Blue Norris Division had taken a toll on him.  In the 1987 offseason, the North Stars signed up and coming enforcer Basil McRae as a free agent.  As the beginning of training camp, Plett was traded to the New York Rangers.  Plett never played a regular season game with the Rangers, as he seemed a bit hesitant to fight during the preseason.  He was left unprotected for the waiver draft and was picked up by the Boston Bruins.  
  Plett set career lows in goals, assists and points, while racking up 170 PIM in 65 games.  Willi had a bit of a resurgence in the 1988 play-offs, with points and 74 PIM in 17 games.  The Bruins lost in the Stanley Cup final against the Edmonton Oilers.  Willi retired in the 1988 offseason.  
  His career started out with a lot of promise.  He was one of the top power forwards in the game at the turn of decade in 1980.  Injuries and age caught up with him.  Willi was the NHL career play-off PIM leader when he retired.  He is currently 5th on the list.  
  OPC/Topps dropped Willi pretty quickly after his trade to the North Stars.  It's really surprising he didn't get a card in the 19854-85 set, the last of the decade to have 396 cards.  By the time he was in Boston, he was shell of his former self and had been long off of OPC's radar.  I did this picture and design used on another blog, but it didn't give Willie an authentic 1988 OPC treatment as it didn't list his entire career stats on the back.  With the lack of an official career caper and missing in action in the OPC sets for the last half of his career, I decided I would do a Lost Card career caper of Willi Plett.  

1988-89 OPC #274 Willi Plett

1988-89 OPC #274 Willi Plett

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Lost Rookies: 1986-87 OPC Mark LaForest

  Mark "Trees" LaForest played in parts of six NHL seasons, but yet only had a single NHL card.  A bit of a late bloomer, not only was Mark undrafted by the NHL, he didn't make the OHL until he was 19 years old.  After playing his overage season in the OHL with the North Bay Centennials, Mark was signed as a free agent by the Detroit Red Wings in 1983.
  Mark bounced around the minors for two seasons before putting up solid numbers with the Adirondack Red Wings of the AHL in 1985-86.  He was called up to Detroit in December of 1985 and made a huge impression in his first NHL game, beating the heavily favoured Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1.  LaForest made 35 saves in the upset.  On January 28, 1986, Mark notched his first career shutout, stopping 26 shots in a 7-0 victory over the Washington Capitals.   Otherwise, there were very few highlights in Mark's rookie NHL season.  He finished 4-21-0, .845, and 4.96 GAA with one shutout.  For the goalie fight fans, there was one highlight as LaForest fought Clint Malarchuk, and the two went at it, "like a couple of hippos, all padding and blubber."
  On a bright note, Laforest was sent down to play in the 1986 AHL playoffs and backstopped the Red Wings to an AHL Calder Cup Championship.  The following season, LaForest spent the majority of the season in the AHL, winning the "Baz" Bastien Trophy as the league's top goalie.  He did spend 5 games in the NHL, going 2-1-0, .892, and 3.30.  During Detroit's surprising play-off run, LaForest was called upon to be the back-up.  During the second round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he gave a pair of tickets to a Wings play-off home game to some friends who were living across the boarder, and river, in Windsor.  The friends showed their appreciation, and loyalty, by going to the game with faces painted blue and white in support for the Leafs.   On an unrelated note, LaForest never did play another game with the Red Wings.

1987-88 OPC Mark Laforest.

  The Red Wings traded LaForest to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 2nd round pick during the 1987 off-season.  LaForest went 5-9-2, .874, 3.72, with a shutout in 1987-88.  He saw his first career play-off action in the 1988 play-offs.  With the Flyers losing 4-1 in game Four against the Washington Capitals, LaForest replaced starter Ron Hextall between the pipes early in the third period.  The goalie change invigorated the Flyers as they roared with three 3rd period goals and then Murray Craven potted the game winner in overtime.  The win gave the Flyers a 3-1 series lead in the best of 7.  The Flyers tried the same recipe in Game 5 as LaForest entered the game in the 3rd period with the team again down 4 to 1.  They didn't get the same result as the previous game as the Flyers lost 5-2 and Laforest was kicked from the game for being the third man in a fight.  Hextall played the rest of the series as the Flyers went on to lose three straight games, including game 7 in overtime, and the series.  

1988-89 OPC Mark LaForest

  Mark played another season as Hextall's back-up for the Flyers, going 5-7-2, .871 and 4.12.  He lost his back-up gig when the Flyers traded for Ken Wregget of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 1989 trade deadline.  He finished the season with the Hershey Bears of the AHL.

1989-90 OPC Mark LaForest

  In a neat twist, the Flyers traded LaForest the the Maple Leafs in September of 1989, for a pair of late round draft picks.  An early season injury to Jeff Reese, opened the door for LaForest.  After winning his first game as a Maple Leaf, a 8-4 victory over the Washington Capitals, LaForest endeared himself to the Leafs fans by dropping the blocker and fighting New Jersey Devils goalie Sean Burke.  Laforest became part of a 1A-1B goalie timeshare with Allan Bester, which ended in January when LaForest injured his knee when he fell on the ice... while walking in front of his house.  This reopened the door for Jeff Reese to regain the net and Laforest was the odd man out when the play-offs began.
  Laforest set a career high with nine wins during the 1989-90 season and with the junk wax boom of 1990, he finally got a rookie card.  His one and only NHL card was from the 1990-91 Upper Deck set.  He was shutout of all the other sets.  

1990-91 OPC Mark Laforest

  Laforest was traded to the New York Rangers in the 1990 off-season along with another feisty player, Tie Domi for Greg Johnston.  Buried in the Rangers depth chart behind former Vezina winner, John Vanbiesbrouck, and future star, Mike Richter, LaForest never played a game for the New York Rangers.  He spent the entire 1990-91 season with the Binghamton Rangers of the AHL, where he won his second career "Baz" Bastien Trophy as the AHL's top goalie.  He is one of only two goalies to win the "Baz" Bastien Trophy multiple times. LaForest played two seasons playing for Binghamton in the AHL.
  Mark was left unprotected by the Rangers in the 1992 NHL Expansion Draft.  He was drafted by the Ottawa Senators as the 4th, and final, goalie of the draft.  LaForest never made the team.  He spent the majority of his two seasons as a Senator in the AHL.  He did not make his debut as an Ottawa Senator until March 4th, 1994.  Like all Senators goalies during the early 90s, he didn't fare too well, posting a 0-2-0, .823 and 5.59 in five games.  
  LaForest never had a card as a Senator.  I was not much of a hockey card collector in the mid-90s and I am not much of a fan of any of the sets.  This was when foil became popular and foil is difficult to replicate in photoshop.  Not a design I can be proud of, font issues again, but I felt I should post a Senators card of LaForest.  

1994-95 Upper Deck Mark LaForest

  LaForest was without a NHL contract following thr 1993-94 season and spent the rest of his career playing in the minors.  He retired from professional hockey in 1997.  He is still active in NHL Alumni games and has played in Alumni Outdoor Classics for the Flyers and Maple Leafs.
1986-87 OPC #278 Mark LaForest (RC)

1986-87 OPC #278 Mark LaForest (RC)

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Lost Cards: 1992-93 OPC Norm Foster

  It took awhile for Norm Foster to make the NHL.  Originally drafted 230th overall, in the 11th round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins, Norm did not make his NHL debut until 1991.

  Norm was drafted straight out of the BCJHL.  He opted to go to college instead of junior hockey and played four seasons with Michigan State University in the NCAA.  During those years he was able to win two different championships.  He won a Gold medal as a member of Team Canada in the 1985 WJHC.  Norm backstopped Michigan University to the 1986 NCAA Championship, winning top goalie of the tournament.

  Norm 's first professional season was 1987-88, with the Milwaukee Admirals of the IHL.  After that, he spent three seasons in the AHL before making his NHL debut during the 1990-91 season.  With starters Reggie Lemelin, and then Andy Moog, going down to injuries, Norm found himself as the #1 goalie in Boston... for a week.  It didn't start out too good with Norm losing 6-2 against the Pittsburgh penguins in his NHL debut on February 2, 1991.  He bounced back the next night with his first career win, which was also against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  His last game as a Bruin was a 6-5 win against the Oilers on February 7th.  After playing three straight games for the Bruins, Norm was benched as Lemelin made his return from injury.  Foster finished the season with the Cape Breton Oilers of the AHL.  

  Norm had a rookie card in the 1991-92 Upper Deck set, but was shutout of all other sets.  In fact, that was the only NHL card ever produced of Norm.  I couldn't find any usable pics of Norm as a Bruin so I couldn't add anymore Bruins cards to Norm's portfolio.

  Although Norm changed franchises to start the 1991-92 season, he didn't change teams.  He was traded from the Bruins to the Edmonton Oilers for a 6th round draft choice, but he remained  a member of the Cape Breton Oilers of the AHL.  With back-up Peter Ing playing poorly in Edmonton, and starter Bill Ranford twice going down to injuries, Foster was called upon to play a career high 10 games during the 1991-92 season.  He went 5-3-0, .891, and 2.79.  Including allowing only 6 goals during  four game winning streak.  It wasn't enough for the Oilers, as the team made a trade with the Quebec Nordiques for back-up Ron Tugnutt

1992-93 Fleer Ultra Norm Foster

  With Tugnutt now in the fold, Foster found himself again starting the season in the AHL.  He would never return to the NHL.  Although he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1993, he never played a game for the team.  He retired after the 1994-95 season.  

  3rd and 4th string goalies tend to get forgotten about by the card companies.  There are goalies who played in several NHL seasons with several different teams but yet only have 12 cards -  all rookie cards.  For some reason, Norm Foster jumped out at me as someone who needed another card.  This was also my first go at the back of 1992-93 OPC.  I think it went pretty good, although there was a large amount of space to fill with text, and since I am not bilingual, meant I needed twice as a much to say on the back.

1992-93 OPC #397 Norm Foster

1992-93 OPC #397 Norm Foster