Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Cardboard immortality: A visual history of women’s hockey cards (Nagano)

After Classic folded in the late 1990s, the thought of women appearing on cardboard in the near future seemed dismal. It would take the Nagano Winter Games to serve as the catalyst to reintroduce the fearless, frozen females of hockey back on cardboard.
As Nagano 1998 represented the first time that women’s hockey was contested at the Winter Games, the sport earned its long overdue recognition as a world class sport. Part of the effort in stimulating interest came via food company General Mills.
A proud sponsor of the Canadian Olympic Team for several years, they made their presence felt in women’s hockey. In the autumn of 2007, cereal boxes were now adorned with the images of Canada’s female hockey heroes.
The images of athletes like Cassie Campbell (along with Brendan Shanahan on Maple Frosted Wheaties), Nancy Drolet (Reese Puffs) and Geraldine Heaney (Apple Cinnamon Cheerios) were now on store shelves throughout Canada. It would also create a demand from hockey collectors in the United States.
While those cereal boxes helped to put women’s hockey on the map, there were also hockey cards. General Mills also produced hockey cards of the aforementioned athletes (including Vicky Sunohara), and they were randomly inserted throughout their cereal products. Featuring a sharp red border, another added feature was that there was a hologram strip on the front of the cards.

Another popular collectible during the build-up for Nagano included a series of oversized cards produced by Esso.  A former sponsor of Hockey Night in Canada, the gasoline retailer had featured many NHL themed products over the years.
Titled Esso Olympic Hockey Heroes, the oversized cards came with two holes punched into every card. This was complemented by a binder that was also being sold by Esso.  Sixty cards comprised the complete set. Every week, a new pack with 10 cards was featured.
Adding to the collectability of the set was the fact that in Quebec, the cards were in French, making them much rarer. While the cards featured players from all over the world, the final week featured six different women’s cards. Card number 55 was titled Women’s Team, while Nancy Drolet was featured on card 56. Geraldine Heaney and Hayley WIckenheiser comprised cards 57 and 58. The final two cards had Cassie Campbell (#59) and team captain Stacy Wilson (#60).
There would be several other hockey card issues to commemorate the event. Collector’s Choice, a brand from Upper Deck, featured all the members from the Team Canada gold medal roster at the 1997 IIHF Women’s Worlds.
The cards were found in the 1997-98 set of Collector’s Choice NHL cards with the heading National Heroes. As Collector’s Choice hockey cards had existed since 1995, the inclusion of women’s players in the set truly helped to signify that the sport had arrived.
While some of the players featured on the cards (Luce Letendre, Rebecca Fahey, and Danielle Dube) would not be part of the roster in Nagano, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of the first women’s hockey cards that Upper Deck produced. In addition, it marked the first time that Jayna Hefford appeared on a hockey card, making it a coveted card to collect over the years.
A film produced by the National Film Board of Canada called “The Game of Her Life”, was broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation prior to Nagano. Not only did it help kindle interest in the sport, but it also fuelled the collector’s interests for women’s hockey products.
Every sealed videotape of Game of her Life that was purchased featured eight free women’s hockey cards. With a powder blue border, the NFB’s logo was prominent on the front. Unfortunately, there were no statistics on the back (similar to cigarette cards of baseball players in the 19th Century). Among the eight women whose image graced the cards, it marked the first time that Shannon Miller was on a hockey card.
After Nagano, women’s hockey cards were not part of any sets in 1998-99. After the momentum of competing on the world’s biggest stage, the interest in women’s hockey cards should have grown. Instead, a major company producing a card set featuring an assortment of women’s players would not become reality until 2007.

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