Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Cardboard immortality: A visual history of women’s hockey cards (In the Game)

Following the Halifax Chronicle regional issue, Canadian-based trading card company In the Game featured women’s players as part of their Going for the Gold set in 2007. As a side note, there was also a Going for the Gold set for the Canadian junior men’s hockey team.
Founded by Dr. Brian Price in 1998 (who once had the publishing rights to Parkhurst Hockey Cards), ITG helped to fuel the interest in women’s hockey cards again. Only featuring Team Canada players, Going for the Gold was a 25-card factory set (meaning it came as a complete set directly from the manufacturer) which featured Charline Labonte as card number one. Retired players France St. Louis and Stacey Wilson were also featured in the set (numbers 23 and 24). 
Inside each set, there was one randomly inserted autograph card or game jersey card. Of note, the set was unique in one regard; it marked the first time that the Canadian national women’s team’s jerseys were on game-used jersey cards.
The concept was introduced by Upper Deck in the late 1990’s for their baseball brand. Of note, Charline Labonte would be the first female hockey player that was featured on a game jersey card by Upper Deck (as part of their 1999-2000 UD Prospects set).
The following year, ITG would use the concept again as part of its O Canada set. Featuring both male and female Team Canada players, the set caught on with collectors. While these were not factory sets, it was rare to open a pack of cards without coming across at least one female player. Game-used jersey cards, along with autographed cards that featured the likes of Meghan Agosta, Jayna Hefford and Hayley Wickenheiser to name a few, made it a popular set.
In later years, women’s hockey players were once again given the ITG treatment. Four of Canada’s greatest female goatlenders were featured in a unique card set devoted solely to goaltenders. Between the Pipes has been produced by ITG for over a decade and features current and retierd goaltenders. The 2011 edition featured four female goaltenders in its set; Charline Labonte, Manon Rheaume, Kim St. Pierre and Sami Jo Small.
Further releases would have limited exposure for the women’s game. The 2011-12 release Canada vs. the World featured Manon Rheaume, along with the obligatory autographed insert cards. 
A 2012 release titled Canadiana was a card set devoted to Canadian celebrities. While the set comprised a handful of actors and musical performers, some cards in the set also featured athletes. Among the sporting heroes that were part of the set included Angela James, the first Canadian woman in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
To this date, no women’s players have been featured in ITG’s annual release, Heroes and Prospects. A set that mainly comprises prospects for the upcoming NHL Draft (the players are photographed in their junior hockey uniforms), there are also cards of retired players (hence the world Heroes) donning their junior uniforms.
Of note, no CWHL players have ever been featured. The set could feature at least five retired women’s players (this season, seven retired from the CWHL). With the budding league also holding an annual draft, it would be a good idea for ITG to feature the first five overall picks from the preceding CWHL Draft.
Although In the Game featured a boxed set of women’s hockey cards in 2007, no other company has ever featured a set devoted solely to women’s hockey. Considering that companies such as Fleer and Pinnacle issued WNBA cards in the late 1990’s, the thought of a women’s hockey set may one day be feasible.
The thought of a pack of cards consisting of nothing but women’s hockey players is not a reality, but would make for an interesting set to collect.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

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

While the 1997-98 Collector’s Choice series marked the first time that women’s hockey cards were produced by Upper Deck (in line with the Nagano Winter Games), many fans had assumed that the company would repeat the feat for the Salt Lake Winter Games in 2002. Unfortunately, other companies such as Fleer and Topps failed to issue any women’s hockey cards either.
Despite the absence of product, there were some regional issues that appeased fans. In anticipation of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah, a set of cards featuring the women of the US National Team was issued. Produced by HSJ Incorporated, Gerry Thomas was the photographer for all the images in the set.
For many of the women on the US team, it would mark their first appearance on cardboard. Some of the notable players included Julie Chu (the first woman to win three consecutive Clarkson Cups) and Natalie Darwitz (the NCAA record holder for most points in one season). The one notable omission was head coach Ben Smith.
Two years later, the Chronicle Herald, a newspaper based out of Halifax issued some women’s hockey cards. As the Maritime city hosted the 2004 IIHF Women’s World Championships, a 22-card set was printed by the paper and featured in one of their daily editions. It marked the first time that players such as Delaney Collins, Colleen Sostorics and Gillian Ferrari appeared on cardboard.
For collectors, these cards are classified as regional issues, meaning that only people in a certain area (in this case, Nova Scotia) were able to acquire them firsthand. While the cards occasionally go for sale via online auction houses, its scarcity makes them unknown among the more casual collector.
When one looks at the hairstyles that some of the ladies had on these regional issues (not to mention how much younger many of them were), it does create an opportunity to reflect with a bit of humor. It is similar to baseball card collectors who look back on Oscar Gamble’s Topps card (when he played with the New York Yankees). His afro was so large that his baseball cap could hardly fit; creating a card that holds great sentimental value for many fans of the era.
For many women’s hockey collectors, the regional issues of 2002 and 2004 hold with it an equal sentimental value. Helping to bridge the gap between Collectors Choice and the presence of In the Game in 2007, these regional issues are bound to earn their overdue respect among collectors in the near future.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

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

In the middle of the gap between 1998 and 2007 (when no significant hockey card company was producing cards with the likenesses of several women’s hockey players), there was one female player that happened to be the exception; Charline Labonte. Having played with the now defunct Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, she became the second woman since Manon Rheaume to play in the league.
Her first season with the Titan was during the 1999-2000 campaign. Joining the team at 17 years old, she would appear in 26 contests, while logging a mark of four wins, nine losses and two ties. Despite a goals against average of 5.22, she logged a respectable .841 save percentage. The following season, she only appeared in two games while logging 28 saves, respectively.
Upper Deck featured a card of her in their 1999-2000 UD Prospects Set. Her card number was 54, the same number she donned on her jersey. That set also included the likes of future NHL starts such as Jay Bouwmeester, Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Jarrett Stoll and the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik.
In addition, Labonte was also featured on two different insert cards. By definition, insert cards are not part of the traditional card set (as they tend to have different numbering), but can be found in packs.
During this time, Upper Deck began using insert cards as a marketing tool to help stimulate interest and sales. Producing insert cards with player autographs was one of the methods employed. In the Prospects Set, there were randomly inserted autograph cards featuring Labonte’s signature.
Another was a series of insert cards that featured the swatch of a player’s game-used jersey. The swatch was placed in between two cards (one card had a see-through window) and sealed together to create a unique card. As such, one of Labonte’s game-used jerseys would be cut up into individual swatches, making her the first female hockey player to have a game-used jersey card.
While her star would rise on the Canadian national team soon afterwards, she would have to wait a considerable period of time before Upper Deck would return her image to cardboard. Heading into the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, Upper Deck owned the rights to former Canadian company O-Pee-Chee (once based out of London, Ontario).
In the autumn of 2009, Upper Deck produced a series of insert cards for the 2009-10 O-Pee-Chee hockey series. The insert cards featured the men and women that would likely comprise the rosters for Vancouver. Labonte would be one of three goaltenders (along with Kim St. Pierre and Shannon Szabados) that collectors would search for as the excitement towards the Vancouver Winter Games had tremendous momentum.
*Game jersey image obtained from: comc.com

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Bobby Orr of women’s hockey earns her spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame

As the third woman inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Geraldine Heaney’s road to greatness was one filled with glory, accomplishment and sacrifice. With a career that spanned 27 years, this long-time fan favorite and hockey hero has transcended generations. Called the Bobby Orr of women’s hockey, the connection emanates courtesy of the event that put Heaney on the global hockey map.
Although the 1990 IIHF Women’s Worlds had introduced an entire nation of hockey fans to Heaney, she had already been playing for 11 years. Her gold-medal winning goal against the US resulted in Heaney tumbling to the ice after she scored, similar to Bobby Orr after he scored the Stanley Cup winning goal against the St. Louis Blues in 1970.
While Heaney will forever be remembered for that glorious goal, she also participated in a long lost hockey event; the 1987 Women’s World Hockey Tournament. Held in North York, Ontario and organized by Fran Rider of the OWHA, the event was not sanctioned by the IIHF. Competing with Team Ontario, Heaney would skate to a silver medal in that historic event. Angela James and Chris Pellerin would also play with her in that event.
Of note, Heaney began competed with the Toronto Aeros at the age of 13. While the Aeros would go from North York to Beatrice to Toronto, there is no question that Heaney was the glue that held the club together. Many of her teammates from the Aeros would go on to compete at the national level; Cassie Campbell, Gillian Ferrari, Marianne Grnak, Becky Kellar, Cheryl Pounder, Sami Jo Small, Amy Turek and Sommer West.
In addition, the Aeros would welcome players from other countries. Sari Krooks from Finland, and Kelly Dyer, a goaltender with the US were also Heaney’s teammates. They would play with her at the 1997 COWHL All-Star Game in Mississauga, Ontario. As the defending provincial champions, the Aeros played a group of COWHL All-Stars.  
While the Hockey Hall of Fame is a rare and unique accomplishment, it will not mark her first time receiving Hall of Fame recognition. After playing for the Seneca College Scouts, she was inducted into the Ontario College Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame.
Having helped pioneer women’s ball hockey in Ontario during the 1980’s, she played with Angela James for the Toronto Dragons. After a distinguished career at the ball hockey level, she would earn entry into the Ontario Ball Hockey Association Hall of Fame.  
In 2008, she was part of the first three women inducted into the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame. Joining Heaney were Angela James and Cammi Granato, Hockey Hall of Fame inductees in 2010.
A four-time Abby Hoffman Cup champion (1991, 1993, 2000 and 2004), she also sandwiched in time competing in roller hockey. Once again, she would don the Canadian jersey and proudly represent her country. In 1992, she would help Canada claim gold at the World Roller Hockey Championships, while grabbing silver two years later.
Her legacy on hockey was solidified when she competed with Canada in the first-ever women’s hockey tournament at the Winter Games. Competing at Nagano 1998, Heaney would gain the silver medal. With food company General Mills helping to promote the event, she would appear on boxes of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios.
While the gold medal eluded her at Nagano, she would earn golden redemption at the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Games. Helping Canada to its first Winter Games gold in women’s hockey, Heaney was part of history a second time.
With such a remarkable body of work, it is difficult to determine Heaney’s greatest accomplishment. She is the only woman to have won the gold medal at seven consecutive IIHF Women’s World Championships, while grabbing the IIHF Directorate Award for Best Defender twice. At the 2004 Esso Women’s Nationals, she scored the gold-medal winning goal in overtime. She played for the Abby Hoffman Cup every year from 1987 to 2001, the only woman in history to accomplish the feat.
Perhaps the accomplishment that is most worthy is the fact that she is still involved in the game today. Working as a coach and an instructor, she is helping to shape the next generation of women’s hockey players. While there likely be other Hall of Fame inductions in the future (Canada Sports Hall of Fame, Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame), Heaney has carved a superlative legacy that makes her one of the great heroes in Canadian sporting history.

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.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Cardboard immortality: A visual history of women’s hockey cards (The Classic Years)

Although the number of women’s hockey cards issued over the years is considerably low, the potential for growth is encouraging. In recent years, female players have appeared in various sets released by Upper Deck such as World of Sports and Goodwin Champions.
Credit for the initial appearance of women’s hockey players on cardboard goes to the likes of the now defunct Classic Games. In later years, other companies such as Canadian-based In the Game and Upper Deck followed suit. Classic broke ground by featuring the likes of Manon Rheaume, Cammi Granato and Erin Whitten on numerous card issues.
While Rheaume opened doors for the awareness of women’s hockey, she would also help pave the way for women to appear on hockey cards. After signing a contract with the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning, Classic Games would feature a card of her in their 1992-93 draft picks set. It would mark the first time a woman appeared on a hockey card. Despite its low value (a common factor among many cards of that era due to their high print runs), the card holds a nostalgic appeal for many collectors.
As the demand for Rheaume’s cards grew, she would be featured in sets issued by Classic for the following two seasons. Perhaps the pinnacle for Classic came when they actually were a sponsor for the 1994 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Champions held in legendary Lake Placid, New York. The catalyst for this was the fact that Manon Rheaume was between the pipes for Canada.
Following the Women’s Worlds, the 1994-95 series of Classic Hockey Cards featured cards of competitors from both Team Canada and Team USA (numbered W1-W40). While the cards were randomly inserted in packs, it was a watershed moment in the growth of the game.
Every player in that set (except for Rheaume) was featured on cardboard for the first time, making their cards what collectors call rookie cards (a player’s first appearance on a card). While many of these cards can be found through online retailers for less than a dollar each
Some of the more notable names from the Canadian contingent included Therese Brisson, Cassie Campbell, Geraldine Heaney, Angela James and Hayley Wickenheiser. Superstars from the US side featured the likes of Karyn Bye, Cammi Granato, Shelley Looney, Gretchen Ulion and Sandra Whyte.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Former NCAA hockey player Kylie Rossler finds new life on the gridiron

Life after NCAA women’s hockey can lead into various directions; competing with one’s national team, pro hockey in Europe or North America, coaching or simply walking away from the game. Regina native Kylie Rossler adapted an entirely different approach.
After graduating from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania during spring 2011, Rossler was facing her own athletic crossroads. There was no spot for her on the Canadian national team, nor did Regina have its own women’s hockey club team. With a love of sport, Rossler enjoyed the camaraderie and the dynamic of helping a team win.

In four NCAA women’s hockey seasons, she accumualted a lifetime mark of 18 goals and 21 assists for 39 points. She would also claim two College Hockey America regular season and postseason titles. The final point of her career came in a January 8, 2011 contest against Syracuse where she logged an assist. Her last goal actually came in a March 19, 2010, postseason tilt with the Cornell Big Red as she logged two points (one goal, one assist).
The 5’6” blonde haired bombshell decided that she would use her athletic abilities in the growing sport of women’s football. The United States and Canada feature numerous tackle football leagues including the Maritime Women’s Football League, Western Women’s Canadian Football League, the Independent Women’s Football League and the Women’s Football Alliance.
Rossler would end up in another league; the Legends Football League. Having expanded to Canada in 2012, the league established four teams throughout Canada, including two in the football mad province of Saskatchewan; the Regina Rage and the Saskatoon Sirens.
The inaugural season of LFL Canada found Rossler establishing herself as one of the league’s elite competitors. Competing with the Rage, she was joined by another former women’s hockey player, Ashley Richter (who once competed with the Vermont Catamounts).
Sports fans in Regina were familiar with Rossler a teen phenom on the ice. With the Regina Rebels team, she was their team captain for the 2006-07 campaign. With a 43 point season (on the strength of 19 goals and 24 assists), she would average 1.8 points per game. In addition, she was also a member of the Saskatchewan provincial team.
In 2012, Rossler would reinvent herself as a football hero. Playing alongside legendary LFL US quarterback Nikki Johnson, Rossler made an immediate impact with the Rage. Acting as offensive co-ordinator, Johnson showed great ability in Rossler’s talents.
Her 266 rushing yards were second overall on the Rage (and among the top five in LFL Canada); while she helped Regina average an LFL Canada-best 144 rushing yards per game. With the rivalry against the Saskatoon Sirens in 2012 making national news (a fight broke out in the stands during one game), Rossler was a key factor in handing the Sirens their only regular season loss.
With an 89 yard performance, she was named Player of the Game. She would make a significant statement in that victory, giving Regina fans reason to believe that she will be part of a bright future for the team and the league.
After a breakthrough 2012 season in LFL Canada, Kylie Rossler is ready to build on that remarkable momentum for 2013. After missing the postseason by one game last year, Rossler is ready to help the Regina Rage reach the promised land.
Considering that there shall be no LFL US stars in the 2013 LFL Canada season, Rossler will be expected to shoulder the load of the offense. Having played with the likes of elite players and leaders such as Meghan Agosta, Vicki Bendus, Bailey Bram and Pamela Zgoda at Mercyhurst, she has the leadership qualities to make it happen.
Having won several conference championships at the NCAA hockey level, Rossler understands what it takes to win. As she works towards making the Rage’s championship dreams come true, Rossler is not only emerging as a franchise player, but as one of the faces of LFL Canada.