Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Cardboard Immortality: A visual history of women's hockey cards (Vancouver to Sochi)

Heading into the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, collectors were witness to resurgence in women’s hockey cards. Upper Deck presented the promise for a bright future as its O-Pee-Chee brand featured a unique insert series recognizing the Canadian men’s and women’s hockey teams.

The insert series featured the roster of the 2009 Canadian women’s team that competed at the IIHF Worlds. For players such as Marie-Philip Poulin and Shannon Szabados, these issues would prove to be their rookie cards. In addition, a foilboard card of Manon Rheaume (in her Tampa Bay Lightning uniform no less) was an added attraction, building the momentum of her previous card release in Upper Deck Masterpieces.

In the aftermath of Vancouver, Upper Deck issued another insert series titled The Champions. Randomly inserted in 2009-10 Upper Deck Series 2 Hockey (released in late winter 2010), the series honored American and Canadian Winter Games heroes past and presented. Collectors would also search for variants that were autographed.
 
Among the group of women’s hockey players included were Canadians such as Jennifer Botterill, Cassie Campbell, Kim St. Pierre and Hayley Wickenheiser. In addition, Campbell was featured in an insert series offered by World of Sport. Titled Clear Competitors, these were acetate cards randomly inserted in packs that were see-through. Including the likes of Tiger Woods and Nancy Kerrigan, Campbell was among the featured athletes. Adding to the collectibility was the fact that several American hockey heroes were part of the series. Cammi Granato (who was previously featured in 2005-06 Upper Deck hockey as part of its Young Guns subset) was joined by Julie Chu and Natalie Darwitz.
 
Of note, all of these players were back on card issues during the 2011 World of Sport trading card set, also issued by Upper Deck. While the set also featured female athletes from other sports, women’s hockey fans were pleased by the issuing of cards featuring members of Canada’s Under-18 Women’s Hockey team that won the gold medal at the 2010 IIHF Under-18 Women’s Worlds.

Featuring the likes of Erin Ambrose, Christine Bestland, Melodie Daoust (who would win a gold medal at Sochi 2014) Jamie Lee Rattray (the 2014 Patty Kazmaier Award Winner) and Jillian Saulnier, all five are possibilities to be part of Canada’s roster at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games. The U18 heroes in the set added to the excitement of a ground-breaking card set which was akin to the pleasant surprise of women’s players included in the 1997-98 Collectors Choice set (also by Upper Deck).
 
Unfortunately, there would not be a repeat of U18 players in the 2012 edition of the World of Sport set. It was a disappointment taking into account that Upper Deck currently has an exclusive licensing agreement with Hockey Canada.

Instead, players such as Botterill, Campbell, Chu and Darwitz were back in the 2012 set. Although cards of Granato and Wickenheiser were also featured in Upper Deck’s Goodwin Champions set, with miniature variations (which pays homage to the tobacco sets of the early 20th Century), it was of little consolation.

The only other option at the time was rummaging through Sports Illustrated Kids. A monthly magazine that features nine perforated trading cards in the middle of the magazine, every issue tends to have at least one female athlete featured. In the last two years, Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel were the only women’s hockey players that SI Kids produced cards of.

With the emergence of women’s hockey at the NCAA level, a unique collectible sprouted at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Custom cards honoring senior captains on various varsity sports were produced by RIT Sportszone. During the 2010-11 campaign, Sarah Dagg would earn the cardboard treatment, making for a treasured keepsake.
Even more disappointing was the release of a Hockey Canada-themed set issued by Upper Deck in the autumn of 2013. A 100-card base set depicting players that have competed for Canada’s national team at various events (such as the IIHF World Juniors, Senior World Championship and/or Olympic levels), there were also Short Prints (SP), autographs and other insert themes. Sadly, not one card (base, SP or insert) featured one member of Canada’s women’s team. Considering that the set was released a few months before the Sochi Winter Games, a few cards of female players would certainly have helped build interest. 

Despite Upper Deck not issuing any women’s cards in the Team Canada set, it did manage to provide one very special female player with the cardboard treatment. The late Mandi Schwartz was honored with a Game Jersey card in the 2013-14 Upper Deck Series 1 hockey issue. Schwartz’s parents donated the blue Yale jersey in order to make the card a reality.

Of note, Upper Deck staff had worked closely with the Schwartz family and Yale University (where Schwartz played) to honor her life. Discussing internally the interest to find an inspirational athlete to honor with a hockey card, Upper Deck believed that Schwartz was an ideal choice as the card would also help raise awareness of the foundation that honors her name. While the card was short printed, Upper Deck manufactured more cards to be sold through the website for the Mandi Schwartz Foundation.

Regarding the Sochi Winter Games, the Topps Company would manage to appeal to women’s hockey collectors. Issuing a 100-card set recognizing male and female members of the American contingent, three women’s hockey players were given the opportunity to appear on cardboard. Hilary Knight and the Lamoureux Twins (Jocelyne and Monique) gained official Rookie Card status. As an added bonus, there were memorabilia cards and autographed versions randomly inserted.

Sadly, they would be the only three players to have a trading card during 2013-14. Another Topps product that features female athletes is its annual Allen and Ginter release every spring. While the spring 2014 release features the likes of Diana Nyad, Allyson Felix and Carli Lloyd, not one hockey player was featured. Two women’s players that would have been good options were Meghan Duggan, who came back from a concussion to become the US captain, and former player Caitlin Cahow, who served on President Obama’s delegation at Sochi.

With Upper Deck recently gaining an exclusive license with the National Hockey League (to complement its Hockey Canada license), future card issues with women’s hockey players are unlikely. Except for the annual Allen and Ginter release, the only other hope Topps collectors have for female hockey players appearing on cardboard is the possibility of a set for the 2018 Winter Games (as a side note, Topps shall issue a US Olympic set for the 2016 Summer Games).

Panini, who holds the exclusive license with the NBA, occasionally produces card sets featuring individuals from popular culture. Such sets are the only chance in which a women’s hockey player could earn the cardboard treatment.

Canadian-based In the Game once had a license with Hockey Canada and featured a pair of sets with women’s cards in the late 2000s. Perhaps they should consider a license with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, issuing a subset of the league’s finest players in their annual releases. Taking into account that Kraft Foods is also a CWHL sponsor, it would be exciting to see Blades, Furies, Inferno, Stars and Thunder players on the backs of Kraft Dinner boxes, the way NHLers appeared on such boxes in the early 1990s.

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