If the objective of the photograph on a sports card is to present a clear, recognizable image of the player in question, then this card is a dismal failure. If you didn’t already know what Dave Keon looked like, you’d never find him in this picture.
On the other hand, if you just want a really cool image that captures a great moment in time, this is an out of the park home run. Of the six players you can see in this card, three are in the Hall of Fame and you could probably make a case for two others.
1973-74 was the first year that OPC/Topps used game action shots on player cards. 1972-73 had seen the reintoduction of the game action card (last seen in the early ’60s), but other than the unexplained case of Rick Martin, it was never used on a player card. These were the first game-action player cards since the Parkhurst issues of the mid-’50s. (Yes, there was York Peanut Butter, 1970 Esso stamps and the various and sundry postcard issues. They aren’t Topps/OPC or Parkhurst and I don’t think they count.)
A lot of the shots were taken at a distance that wouldn’t fly today, but the result is that you see the player in a context that is simply never seen anymore. This Keon is one of the better examples of this.
I’m always fascinated by the way some people can take a baseball card and determine the exact play that generated the picture. You can’t do that in hockey, for the most part. The games just aren’t tracked with that degree of detail. What we can tell here is that this is a game from the Aud in Buffalo and a faceoff in the Buffalo end. We know that the Leafs most likely lost this game because they played three games in Buffalo during ’72-73 and lost all of them. (This could, of course, have been a preseason game, but those are lost to time. Given who is on the ice, though, this looks like a regular season.)
The faceoff pits the Leafs top line against the best defensive players of the Sabres. Keon (#14), normally a centre, is playing the wing here. He’s not at the dot but rather off at the edge of the circle, next to long-time Leaf Tim Horton. Tim is now wearing #2 for the Sabres. Tim was killed in a single-car accident in February 1974, returning to Buffalo from a game against the Leafs at the Gardens. Other than his own card, which has an old posed shot (in a Pittsburgh uniform, no less), this is the last time you see him on a card before he died.
The faceoff is between Leaf centre Norm Ullman, who scored 490 goals in the NHL before heading to the WHA, and Sabre Don Luce, arguably one of the top two or three two-way centres of the 1970s. Don could check you to a standstill and put up 70 points while he did it. He was a huge part of the Sabres making the 1975 Cup final.
At the back of the photo is Paul Henderson of the Leafs, hero of the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union. Next to him is right-winger Steve Atkinson, a Sabre since 1970 who would play parts of six NHL seasons and a seventh in the WHA.
There is a Sabre defenseman at the extreme right. My nickel says it’s Jim Schoenfeld, who was often paired with Tim Horton. If that’s a 4 on his sleeve, though, it’s Tracy Pratt. Both were left-hand shots.
Any modern card would have focused much closer on Keon. Maybe you’d see the concentration on his face. You’d never see all this action around him, though, and that’s what makes this card so neat.
For the record, the three hall of famers are Keon, Ullman and Horton. The two you could argue for (though you’d probably lose) are Henderson and Luce.
For contemporary game footage, this is about as close as it gets – Leafs and Sabres from 1970. Keon and Henderson both score. Ex-Leaf coach and GM Punch Imlach is behind the bench for the Sabres. Note that Sabre goalie Joe Daley is not wearing a mask. While Andy Brown was the last NHL goalie to go bare-faced (1974), Daley played without one in the WHA for a while longer. Jacques Plante, the pioneer of the hockey mask, gets the start for the Leafs.