About 30 years ago, give or take a couple weeks, I stood in a dimly-lit card shop. I was in awe. We’d just moved to Ontario in August and the one saving grace for me was that I had heard of these shops and the spectacular treasures to be found within. To that point, the oldest card I’d ever held was a 1971 Bryan Campbell. Now, in front of me, laid out in a display case, were 1951 Parkhursts, 1954 Topps, various early OPCs, Orrs and Beliveaus and Howes and Hulls and names I’d read about but never seen in person. It was staggering.
The shop was closing and I had to move quickly. I nabbed a 1951 Marcel Pronovost, a 1952 Jimmy Peters, a 1970 OPC Howe and Beliveau (all around $2.50 apiece), a couple of others that now escape me, and a really nice 1962 Pierre Pilote.
Of all the cards I got that day, the Pilote was probably in the best shape. What kind of amazes me is that through all the times I transferred it from album to album, binder to binder, I never dinged it.
A couple weeks ago, the Chicago Black Hawks team card arrived in the mail, completing this set. To say it took 30 years to build isn’t really fair. I probably had about a dozen of them by the time I dropped out of the hobby in 1994 and it wasn’t the first priority when I picked it back up. I would grab one here or there when I found something well under value. Slowly but surely, it got close enough to make a final push.
1962-63 Topps was a 66-card release and the second-last set they made that didn’t feature the entire NHL. Parkhurst held the rights to Toronto, Montreal and Detroit, leaving New York, Boston and Chicago to Topps. Fortunately for Topps, Chicago had a great team. Boston and New York were both still in the wilderness.
There are a number of interesting cards in the set. The key rookie is probably Vic Hadfield of the Rangers, though there are a bunch of slightly smaller names behind him including Bruce Gamble of the Bruins and Chico Maki of the Hawks. They key card overall has to be the Bobby Hull, with an unmarked checklist running right behind.
It’s a very basic set with a rather spartan front design. All teams get blue borders, all shots are posed and presented against a white background (at least it started out white, this set yellows with age far more than any other Topps set). The back is more interesting, with the player name and number in a starburst, a single line of stats and a nice, wordy, bilingual write-up.
It was not uncommon for Topps to order the cards by teams, and OPC on occasion would then order the players alphabetically, but (and I just noticed this right now, to be honest) this is the only set I can think of where the players are ordered first by team and then by position – each team starts with the coach, then lists goalies, defense, forwards, a handful of prospects/late arrivals and finally the team card. I can’t believe I’ve never noticed that until now.
Bruins coach Phil Watson got stuck with the same lousy picture for both 1961-62 and 1962-63. It’s a shame because they’re the only coaching cards he gets. Milt Schmidt will be coach for the 1963-64 set. Boston goalies Bob Perreault and Bruce Gamble both have RCs in this set. Boston was really struggling to find goaltending in the early 1960s and would finally settle on Eddie Johnston, whose RC appears next year. There are six defensemen (though somehow Dallas Smith is listed as a forward). Godfrey, Boivin and Mohns are all vets while Green, Stapleton and Smith are kids. It’s the second card for each of the three in the bottom row. Godfrey has been airbrushed out of an old Wings uniform (he’d had the same picture in 1957-58). Boivin would be named team captain after the trade of Don McKenney and Mohns would soon move to Chicago, get put on Stan Mikita’s left and enjoy a new life as a high-scoring winger. Green, Stapleton and Smith all went on to long, effective careers (though Stapleton had to leave Boston to do it). Both Green and Smith won Cups with the Bruins in the early 1970s.
These are the backs. Click the images for full-sized scans. The backs show some yellowing, as well. Must have been a card stock issue.
And now for the Bruin forwards – there are seven regulars and then come the prospects, of whom Irv Spencer is actually a defenseman. Don McKenney was a long-serving Bruin, their captain, best centre and a routine 20-plus goal scorer. In February, he’d go to New York for Dean Prentice. John Bucyk was the sole remaining member of the famed Uke Line. He’d stay with the team through the lousy years of the mid-1960s and then be part of the magic of the Orr seasons. Murray Oliver had a quiet, steady game that he managed to play for 1127 NHL games. He had a great season with 62 points in 65 games. Jerry Toppazzini was nearing the end of a 12-year career with Boston, Chicago and (briefly) Detroit. He just passed away last year at age 80. He was one of the big influx of nickel-belt kids to arrive in the early 1950s. Pennington was a Hab prospect sent to the Bruins for Willie O’Ree. He actually scored OK in two part seasons, but 17 points in 27 games in 1962-63 would be his last kick at the NHL. Charlie Burns was notable as one of the few helmeted players in the NHL (he had an old skull fracture he was protecting) – most of his cards show him wearing it. After 1962-63, he’d be banished to the minors but resuced by expansion. He’d finally retire in 1974. Guy Gendron was similar – originally a Ranger, he’d have a decent 1962-63 for Boston but wind up in the minors after 1964. He’d become a good scorer for the Philadelphia Flyers (when their identity was small but skilled) and finish as a Nordique in 1974 at age 39. Irv Spencer had just the one season in Boston (his only full NHL season) and then become a wandering minstrel. His last big-league action was again in 1974 with the Vancouver Blazers of the WHA. Wayne Connelly was still trying to break in. After 1961-62, his next full season wouldn’t come until 1966-67. Another expansion-saved player, Wayne would play for a whole bunch of teams before lighting it up in the WHA. He’d retire as an Oiler in 1977.
I’ll leave Part 1 here for the moment. Part 2 will finish off the Bruins and get into the Black Hawks. As always, Stan Mikita is the bane of my existence.