Monthly Archives: December 2020

Wayne Gretzky and the Zweig Brothers…

Last week, a Wayne Gretzky hockey card sold at auction for $1.29 million. It was a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie card and it set a new record as the first hockey card to sell for over $1 million. (O-Pee-Chee produced hockey cards in Canada, and the Canadian cards are more valuable than the identical American hockey cards of the time produced by Topps.) [NOTE: The record was smashed on May 27, 2021, when a Gretzky rookie card sold for $3.75 million.]

Apparently, this Gretzky card is one of only two from his 1979–80 NHL rookie season to have earned a “Gem Mint” rating from PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) out of the 5,700 or so that have been certified. In a story by Kevin McGran in the Toronto Star last week, Chris Ivy of Heritage Auctions in Dallas (who sold the card) said even brand new O-Pee-Chee cards in 1979 would have had difficulty earning a top rating due to the poor paper quality used, the wires used to cut the cards, and the issues they often had with poor centering.

The record-setting Gretzky card certainly looks to be well-centered, with no folds or chips in the paper. And, apparently the slightly jagged edge on the right side only adds to its authenticity in an age where it’s easier than ever to fake these cards.

So, hey, collectors! If you like jagged edges, check out this Gretzky rookie card that belongs to my brothers and me. (David was the biggest Gretzky fan in the family, so he has it at his house.)

The edges are definitely rough! There are some issues with the corners, and some of the blue edge has worn away, probably where somebody’s thumb handled it too often. The centering looks good, but the biggest issue to a collector would be the hole from the push-pin near the bottom.

And therein lies, (as Paul Harvey used to say), “the rest of the story.”

My brothers and I were, essentially, children of the 1970s. Children of the 1970s — like the generations before them — may have enjoyed collecting sports cards, but we didn’t preserve them for their future value. We played with them!

Farsies. Topsies. Knock-Downs. Scrambles. (Some times for fun, sometimes for Keepsies!)

The damage to the back of our card is even worse!

I don’t think any of the Zweig brothers ever put their cards in the spokes of their bikes, but David and I definitely had our own, special game for them. We would take the plastic nets off of our table-top hockey game and put them on the floor. We’d put a goalie card leaning up in front of each net, then we’d grab a card in each hand, get down on our hands and knees, and whack around a marble (and each other!) while trying to score on the other one’s goalie. Most of the hockey cards we have to this day still have creases that bend perfectly between four fingers and a thumb.

Our Gretzky card didn’t get that kind of treatment. Not because we were thinking of its future value, but because David and I were now 15 and 17 years old and less likely to crawl around on the floor body-checking each other.

David and I were both big Gretzky fans. As I wrote back in February, we’d been so since February of 1978 when our father took all three of us to see Gretzky play for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds against the Toronto Marlboros at Maple Leaf Gardens. We followed him in the newspapers in the WHA in 1978–79 and, I saw Gretzky play for the Edmonton Oilers against the Maple Leafs at the Gardens the first two times they played there in 1979-80; once in November and once in March. Gretzky had two goals and four assists in the March 29 game (the Oilers beat the Leafs 8-5) to close in on Marcel Dionne for the NHL scoring lead, and it was amazing!

I’ve never been much of a collector, though I’ve held on to plenty of things!
When card collecting was huge in the 1990s, I bought these two 1910 hockey cards because of their connection to my first book, Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.
If I’m remembering correctly, I paid $250 for Lester Patrick and $225 for Cyclone Taylor.

I saw the first Gretzky game on November 21 with my friend Mike Baum, who we called “Guy” because he loved the Canadiens. (Gretzky had two goals and two assists in a 4-4 tie that night.) I saw the March game with Steve Rapp, and afterwards we waited around to get autographs. I got Gretzky’s on a scrap from a popcorn box. (I believe I got his linemates Brett Callighen and B.J MacDonald too.) Since David was the bigger fan, I gave him the autograph … and he pinned it to the bulletin board in his bedroom, along with the Gretzky card — because Gretzky was his favourite player.

So, there you go. The autograph hasn’t survived, but because of the pinhole damage (not to mention the damage from the tape on the back!) the value of our Gretzky rookie card drops from a potential $1.29 million to maybe $1.29 hundred.

If we’re lucky!

And, hey, if I don’t get around to posting anything again over the next 10 days or so, Happy Holidays to everyone and best wishes for 20201. (How could it not be a better year?!?)

NOTE: The autograph still exists too! David has kept it all these years. Says I promised I’d get it for him if he let me wear his Gretzky jersey to the game that night. (I remember that I wore it, but don’t remember the promise! He says “I couldn’t believe you came thru.”)

Who Was That (First) Masked Man?

You’d think something as simple as who was the first goalie in hockey history to wear a mask would be an easy question to answer. It’s not. In fact, it’s been surprisingly difficult to nail down.

Jacques Plante — though he popularized the concept for modern goalies — was certainly not the first to wear one. Clint Benedict (who I’ve argued in the past was a better goalie than Georges Vezina, the NHL’s goaltending trophy namesake) was probably the first NHL goaltender to wear a mask when he put one on for a few games late in the 1929–30 season to protect a frequently broken nose. My friend and colleague Stephen Smith, on his Puckstruck web site several years ago, wondered if George Hainsworth (another early era great) might have actually preceded Benedict by a year. He may have, although Stephen concludes that Hainsworth was more likely to have been wearing an elaborate bandage to protect his own broken nose.

For a while, the trendy answer to who was the first goalie to wear a mask was Elizabeth Graham, who is known to have worn a fencing mask while playing goal for the Queen’s University women’s hockey team in 1927. However, others (including another woman, Corinne Hardman of Montreal’s Western Ladies Hockey Club in 1916) had been known to wear masks before that.

I wrote about the early history of goalie masks several years ago, although Corinne Hardman was new on me thanks to another Stephen Smith story from last year. Stephen’s story also pushed back my earliest knowledge (which had previously been of Eddie Giroux wearing a baseball catcher’s mask in practice with the Toronto Marlboros in December of 1903 to protect a cut on his face) to 1899. But that’s where the story gets murky once again.

The Ottawa Citizen of January 23, 1899, picked up a story from the Kingston Times claiming that goalie Edgar Hiscock of the Frontenacs had recently broken his nose and would be forced to wear a baseball mask in his coming games.

Photo of Edgar Hiscock with the Kingston 14th Regiment team
courtesy of the Society for International Hockey Research.

IF Hiscock did wear a mask in a game, he would appear to be the first … or, at least, the earliest discovery made so far. However, nobody that I’m aware of has found an account of any subsequent Kingston games that actually confirms Hiscock wore one! His name certainly appears in several game summaries during the rest of the hockey season, but there’s no mention of wearing a mask. (Admittedly, I’ve only been able to check myself in online sources. Perhaps Kingston newspapers on microfilm have something, but it doesn’t appear that anyone has found anything yet.)

If Hiscock didn’t wear a mask in any of the games before the Kingston Frontenacs wrapped up their season by defeating Guelph 5–2 for the OHA Intermediate championship on March 6, 1899, then another name moves to the top of the “first” list. Another Intermediate champion (probably of the city of Calgary): Ev Marshall.

Marshall’s case is clearly confirmed by the Calgary Herald of March 17, 1899, which reported that he wore a baseball mask while playing goal for the local Press hockey club in the championship game against a team of picked stars from other Calgary clubs the night before.

Turns out that Ev Marshall (Everett Douglas Marshall to be exact) is a pretty interesting guy!

Marshall (all this information comes from his obituary in the Calgary Herald from August 25, 1949 after his death the night before) was born in Megantic County, Quebec, on December 19, 1875*. Although there seems to be some conflicting information as to when his father died, it appears to have been before Everett’s mother brought her only child with her to settle in the Calgary area in 1885, just one year after Calgary had been officially incorporated as a town.

[* Daniel Doyon found birth records showing that Everett Marshall was actually born three years earlier, on December 19, 1872, in Inverness, Quebec, which is part of Megantic County.]

By 1888, young Everett was one of three delivery boys working for the Calgary Herald. He soon apprenticed as a printer’s devil and later he and M.C. “Mike” Costello (a future mayor of Calgary) became the first printers in Calgary to operate a linotype machine, which eliminated the need for printers to lay out a newspaper by hand. After 1894, Ev took on editorial duties as well, and would briefly serve as the Herald’s editor. He later set up his own paper, The Market Examiner, in 1917, in partnership with the Herald’s first women’s and society page editor, Jean A. Grant, whom he married in 1928 – two years after he had established The Western Oil Examiner, Calgary’s first oil industry newspaper.

In addition to his newspaper interests, Ev Marshall was also one of the first secretaries of the Calgary Volunteer Fire Brigade, and in the late 1890s, he played hockey for both Calgary’s Press hockey club and the Brigade hockey team. At this point, Marshall was not a goalie but a defenceman. It appears that he was the captain of the both teams in 1898, but while playing for the Brigade team on January 28, 1898, Marshall took a stick in the face while trying to check an opponent and lost his left eye.

Despite the injury, Marshall continued to referee hockey games during the winter of 1899. (Insert your own referee joke here!) There’s no story as to why he chose to make his first appearance as a player as the goalie for the Press team on March 16, 1899, but clearly the reason he chose to wear a catcher’s mask must have been to protect his right eye (and his glass left eye too).

Everett D. Marshall played what appears to be the last game of his hockey career for a team called the Nonpareils against a C.P. Railway team on April 3, 1899. No mention of a mask in this one (although I suspect he wore one), but his work in goal was said to be “very fine.”