When I was a kid growing up in the ‘borough, it was a very popular pastime to “play hockey cards” before school, at recess, during lunch and after school. These cards were the ones that featured our favourite NHL’ers of the day. They came in packs of 10 or 20 I think, with a piece of stale gum thrown in. There was usually 400-500 in a set and some guys like to collect the whole bunch each year.
I figured the games we played with these cards were pretty universal and probably played all over Ontario in much the same way. I was out with a buddy from Kitchener the other day and was surprised to hear that he wasn’t aware of some of our more popular variations and in fact, had a few of his own.
I won’t get into all these different variations here (I’ll save some for other posts) but I will touch on the first and easiest mode of play – shooting the cards against the wall of the school from 5-10 feet away with the shooter of the closest card winning each of the cards thrown by the others. This was typically played by two people, but like water-skiing, got a whole lot more interesting as you added more people. It was also a bit like the Casinos in Vegas – when the high rollers were playing, it drew a crowd.
It was competition at its finest. The ultimate satisfaction came from beating some poor bloke out of all his cards. This was known as “dribbing him” (I don’t remember ever seeing any girls play with hockey cards). It was even more satisfying if you went into such a match with say, two cards, and played the aforementioned poor bloke if he had say, thirty cards and if you were able to drib him anyway. You had to be real good to pull that off, or he had to be real bad.
Anyway, it wasn’t uncommon to ask someone if they wanted to play and have them decline because “Jimmy dribbed me at recess this morning so I’m all out of cards and will have to buy some on the way home / steal some from little brother / borrow a couple of cards back from Jimmy after school so I can try and win some back from some little kid”.
Some guys were wizards at this. They would need but a single lucky card to make their way in the school yard. Kind of like making your bones, elementary-school style. (By the way, if you could beat such a wizard out of his lucky card, that was oh so sweet as well). That today’s card collectors keep theirs wrapped in original plastic and never touch ’em seems so new school to me. Almost offensive.
Some master craftsmen build birchbark canoes, some build grandfather clocks, some chainsaw ice sculptures and some were just good with a hockey card. Back in the day when men were men on the school grounds of St. Anne’s elementary, we often had to warp our cards just so, or even let them get a little wet just to get the aerodynamics to that optimal spot that would allow the card to nestle closest to the school wall when you released it. That’s a lot of years ago. Old school baby, literally.