Back to hockey cards for today’s post. Here’s how the 74-5 season finished up in the NHL with respect to stats for goals, assist, points, etc. Check out the back showing Bobby Orr’s total of 46 goals, as a defenceman, on one knee.
The Broad Street Bullies had their share of colourful characters. One of these was Bob “Hound Dog” Kelly. A scrapper to go with a bunch of other Flyer scrappers, Kelly played a lot like Tie Domi in later years with the Leafs. I remember him skating at crazy speeds chasing opponents “doggedly”. Thus the name no doubt.
In my last post, I wrote about the art of playing with hockey cards as a kid. I covered only one game – closest-to-the-wall. In this post, I cover leaners.
Leaners was a slight derivation from closest-to-the-wall. Two or more guys would fire cards at a wall from 5-10 feet away and try and land their card leaning up against the wall, hence the name. Until one of the shooters accomplished this, all the cards shot up to that point accumulated and would be awarded to the first to land a leaner. It was remarkable how good some guys got with this. It usually didn’t last more than a few cards and in that sense was just a small step up the risk scale from closest-to-the-wall. However, like all games, leaners had a few wrinkles that affected the excitement level and looking back, it makes me chuckle about the creativity human beings have, even at a really young age.
First, to increase the fun by increasing the difficulty / raising the stakes, guys would move much further back from the wall. 20 feet perhaps instead of 5-10. This predictably increased the number of shots required to get a leaner which mean a much bigger pile of loot to the eventual winner. And it also increased the fan appeal. Kids would gather to watch. I can remember the U-shaped pockets of kids lined up to watch the shooters in a big game, the top of the “U” being the wall, bottom being where the shooters were shooting from.
Second, there was a honour-thing instituted whereby if one guy got a leaner, the other shooter(s) were granted one last shot. If they happened to land a leaner on that shot, it was game-on. But wait! Another twist developed on this. If you could somehow get rid of the initial leaner, it was game-on as well. And so, faced with one last chance, you could either shoot for a leaner of your own, or shoot to knock the other guy’s leaner down. And if by chance you only half knocked down his leaner, or zut alors!, if in your opinion you knocked it down and in your opponent’s opinion you did not, it was war. And there was no UN, just the teacher patrolling the yard and no one wanted that form of arbitration because fairness was in the eye of the beholder and in this game, teachers were the unschooled and so could be pretty unpredictable.
What a beautiful thing a game of leaners was, when played by the gifted ones. Some guys would intentionally not try to get one early in order to get the pot to a decent size. Some were so confident in the skills they’d let the other guy get one first, knowing they had a pretty good chance on their “last card” to keep the game going. Of course, some specialized in knock-downs. They were the sharp shooters of the school yard infantry. From any distance, when the pressure was on, with their trusted card (which they kept until late the game when they needed it most), they could shoot down any leaner with nerves of steel.
And then there was the weather. Oh how the wind could wreak havoc on a game of leaners. If you think it took skill to nail a leaner from 20 feet when your opponent had just landed one, try doing it in a March wind. (In fact, if you waited, the wind would sometimes blow the other guy’s leaner down, which was another of those triggers-of-war). And if it was raining you ask? Well, rain meant doing what any smart athlete would do – change your equipment. On outdoor ice, your skates don’t need to be as sharp as they do on indoor ice. For shinny, you sometimes use your beater-stick, not your game-stick. For hockey cards in the rain, you needed a stiffer card. The wet, waffly kind would flutter too much and risk not getting there. Like a golfer putting up-hill on 18 from long distance and needing to sink it, you never wanted to come up short.
Lastly, I would be remiss in this age of the global debt crisis, if I didn’t cover off the quite frequent scenario where, during a high stakes game of leaners, one of the players ran out of money…er cards. It really wasn’t all that different than the world today. Karl was Germany, Jimmy was Ireland and Paulo was Italy. If Jimmy ran out during the game, how could the game continue without a bailout of some sort?
In these situations, it was most common for Jimmy to simply go to the markets for more cards (ie. the kids watching in the U around the game). However, when times were tough, the markets could be tough. Maybe Jimmy was simply in over his head and the odds were long that even with a loan of more cards he would ever beat both Karl and Paulo. Not to mention that while Paulo was good, he only 3 cards left himself and then would be in the boat with Jimmy. And so, as a last resort, to keep the game going, it was over to Karl. Would he lend his buddies / serfs a few to keep this game going? Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t, sometimes it resulted in a dust-up, sometimes an orderly withdrawal.
And so, it wasn’t just hockey cards we were playing, it was actually our first economics / political science / geography / finance / organization behaviour / sales course.
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.
Yes, the fans used to actually chant that when Cesare Maniago, the Minnesota North Stars main man in the cage in their early years was on his game. Is there a greater name than Cesare Maniago? I think not. I remember this goalie from the 70’s mostly because of his elegant name and a little because of the cool masks he wore.
One other memory I have, though it’s pretty faint, is watching him one Saturday night on TV when his Stars played the Leafs and he had one whale of game. Don’t remember the score but I remember him making a lot of great saves.
The pic of the hockey card is from my old collection. At Third String Goalie, here’s a blurb on the Stars in their early days as well some details on Maniago…and a picture of his cool masks.