Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Cheap skates

It’s no surprise to collectors that hounding athletes can be an expensive proposition. From trading cards to memorabilia, as well as the Sharpies, paint pens and transportation (even $55 parking tickets), the costs associated with our hobby certainly add up.

Though this isn’t exactly groundbreaking material, here’s a money-saving idea that I’ve started using – homemade autograph sheets.

By using downloaded team logos and the Microsoft Word program on my home computer, I’m able to create, in a matter of minutes, a team-specific sheet, like the one for the New York Islanders (above), for pennies.

In my case, I make them for my son, Colin, to use when I’m adding to my autographed puck collection. He does pretty well, too, considering that he’s just 4 years old, nabbing Gerry Cheevers, Joey Thornton and Alexei Yashin in recent trips.

Sure, it does take a little effort and design sense. But it could be as simple as typing the team’s name across the top of the page and placing a logo next to it. I like to add the date, though, to increase the collectability and, in the most liberal view, make it a 1/1 item.

Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of folks, mainly at American Hockey League games, have players sign logo sheets. That works, too, especially when these, ahem, collectors don’t have a clue whom they’re having sign the sheet.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Another milestone

When Mattias Weinhandl signed a New York Islanders puck (at left) following a morning skate at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H., it became the 650th of my collection. Granted, that is a lot, but I still have a long way to go to reach my goal of 915 pucks.

Weinhandl, in Manchester for a preseason game against the Bruins, was one of the 11 Islanders, including Alexei Yashin, Miroslav Satan and Alexei Zhitnik, to sign for me that day. I also got pucks autographed by recent No. 1 draft picks, Robert Nilsson, Petteri Nikolainen and Ryan O’Marra.

I’ve worn a path along Interstates 495 and 93 to Boston and Wilmington, Mass., for the Bruins' training camp. The trips, mostly on weekends, have proved fruitful, adding pucks from Andrew Raycroft, Sergei Samsonov and Alex Zhamnov.

During one of the trips I couldn’t help but notice a stark contrast between the Bruins top two goalies. Raycroft, who waged a brief holdout following a locked-out season of near inactivity, seemed to be under a great deal of stress, perpetually grumpy (nothing new, the Boston-based hounds report) and sullen. Hannu Toivonen, on the other hand, looked loose and relaxed, sporting a Napoleon Dynamite T-shirt and an easy smile as he happily signed pucks outside the Garden.

As I’ve told a couple of Bruins prospects who played in the American Hockey League last year, the lockout may have been the best thing for their careers. While established players toiled in Europe, hit the links or ate themselves out of the NHL, such Bruins players as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes, Milan Jurcina and Toivonen maintained the regimen of a season, dealt with the bumps and bruises and took giant steps in their careers.

Maybe that’s why, and this is more than just a hunch, Toivonen has had a better camp and seems to be enjoying life much more than Raycroft

Monday, September 19, 2005

Pure and simple

For those who may doubt my motivation for collecting autographs, and for those who question my choice of a hobby, take a look at the two smiling faces above.

The joy of a little boy (my son, Colin McGonnell Saar, age 4) having his picture taken with his favorite hockey player (Boston Bruins star Patrice Bergeron) and I’m pretty certain you’ll have the answer.

My thanks to Jaci Donahe, the most Wicked Bruins Fan I know, for the photo.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Some things never change

One of the main reasons I collect autographs from hockey players is that, for the most part, they’re pretty decent people who don’t mind the interaction with the fans. My guess is that most come from smaller towns throughout Canada, had good parents who taught them well and still appreciate the fact they play hockey for a living.

It doesn’t matter, either, whether the player is a star or a seventh defenseman. Dallas’ Mike Modano is just as cordial as Carolina’s Mike Commodore. And that observation, I’m glad to report, is still on the mark.

Exhibit A: new Boston Bruins defenseman Brian Leetch. A sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever he decides to retire, Leetch is always gracious, taking time to sign and chat with fans. Today was no different – he signed three pucks (a hat trick, so to speak, for me) and asked me to spread around the rumor that he was already hitting in his first practice of the year.

"Was I hitting people? Gee, I’m not a big hitter. Then again, it’s been an awfully long time since I played hockey,’’ Leetch told me outside the TD Banknorth Garden. "I was hitting people? You should tell that to more people. I want that to get around."

Even Joe Thornton was in a good and chatty mood. Granted, his demeanor usually sours as the season grows long, but he was downright jovial when I asked him to sign a couple pucks. The season in Sweden left him not only tanned and rested, but Jumbo Joe was also hilariously vulgar.

"F***in’ A, you bet I’m ready," he said, laughing, and then drove off.

Other signers included Tom Fitzgerald, Jonathan Girard, Brad Isbister, Ian Moran and Hannu Toivonen.

Pucks shown above:

Top row, from left:
New York Rangers: Brian Leetch
Toronto Maple Leafs: Brian Leetch
Team USA: Brian Leetch

Bottom row, from left:
Boston Bruins: Hannu Toivonen
World Cup of Hockey-Canada: Joe Thornton
Boston Bruins 75th Anniversary: Joe Thornton

Saturday, September 10, 2005

I'll take a dozen

Just like the pros, hockey hounds need to get in a little practice during the preseason. That’s why, two days before the official start of the Boston Bruins training camp, I made the trip down to Wilmington, Mass., this morning for Day 3 of the team’s rookie camp. And, if my first trip and getting 12 signed pucks are any indication, this could be a pretty good year.

Not only did I get two signed pucks each from Matt Lashoff and Mark Stuart, the B’s two most recent No. 1 draft picks, but I was lucky enough to have Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers sign a couple as well.

And just because it’s a rookie camp doesn’t mean you won’t find veterans. A limping Glen Murray, one of my major training camp projects, signed three pucks – Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and a Team Canada. Sergei Samsonov and Travis Green signed, too.

Prospect Andrew Alberts, impressive on defense during the Baby B’s playoff run last year, also signed a puck.

Pucks shown above:

Top row, from left
Boston Bruins 75th Anniversary: Sergei Samsonov
Toronto Maple Leafs (Original Six): Gerry Cheevers
Rochester Americans: Gerry Cheevers

Bottom row, from left:
Boston Bruins: Mark Stuart
Kitchener Rangers: Matt Lashoff
Boston Bruins: Matt Lashoff