By Joey Collins aka joecoolio

From the mindset of a young collector, the thrill of opening a pack of hockey cards is indescribable. When you’re a kid, you know nothing of boundaries. Personally, I would imagine there were a million cards and every pack I opened would bring forth new and wondrous pictures, teams and players. Every player was a superstar; there was no such thing as a common player. I would always cherish when I pulled a card of a team captain. Every year I would look forward to buying the new season of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards. I remember collecting and separating all my cards into teams with elastics grouping them together, not caring about the value of keeping a pristine card. Plastic holders did not even exist then. No one would imagine that a player’s picture on a piece of cardboard would be considered valuable in the future. I can’t even imagine how many Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky rookie cards had been creased, ripped and even drawn on (I think everyone drew a mustache on a hockey card at some point in their lives). It was fun and cheap for a young collector. Each pack was only 35 cents.

Something happened in the early 1990s that changed the industry forever. It seems someone woke up one day and decided hockey cards were valuable. Overnight, prices started to skyrocket and companies started producing hockey cards at an alarming rate. Newer companies and products were appearing out of nowhere; it seemed everyone wanted a piece of the hockey card pie. All of a sudden it did not cost 35 cents anymore for a pack. It was now three, four, and five dollars a pack. Even the “cheap” cards were more than a dollar a pack.

As a kid who loved to collect, I relished the idea that my old cards were worth something, but the price of newer cards severely limited my ability to collect. I bought, traded and sold many cards during the excitement of the early 1990s. It seemed to be an industry where everyone was making money. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to come crashing down. Companies had overproduced many great cards which should be valuable almost 20 years later. The rookies that came out of the early 1990s were unbelievable. Guys like Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur, sure-fire Hall of Famers, have rookie cards that are next to worthless, even for the “premium” products at the time. Many cards people thought were worth big money, now no one wanted. Why? Mainly because we all had the same cards, there was no standard in the industry and it became oversaturated. Greedy companies made big money selling way too many cards to everyone. It seemed the industry soured and everyone turned away. Talk to any guy in their 30s today and chances are they have the entire Upper Deck or Score set from 1990, but quit collecting after that.

Over the next several years, many card companies went out of business. With people losing their interest in the industry due to oversaturation, companies had no choice but to close up shop. No one wanted regular overpriced cards, or any cards for that matter. It was just these past few years that standards and value have been added back into the industry. Products are now more limited and strict ratios are put on cases and boxes to ensure some control is kept over what is released. Hockey cards are, for the most part, still expensive. But now people have taken collecting to the next level. Gone are the days of a plain card. Now you can get autographs, game used memorabilia, short prints, parallel variations and all sorts of different kinds of beautiful cards in different products. The thrill of hockey cards seems to have returned for card collectors, although these days it seems more like a lottery ticket or investment than good youthful exuberance.

One thing that has remained constant has been the thrill of pulling the first card of that next great player. This card is affectionately known as the “Rookie Card.” Every product released nowadays has rookie cards in some way or form. Ever since I was a kid, it was exciting to pull that new player every year – the good, young player everyone wanted to have. The rookie card – it’s simple and powerful. Every year there are new batches of young players who enter the NHL searching for greatness. This is the reason I am still an avid collector. Big companies, special cards and products will come and go. The constant is the thrill of pulling that next great player. This still brings the little boy out of me, which is to me the passion of hobby card collecting.