By Karine Hains aka Pheebs888

December 23rd 1991, it’s cold in Quebec City, very cold… That doesn’t stop my cousins and me from heading to the local ice rink for our (almost) daily fix of hockey. There big kids, small kids, parents are absorbed in a 25 a-side match which will likely last all day. You lace up your skates and join one of the teams, whichever one takes your fancy and you play until you looks suspiciously like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. Once the likeness is achieved, you wave a white flag and retreat to the rink’s locker room where you can not only get yourself a cup of hot chocolate but also get on with the day’s trading.

Inside the small building, there are over excited kids everywhere you look. Some are sat at tables, others on the benches, some are even sat on the floor but all of them have got one thing in common; they are all holding hockey cards and trying to pull out THE deal for the cards they are still chasing on their wantlist. My cousin and I remove our skates and big winter jackets before moving from one group to the other on the lookout for the one card we all want: CC2 The Mask Patrick Roy. Unfortunately once more, it looks like no one either has or is willing to move the object of our desire. We therefore go and sit by the furnace to warm up a little bit before braving the cold again for another fix of hockey.

At 5.00 PM, we have to head home. Worried that we might have forgotten how to make our way home, our mothers came to get us. Apparently, 5 hours at the ice rink is long enough. We protest but they are categorical, we are going home now. Coming to the realisation that we will not succeed in staying at the rink any longer, we change tactics and try to at least request a stop at the corner shop to get a few packs of hockey cards. After all, we are good kids and happily complying with the instructions given to get ready to go home so surely we at least deserve that! Shockingly enough though, our pleas are ignored and we are forced to get in the car without any compensation. As unacceptable as this seems to us, we decide not to make a fuss, all too aware that come midnight tomorrow we will be handed (hopefully) a truckload of presents. Later that night, we all go to bed early in the hope that when we wake up, an insane amount of presents will have made their way to the foot of the Christmas three.

Surely enough when I open my eyes at 6.00 the next morning, I run down the stairs (nearly breaking my neck in the process) to find dozens of multicoloured packages just waiting to be unwrapped when the clock turns to 12.01 AM. Silently, I tip toe around the tree not touching any of the packages but attempting to nonetheless see who each of them is for. Unfortunately for me, Santa’s little helpers (our parents no doubt) have done a fantastic job of piling on the boxes so that the name tags cannot even be seen. I still carry on a thorough inspection and find 3 highly suspicious packages which are all of the same dimensions and wrapped in the same paper…The packages are exactly the same size as a full box of Pro Set cards but could it be? Neither my two cousins or myself have ever gotten more than 4 packs at a time…Satisfied that there are enough presents under the tree and that a good time should be had by all later that night, I run back to bed and try to go back to sleep but the excitement is just too much to cope with..

Thankfully, my mom has to get everything ready for the evening’s celebrations and by 7 AM, everyone is up and busying themselves with whatever task has been assigned to them by her. The day just flies by and soon enough, the celebrations are in full swing. The music, the drinks, the food, the laughter and the games are everywhere but as the clock nears midnight, us kids forget about the Donkey Kong game we have been playing on the Atari. We are slowly but surely moving nearer and nearer to the Christmas tree in the hope that someone will declare that it is now time for the presents. At ten to midnight, we notice that our youngest uncle has now left the room, this can only mean one thing, he is going to be Santa this year. My oldest cousin and I exchange a knowing look and make a silent promise not to say anything about this, after all his brother is only 5 and still believes in good old St. Nicholas. Surely enough, ten minutes later he reappears this time is a bright red outfit stuffed with plenty of pillows to make him look like your typical shopping mall Santa and just like that, the real fun begins. The mountain of presents is attacked and one at a time, they are distributed to the right recipients until Santa comes across the 3 packets of the same size wrapped in the same wrapping paper. He slowly looks around the room and asks if there are any hockey fans in attendance. We see that as our cue to run towards him and promptly proceed to attempt to mug Santa for the packages. He merely put on a fight before handing over the goods and in a symphony of synchronized unwrapping, 3 boxes of 36 packs of Pro-Set cards are revealed in all their glory. Amazed at our luck we look around the room wanting to locate an appropriate spot to bust our multiple packs there and then. Mom knowing us all too well says that we need to finish unwrapping all the presents before we can “play” with any of them (“play”?!?! How dare she?!? This is serious business! No one is going to “play” with those!). We once again do as we are told and carry on opening presents (it’s a hard life but someone has got to do it) until the floor looks like an ocean of torn wrapping paper and we are authorized to go play.

Curled up on the sofa, we start discussing the best way to go about unwrapping our new treasures and come to the conclusion that we could make the fun last a lot longer if we put our 108 packs together, open them all and then proceed to do a draft. And so, it begins, we rip pack after pack marvelling at the players we pull and amazed that in 3 boxes we manage to pull two copies of The Mask. My oldest cousin and I are all too aware that I am likely to miss out on that card having lost the “random” draw made by my dad (which suspiciously resulted in the youngest picking first and the oldest (me) picking last) but I’m having such a good time that I’m not really worried. When the first pick is made, we are all shocked to find out that my youngest cousin prefers the Mario Lemieux Captain card over The Mask and just like that, with the 3rd overall pick, I am able to select the card I have been longing for since early September.

That Christmas was 20 years ago but I still remember it like it was yesterday, the pack busting and drafting kept us busy for several hours and we both completed our set that night (my youngest cousin was still in the “recreating a match on the floor with the cards” stage so he was not doing a set). When we went to bed, we had made memories that would last us a lifetime and our passion for collecting would never fade.