Owning and operating a hockey card store is a full-time job and can have a lot of demands. It also has a lot of great opportunities to connect with people across the country who also share a deep love and appreciation for the game of hockey. Once in a while you get the chance to visit some of the great hockey cities, meet with old friends, and experience first-hand the game in all of its true glory. Earlier in February, Players Choice owner Jason Wobshall got to do a little bit of everything in Montreal. A trip to the home of hockey’s most storied franchise allowed Jason to pick up some amazing new items for the store, connect with some fellow collectors, take in a Habs-Leafs game, and catch up with two very special friends of the shop.
As ever, a winter day in Montreal is a lot different from Kelowna. While our fair city gets a little glimpse of harsh weather from time to time, a major snowfall in Montreal is on a very different level. There was enough snow out that people were literally digging out their vehicles in the morning, but it never had an impact on the fans at the Bell Centre. More about that later…
The first order of business on the trip was to meet up with Yvan Cournoyer, one of the game’s all-time great players and winner of 10 Stanley Cup with the Canadiens during his storied career. Long-time supporters of the store will have fond memories of meeting the Roadrunner when he came to visit Players Choice in 2015 for an autograph session and meet & greet. He was as gracious as ever in spending several hours with Jason and other shop owners reminiscing, sharing stories, and even gifting Jason with a new bottle of aged whisky that now sits in one of the store’s display cases…oh, and a pair of tickets for a Saturday night game at the Bell Centre between the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs.
From there, Jason met up with an old friend for a special tour of the old Montreal Forum. For those who don’t know, since the Canadiens moved to the Bell Centre in 1996, the Forum has been converted into a shopping mall complete with a theatre, restaurants and one of the city’s most renowned card stores, Robert Girard Sports. Through all the changes and renovations, the old spot that used to serve as Centre Ice for Canadiens home games remains intact, a fitting tribute for fans who make the trek to visit the storied old arena.
Saturday night. Hockey Night in Canada. The Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs. For anybody who has ever been a hockey fan, you know how special these nights are. While the rivalry of years gone by isn’t what it was, and the two teams haven’t met in the playoffs since 1979, these games are still very special, and Jason’s experience was definitely a memorable one. In addition to attending with tickets from Mr. Cournoyer, Jason also had the rare privilege to visit the Canadiens Alumni Room. He rubbed shoulders with the likes of Vincent Damphousse, Rejean Houle, along with another old friend of the store, Bobby Hull, who was there as a special guest of Mme. Elise Beliveau. This is “the room that Jean built” as it was Mr. Beliveau’s initiative to have a special location for the Canadiens retired players to visit during the games. While in the room, Jason got to see the famous torch that was present at the closing of the Montreal Forum and gets occasionally brought out for special ceremonies. Watch the full closing ceremony from the Forum here (including the 9-minute ovation for The Rocket).
In addition to enjoying the Alumni Room, Jason also got to run into one of hockey’s most recognizable mascots, Youppi!, during the intermission. That’s a photo opportunity you can’t pass up, because you never know when you’ll get another chance!
The game itself had a thrilling finish. The two teams were deadlocked at 1-1 after 60 minutes, and overtime was necessary to settle the score. After a great save by Carey Price on John Tavares, Canadiens rookie sensation Nick Suzuki (we will have his Young Guns rookies in stock very soon!) went in on a breakaway to have a chance to win the game. Leafs goalie Jack Campbell poked the puck away at the last moment, but it ended up right on the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk, who buried it into the back of the net, sending the Bell Centre into pandemonium. It’s been a tough season for the Habs, but this moment is a real highlight of the year for the team and its fans.
There was a lot of fun to be had in Montreal that weekend, but there was also some business taking place during this trip. Jason returned to Kelowna with a handful of new items for the store and for some of the collectors who frequent Players Choice. Some of these items will be going into private collections, but we can share some pictures of some of the great pieces that were acquired. Collectors who were in the store during National Hockey Card Day would have seen Jason wearing a new ring. That piece of jewelry belonged to Lorne “Gump” Worsley, and was his Hall of Fame induction ring.
In addition to that exceptional piece, Jason also came back with a true treasure of hockey history: Maurice Richard’s rookie contract with the Canadiens. This item is going into a personal collection, but we have a couple of neat details about the Rocket’s original deal. He was to receive $7,500 per year for a 2-year deal, and it also came with some bonuses if the Habs finished in 1st or 2nd in the League those years. The other big detail was that if Richard scored 15 goals in a season he would receive a $250 bonus plus $25 for each additional goal. The Canadiens had to pay up in 1943-44 as the young Rocket scored 32 goals that season for a total bonus of $675. This piece will definitely be treasured by the Habs fan who owns this for many years to come.
There are a few other items that we’ll be sharing with collectors in store in the weeks ahead. Come to the store to check them out!