The game of hockey was aiming to grow in the 1960s and as the NHL was ready to move from the Original Six era to a 12-team league. Before expansion, it was tough to crack a roster and it was tough for a special talent to make it up – even for a few games. Sometimes, these players might have found themselves a hockey card, too.
However, even the stars can become forgotten over time – especially in a hobby where collectors always seem to be about the next big thing. Even Hall of Famers can be neglected in today’s hobby and it is time to investigate some of the decade’s best which may be undervalued once their contributions to the game are considered. You’re not going to find the likes of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito on this list, but perhaps you will find a new rookie card to add to your collection.
10) 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee Garry Unger
Before becoming the NHL’s Iron Man in the 1970s, Unger was a promising prospect that came to Detroit as part of the blockbuster 1968 trade between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs which saw Hall of Famers Norm Ullman and Frank Mahovlich switch clubs. Immediately following the move, Unger emerged as a scoring star in the Motor City and made his cardboard debut in second series packs of 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee – and his first name is incorrectly spelled.
Part of a set which has notoriously poor centering, his rookie card was also printed twice on the production sheet. As a result, prices for the card tend to be a bit softer than they could be, but the fact that the modern hobby ignores some of his excellent accomplishments and his impact on the game itself if a bit of a shame.
In Detroit, Unger proved to be a solid goal scorer and his long blonde locks had some fans swooning, but he often clashed with uptight coach Ned Harkness. Moved to the St. Louis Blues late in 1970-71, he became one of the game’s most popular stars for the rest of the decade. He put up solid numbers for many years and set a league record (since broken) for most consecutive games played.
9) 1966-67 Topps Emile Francis
While there are a handful of Hall of Fame rookie cards from the 1960s that may deserve a price boost here and there, collectors sometimes forget that coaches and executives also earn the same accolades. In the case of Emile Francis, he was a former goaltender whose time with the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks was never recognized in the early Parkhurst sets since he was relegated to being a backup for Chuck Rayner.
In 1965-66, “The Cat” took over as coach of the Broadway Blueshirts following a weak start under former bench boss Red Sullivan. The change came too late for him to replace his predecessor in that year’s Topps set, so kids had to wait until the landmark 1966-67 collection to get his card. This was the last time a Topps/O-Pee-Chee featured coaches until 1974-75, but Francis’ card is a crucial part of any vintage Rangers collection. Since he helped turn around the fortunes for the franchise and helped them to the Stanley Cup Final in 1972, fans have a soft spot for him – but his cards definitely deserve a second look as they sit back in the shadows.
8) 1963-64 Parkhurst Red Berenson
Despite being a collegiate standout and a World Champion with the 1959 Belleville McFarlands, Gordon “Red” Berenson struggled to reach stardom during the Original Six years. While he gave a respectable performance as a freshman with the Montreal Canadiens in 1962-63, he got a full-time gig the next year and was featured on two different rookie cards in the 1963-64 Parkhurst set. Exiled to the minors for most of the 1964-65 season, he was back in the lineup for a Stanley Cup victory. His time in Montreal ended thanks to a mid-season trade to New York in 1965-66 and only NHL expansion in 1967 allowed him to finally bloom.
As a member of the St. Louis Blues, he played a pivotal role in three runs to the Stanley Cup Final and he once scored six goals in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. He coached the club soon after his retirement as an active player, but his greatest contribution to the game came as long-time coach at the University of Michigan. Should he be considered for enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame? Based on his overall career, there is certainly a case to be made.
7) 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee Andre Lacroix
Lacroix saw his first NHL action in a short 15-game trial with the expansion Philadelphia Flyers in 1967-68 and had little trouble cracking their roster as a full-timer the next year. His rookie season was one of the best in the league that year (finishing fifth in Calder Trophy voting), so it was only natural that he was included alongside the previously-mentioned Unger in the second series of 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee. It should be noted that this card only appears on the uncut sheet once.
For the next few seasons, Lacroix often put up respectable numbers, but his stint with Chicago in 1971-72 was a disaster. Opting to head to the upstart World Hockey Association, he broke out of his funk and over the next seven seasons, established himself as the loop’s all-time scoring leader while skating for five different clubs. Reaching the 100-point mark each year from 1972-73 to 1977-78, he won the Bill Hunter Trophy twice after leading his peers in scoring. Such an incredible run in the NHL would have Hall of Fame voters all over him, but the accomplishments of the best WHA players remain largely ignored.
6) 1962-63 Topps Vic Hadfield
Originally a prospect in the Chicago chain, Hadfield was one of hockey’s most penalized players in the mid-1960s before finding his scoring touch as the decade progressed. After a challenging debut season with the Rangers, he was included in the 1962-63 Topps set and his rookie card is among the best the set has to offer. The fact that it has blue border which are prone to chipping make it difficult to find in top shape, but there still seems to be a lack of excitement over such a strong card.
With that being said, modern collectors should take into account the fact that Hadfield was also the first player to score 50 goals in a season as a member of the Rangers. He was part of the legendary Goal-A-Game (or GAG) Line with Jean Ratelle and Rod Gilbert and also appeared with Canada in the 1972 Summit Series. On December 2, 2018, the team finally retired his number, 11 (which was also later worn by Mark Messier).
5) 1960-61 Topps Jack McCartan
Some fans may not realize that the original Miracle on Ice for America’s national team took place at the 1960 Winter Olympics, but the gold medal victory which took place 20 years later managed to resonate more with fans as the game had started to grow so much in the United States over the course of two decades. Following that victory, the struggling New York Rangers signed Jack McCartan to a contract and he made four appearances with them to round out the 1959-60 campaign.
Sensing an opportunity to make a card of him, Topps managed to acquire a game action photo as it was developing its 1960-61 set. This card has steadily grown in value in recent years as it was the only one from his playing days – but it seems that most collectors are unaware of its significance. While there had been some hope that the 25-year-old might challenge Gump Worsley for the starting role, McCartan went 1-6-1 over eight starts in 1960-61 before being relegated to the minor for more than a decade. In 1972-73, he resurfaced in net for the WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints.
4) 1961-62 Topps Pat Stapleton
Before he developed into an All-Star defenseman in Chicago, Pat Stapleton was property of the Boston Bruins. Debuting with the club in 1961-62, it made sense for Topps to include his as part of the rookie subset, but they utilized a tightly-cropped team-issued photo which has a bit of an ummmm… odd expression on his face. The same shot, uncropped, was also used in that year’s phenomenally popular Shirriff Coins issue. Unlike the aesthetic disaster that is Stapleton’s rookie card, his first season in the NHL gave some indication of future success. While his plus-minus rating was a shocking -58, he did finish third in voting for the Calder Trophy. No matter how much it makes you cringe, his rookie card is especially undervalued when you consider what he went on to do in the game.
Exiled to the minors in 1962-63, he would not be back on NHL ice until the 1965-66 campaign with the Black Hawks (now Blackhawks). He instantly served notice that he was ready for stardom with a Second Team All-Star nod and finishing third in voting for the Norris Trophy. Into the early 1970s, he consistently put up strong numbers and back-to-back Second Team honors came in 1970-71 and 1971-72. He was part of Team Canada’s victory at the 1972 Summit Series and claims to own the puck with which Paul Henderson scored the historic winning goal. After retiring as an active player in 1977-78, he was Wayne Gretzky’s first pro coach with the Indianapolis Racers.
3) 1959-60 Parkhurst Carl Brewer
While Carl Brewer’s accomplishments on and off the ice have been previously discussed on this website in our review of the 1959-60 Parkhurst set, it has to be reinforced that his rookie card represents a truly underrated figure in hockey history. A three-time Stanley Cup champion and occasional All-Star, Brewer was a crucial part of Toronto’s Stanley Cup dynasty and his willingness to butt heads with the hockey establishment created tons of controversy as an active player and in retirement.
One of the first players to openly balk at contract offers from management, he stepped away from the game as he skated into his peak years. Figuring that an education was an excellent option instead, he managed to get reinstated as an amateur. He returned to action on and off again as the 1970s dawned, but his greatest accomplishment was standing alongside his peers to go after former NHLPA head Alan Eagleson (who was also his former agent and friend) and rightfully claim misappropriated funds which were meant to support them in retirement. Sadly, he passed away in 2001. Modern collectors do not normally see him in sets, so his impressive legacy has faded somewhat in the hobby – but there is no excuse to not pick up his incredibly important rookie card.
2) 1962-63 Parkhurst J.C. Tremblay
One of hockey’s top offensive blueliners in the 1960s and 1970s, J.C. Tremblay is one of the most notable absences from the Hockey Hall of Fame. A quick examination of his accomplishments support the idea and his cardboard debut came in the 1962-63 Parkhurst collection. His rookie card is the last in the set (#54) and features a clean design in addition to bearing a slight premium since many kids placed it at the end of their stacks – or even wrapped it up with a rubber band!
By the middle of the decade, Tremblay was regularly given consideration by Norris Trophy voters and many observers argued that he should have been awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP in 1966. All told, he won five Stanley Cups in Montreal over a seven-season span and seemed to be on track to become one of the NHL’s all-time greats before making the decision to jump to the WHA’s Quebec Nordiques in 1972-73.
In the Rival League, Tremblay was easily the best defender around. He won the Dennis A. Murphy Trophy twice – a feat no other blueliner accomplished in the league’s seven-year history. He did not join the club when it was absorbed into the NHL as he had nobly donated his kidney to his daughter in 1979. He passed away from kidney cancer 16 years later, but his incredible legacy awaits its rightful acknowledgement from the Hall of Fame.
1) 1964-65 Topps Roger Crozier
The player who beat out Tremblay for the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1966 was Crozier, who was one of the most outstanding goaltenders of his generation. Breaking in with the Detroit Red Wings with Terry Sawchuk starting to fall out of favor in 1963-64, he assumed the full-time role with the club the next year and won a rookie-record 40 games on the way to the Calder Trophy.
Kids at the time were happy to see him in packs of first series 1964-65 Topps cards – even if the tall boys made them scratch their heads a bit. Since the set is so polarizing among vintage collectors, it is easy to see why Crozier’s first card can sometimes get lost in the shuffle – especially when there are so many shortprints and a high number series which are in high demand.
Crozier’s battles with physical and mental health issues as the 1960s moved forward saw him retire briefly, but he was back again soon enough. The problem, however, is that expansion was not kind to the Red Wings and the team slipped down the standings despite his incredible play. He was a major influence on many up-and-coming goalies at the time as well.
Traded to the all-new Buffalo Sabres following the 1970 NHL Expansion Draft, Crozier gave his new team some much-needed stability in their early years. In 1974-75, he was part of a three-goalie system that went to the Stanley Cup Final and he fell short for the third time. In his final campaign, 1976-77, he appeared in three games for the Washington Capitals before retiring.
Several rookie cards from the 1960s came close to making the cut and include 1960-61 Parkhurst John McKenzie, 1961-62 Topps Ted Green, 1965-66 Topps Ken Hodge, 1965-66 Topps Dennis Hull, 1965-66 Topps Jim Roberts, 1966-67 Topps Harry Sinden, 1967-68 Topps Carol Vadnais, and 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee Bill White.