One of the greatest quirks about classic O-Pee-Chee cards regardless of sport was that the London, Ontario-based company was quick to update their cards with notations of trades or other player movement. The familiar “Now With…” notation was a part of Canadian childhood for many years as we saw many of our favorite players in their old uniforms since there was not enough time for the photos to be airbrushed and it became commonplace starting with the 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee set.
Whether you loved it or hated it, the concept of a card reflecting a trade with a last-minute notation was not an entirely new concept to hockey card collectors as it had been done on a limited scale five years earlier. The print runs for each series of 1970-71 O-Pee-Chee were interrupted to update the cards of Brit Selby and Mickey Redmond. The “non-traded” Selby card is regarded by most hardcore O-Pee-Chee enthusiasts to be perhaps the toughest card to get from the brand’s classic run from 1968-69 to 1992-93 as it was corrected so quickly in the print run.
The same thing happened in a slightly different fashion with 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee as most of the print run saw eight cards changed up to reflect the depicted players moving to other clubs but also without the trade being noted. Four of them were involved in one of the decade’s most memorable deals on November 5, 1975 as the Boston Bruins shockingly moved Phil Esposito (#200) and Carol Vadnais (#27) to the New York Rangers for Jean Ratelle (#243) and Brad Park (#260).
Joe Zanussi also went to Boston in the trade, but he did not receive a card until the following year’s O-Pee-Chee set. The deal ultimately paid off for both clubs, but fans were devastated in both cities initially as fan favorites were involved.
As for the other four cards that come in traded and non-traded varieties, they feature players that are typically relegated to the commons bin – except in this case. First up, we have Bob Paradise. A former American Olympian, he was shipped off to the then-woeful Washington Capitals on November 26, 1975 by Pittsburgh for a second round draft pick in 1976 that turned out to be long-time Penguins forward Greg Malone. He is followed on the checklist of trade variations by veteran Bryan Hextall, who went from Detroit to the Minnesota on November 21, 1975 for an obscure played named Rick Chinnick, who never had a major hockey card. The 1975-76 campaign was Hextall’s last in the NHL.
Gary Bergman, a rock-hard defender that had starred for the Red Wings for over a decade and skated for Team Canada in 1972, gets his last O-Pee-Chee card here and the trade that sent him to the second-year Kansas City Scouts really should have been noted throughout the print run as it took place on August 22, 1975. The deal saw him, along with goalie Bill McKenzie leave the Motor City and Peter McDuffe and Glen Burdon don the winged wheel. Strangely, McDuffe’s card in the set was given a traded notation from the start, so this was obviously an oversight the O-Pee-Chee proofer needed to correct. Even stranger is the fact that the date listed on the card disagrees with other records for the trade.
Finally, we have Pierre Jarry’s two cards. A former first round pick of the New York Rangers, he spent parts of three seasons with Toronto before trying to settle in with the Red Wings. He split the 1974-75 season between Detroit and their AHL farm club in Virginia and became expendable on November 25, 1975 as he was given up to the North Stars for a somewhat marginal player named Don Martineau.
This was the only player exclusive to the 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee set that did not have a corresponding card in the Topps release that has a traded and non-traded variation.
It should be noted that some players among the last 66 cards do note trades, but these notations were done before the sheets went to press.
The scarcity of the traded cards over their plain variations does see them command a premium at times, but some occasionally fall through the cracks and can be had at bargain prices. It is difficult to ascertain when the changes were made on the production sheets, but they do add something special to what some view as a relatively mundane set.
For a thin dime, Canadian kids were able to crack open a pack of eight 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee cards in addition to getting a slab of that pink and sickly sweet gum. With a simple design and a few high-end rookie cards, it tends to get ignored by collectors – but there is still plenty to appreciate.
This set marked the second straight year that O-Pee-Chee went big with a 396-card set – a trend that lasted for 11 seasons in total. Compared to the Topps version which came out a bit earlier in the season, it has 66 cards exclusive to it and the backs are a darker shade of brown and each basic player card has a cartoon which covers interesting topics such as hockey history and referee signals.
Meet the Rookies
The rookie card selection for 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee lacks much of the excitement of the previous release as it does miss out on a few of the bigger rookies from the 1974-75 season. Among the cards exclusive to O-Pee-Chee in the first of the 396-card sets were 1974 top picks like Greg Joly, Wilf Paiement, and Rick Hampton. On top of that, they slipped Rick Middleton and Glenn “Chico” Resch onto the checklist. Had O-Pee-Chee had held out on Middleton, he would have easily be considered the best rookie card in the set.
So, what about the rest of the rookie cards found in 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee? It is not as bad as the set’s reputation might lead you to believe. This set often gets lumped in with the two that follow it as having a generally week selection of freshman cardboard, but there are some names that made an impact or stuck around the NHL for a while. For example, you get the rookie card of Mike Marson, who was the first African-Canadian to be drafted by an NHL team (Washington) and St. Louis Blues tough guy Bob Gassoff, who passed away in a motorcycle accident in 1977 and his number was retired by the team soon after.
The Buffalo Sabres, who went to the Stanley Cup Final in 1975, had several young stars on the club and four of them debuted in this set. The best of the bunch is Danny Gare, who had multiple 50-goal seasons. You also get Peter McNab, who was a great sniper once he was in a Bruins uniform and is still relevant to fans today due to his broadcasting role in Colorado. Bill Hajt patrolled the Sabres blue line for over a decade and Lee Fogolin was a second-generation defender that later captained the Edmonton Oilers as they developed into Stanley Cup winners.
Speaking of Stanley Cup winners, there are a couple of Montreal Canadiens players getting rookie cards that were part of the dynasty that won four straight championships from 1976 to 1979. Both Doug Risebrough and Mario Tremblay went on to become coaches in retirement, but their cards are unique in the fact that they are uncorrected errors. Risebrough’s card depicts Hall of Famer Bob Gainey while Tremblay’s has a posed head shot of Gord MacTavish, who never made it to the Habs’ roster but did skate for the first-year Winnipeg Jets in 1979-80.
The lone Hall of Fame rookie card in the set belongs to Clark Gillies, a physically imposing forward and exemplary leader that won four Stanley Cup titles with the New York Islanders. We also get Bob Bourne, who was part of those championship teams and later won the Masterton Trophy toward the end of his career. This set also presents the debut cardboard for Pierre Larouche, who delivered his first 50-goal season with Pittsburgh in 1975-76 and later repeated the feat as a member of the Canadiens. Closing out the set, though, is a true cult favorite in the form of Vancouver Canucks blueliner Harold Snepsts – spotted here without his iconic Fu-Manchu.
Other rookie cards of note in 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee include 40-goal scorer Errol Thompson, long-time New York Rangers defender Ron Greschner, and future NHL executive Colin Campbell.
The 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee set features a virtual who’s who of talent from the 18 NHL squads active at the time. The are some interesting cards to be found, including the last of Bobby Orr in his Bruins jersey during his playing days. Guy Lafleur is mysteriously listed as a defenseman and as a centre on the back, when he played at right wing. Yvan Cournoyer is also called “Yvon” on the front of his card.
Speaking of Cournoyer, he makes a cameo appearance on teammate Yvon Lambert’s card – who is holding off Capitals defender Yvon Labre.
This set also marks the first time that hockey action photos by Jerry Wachter appeared on cards since Washington had strobe lighting to provide excellent shots. Those shots were an important part of O-Pee-Chee sets going forward and helped make hockey cards more visually dynamic. For O-Pee-Chee, the company no longer had to send photographers around during training camp to get photos, but it would still utilize posed head shots on occasion for years to follow. There are still a large amount of them in this set, but it was a trend that was definitely on its way out thanks to the willingness to purchase shots from the likes of Wachter, Steve Babineau, and Bruce Bennett.
Other uncorrected errors of note in the set include incorrectly spelled names on the backs of the Buffalo Sabres, Kansas City Scouts, Philadelphia Flyers, and Vancouver Canucks team cards (Gerry Desjardins and “Gary”, Denis Dupere as “Dennis”, Philadelphia as “Philadelphis”, and Mike Robitaille incorrectly listed as card #242). Ted Irvine, who is the father of pro wrestler Chris Jericho, does not appear on his card and Ted Harris is shown instead. Other mistaken identities include Don Saleski showing up on the card of Terry Crisp and Stan Gilbertson’s card depicting Denis Dupere.
Collectors appreciate the 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee set for its vast array of Hall of Fame talent, but it also gets points for including a decent variety of subsets. The set kicks off with seven cards covering most of the 1974-75 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the backs feature a list of scoring leaders from each series outside of the preliminary round. There was some attempt to get action shots from the actual series, but that was limited to those involving the Buffalo Sabres. The photos on those cards were likely taken by Bill Wippert.
Next up were the team photos, which returned for a third straight season. All 18 teams at the time were represented, but the backs were not updated from the Topps set. As a result, any cards after number 312 are not shown on any of them. Finding unmarked team cards can be a bit of a challenge, but it is fun to look at the photos for cameos of notable coaches and executives in addition to players that did not get cards of their own. Also, the pants on the training staff for the Sabres are particularly awesome and make for a memorable piece of cardboard.
League Leaders are back again as well and are naturally loaded up with multiple stars on most cards, but suffer a bit in popularity due to a bland look. There is a neat one, though, which covers the 1974-75 penalty minutes leaders and it commemorates Dave Schultz setting the NHL’s all-time record for time spent in the sin bin during the regular schedule – a whopping 472 minutes! Members of the previous year’s First and Second All-Star Teams make up a dozen cards and there are some great names, but the backs also feature a few cartoons specific to the player.
The Bobby Orr All-Star card has a great action shot and Guy Lapointe’s includes a cameo of Glen Sather in a Canadiens uniform. The future Edmonton Oilers coach and Hall of Famer only spent one season in Montreal and his regular card in this set was airbrushed to reflect his being traded to the North Stars.
The final subset found in the 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee set are Team Leaders, which is a concept that had been introduced the season before. Each card has at least four different head shots and there are some teams where a player appears more than once. Due to a lack of enough photos, Topps occasionally re-used, zoomed in, or flipped the shots and it is quite apparent at times (ie. the Stan Mikita picture on the Chicago Blackhawks Team Leaders card). Despite that, the cards look great and there is even the quirkiness of a tilted Penguins logo on that club’s card.
Where is Card #395?
Finally, we come to one of the more mysterious aspects of 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee. Since Topps had laid out most of the set’s structure, there were three checklists letting collectors know who the first 330 cards were. Since O-Pee-Chee did not want to change the cards drastically to reflect 132 cards each instead, a fourth checklist was added covering the last 66 cards.
Where this creates a problem is in the fact that this fourth tally card was meant to be numbered #395 as per the card itself and was printed with #267 instead, like the one covering cards #221 to #330. This is rather similar to what happened in 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee where card #208 was meant to be the third series checklist, but cards in packs had the number 334 instead and two versions were produced with distinct backs. The card that was meant to be number #395 also has an uncorrected error as Snepsts is incorrectly spelled as Snepts
An Odd Legacy
In the pantheon of hockey card sets, 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee will never rank near the top, but that does not meant that it does not have plenty to offer. It is solid in terms of star power, but a relatively underwhelming group of rookie cards holds it back.
You can see 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee hockey cards on eBay here.