Following his historic 1981-82 campaign, most of the hockey world was wild for Edmonton Oilers superstar Wayne Gretzky. While there were still some doubters following a 92-goal, 212-point effort, the 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee hockey set was happy to include him on plenty of cards.
Heading into this season, American collectors were denied a Topps set and London, Ontario-based O-Pee-Chee had apparent free range to do something on its own. Offered in 48-pack wax boxes which gave Canadian kids 10 cards for a quarter, the 396-card collection has a lot to offer despite having a relatively high level of production for the era. The box itself shows Gretzky in action and drew youngster in with the promise of a sickly sweet slab of gum as well.
For the second straight year, O-Pee-Chee did a run of rack packs. Containing 51 cards, they are scarcer than regular wax packs today, but will not break the back as compared to the limited release from 1981-82.
Collect All 396!
With a basic and bright design which tries its best to approximate team colors, 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee is blessed with a mix of strong rookie cards, great action and posed shots, and a mix of subset cards which collectors came to expect at the time. There are a handful of airbrushed photos to reflect trades and signings, but some other players who relocated will have a border change and a trade notation.
The backs for the cards are predominantly pink – echoing memories of the gum for collectors that ended up with a cavity or two, but O-Pee-Chee did manage to load them up with year-by-year stats and added team records, too. The biographies are often short and relied heavily on the same information from team media guides which seemed to either say things like “Jim is a bachelor” or “Bob is married. His wife’s name is Jean.” While those names are admittedly pulled out of thin air, the lack of imagination and creativity was likely the product of tight deadlines for a January, 1983 release.
The Great Gretzky Leads the Way
Kicking off the 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set is a Record Breaker subset which naturally begins with Gretzky. Most of the others are no slouch, either, as you have Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, super rookie Dale Hawerchuk, and Mikko Leinonen.
Who is Leinonen, exactly? O-Pee-Chee must have been wondering as well since he did not get a regular base card. Instead, his Record Breaker card says it all as he recorded six assists for the New York Rangers during a playoff battle with the Philadelphia Flyers on April 8, 1982. Leinonen would eventually get a rookie card in 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee and played his last NHL game with the Washington Capitals the year after that.
From there, we get each of the NHL’s 21 teams from the era in alphabetical order by city or state name. Each grouping was started with a Team Leaders card depicted each club’s top point producer which had most of their players listed on the back with expanded statistics. The regular player cards follow from there and some of the bigger names would get a second (or even third) piece of cardboard in the form of an In Action card that highlighted a specific event from the 1981-82 campaign.
Since the Colorado Rockies were relocated and became the New Jersey Devils in the summer months of 1982, O-Pee-Chee was on the ball here and managed to get most of the team in their, pardon the pun, new jerseys. There is one slight sign of the Rockies on Dennis Maruk’s In Action card as you can see the blocker of a seemingly unidentified Rockies goalie. With a bit of research, it was determined that 1980 United States Olympic Team backup goaltender Steve Janaszak is the netminder as the Rockies decal on his blocker matches up with at least one other photo. The game, a 7-1 loss in Washington, took place on November 18, 1981 and it was his second of what proved to be three career outings for him. Also appearing on the card is Colorado defender Graeme Nicolson, who never had a licensed card of his own.
A little after the mid-point of the set, there are League Leader cards which rely heavily on Gretzky. Of the nine cards, five have the Great One depicted (he shares one with Michel Goulet) and it appears that O-Pee-Chee ran out of photos of him as they were designing the set! If you look carefully at the Game-Winning Goals Leader (#242) and Scoring Leader (#243) cards, you will notice that the photo is the same, but the Game-Winning Goals card’s negative has been reversed.
Rounding out the 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set are three checklist cards. Not particularly difficult to find without marks on them, set builders do not need to compromise much on condition as compared to older sets.
Cooperalls and an Ad on the Boards
If there is one piece of equipment that screams “hockey in the 1980s”, it would have to be the long pants some teams wore on the ice that were dubbed Cooperalls. Technically, the pants the players wore were made by CCM, but the name seemed to stick instead as Cooper was a different manufacturer that developed them. They officially hit the ice early in 1981-82 as the Philadelphia Flyers were brave enough to try them out. Soon after, the Hartford Whalers followed suit, but the end result was that they were a total flop with players and fans alike. Some junior teams would wear them as the decade wore on, but the trend died out in time.
Luckily for collectors, the Flyers wore them in battle with the Washington Capitals. Caught in the act of wearing these abominations was Tom Gorence, but Paul Holmgren can also be spotted wearing them on Bengt Gustafsson’s card. Cooperalls showed up in 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee for the Flyers and Whalers before fading into obscurity.
In addition to the appearance of the Cooperalls, one of the most subtle cameos comes in the form of what is the first advertisement to appear on the boards on a hockey card photo.
While it is something that has been a part of the game’s aesthetic for decades now, ads on the boards was a fresh concept in the 1980s. It had been done for international events previously, but the NHL was slow to embrace.
However, the ad shown in the 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set only appears on a couple of Pittsburgh Penguins cards – those of rough-and-ready rearguard Pat Price and Rick MacLeish, who was in the twilight of his excellent career. The ad? It was promoting the 1982 NHL All-Star Game held at the Capital Center, home of the Washington Capitals.
An examination of Washington’s 1981-82 schedule leads one to believe that these two photos, likely taken by Jerry Wachter, are from the battle between the club which took place on January 31, 1982. It was a wild 8-3 victory for the Caps and featured a ton of fighting in the third period.
Additionally, the same ad can be seen on Pierre Aubry’s card. This was from February 7, 1982 as the Quebec Nordiques battled to a 5-5 tie with the Caps.
If you ask anyone who collected O-Pee-Chee cards in this era, they may often joke that every photo in the set seemed to be taken there. The reality, however, for the 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee collection and others of its generation is that a handful of shooters saw their work used in the set. The vast majority appear to be from Washington in this set, but some were actually taken in Chicago, Long Island, New Jersey, and New York. In particular, this is noticeable on some Edmonton Oilers and Blackhawks (then called the Black Hawks) cards like Gretzky’s In Action or Tony Esposito’s memorable base card. Interestingly, some of the New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks shots can be traced to the 1982 Stanley Cup Final and are most likely the work of the iconic Bruce Bennett.
Not all photos appear to have come from 1981-82, though. It takes a sharp eye, but if you examine Steve Payne’s card, Washington Capitals goalie Wayne Stephenson is present – but his last NHL appearance came in 1980-81.
One of the things that makes 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee so popular with hockey collectors looking to branch into vintage cards is the strong selection of rookies. There are plenty of Hall of Famers like Hawerchuk, Grant Fuhr, Ron Francis, and Joe Mullen that are affordable.
The supporting cast is nothing to sniff at, either. Look for 1980s notables like Barry Pederson, Neal Broten, the often-traded Brent Ashton, Mike Bullard, Rick Wamsley, Mark Hunter, Tomas Jonsson, Brent Sutter, Mark Pavelich, Reijo Ruotsalainen, Normand Rochefort, Paul MacLean (featuring Larry Hopkins on the front), Doug Smail, and Thomas Steen. We also get first cards for Marc Crawford (fresh off a fight) and Ivan Hlinka. Overall, it’s a solid crew of players – even if some are somewhat forgotten today.
Getting back to two of the big rookie cards, Mullen and Fuhr, the date of their photos has been determined. For Mullen, you can tell that it was taken in Madison Square Garden on March 21, 1982 since that was his only appearance in his hometown that season. He scored once and added an assist that evening in an 8-5 loss for the Blues.
For Fuhr, it took a little bit more work. Going off the fact that you can see color at the top of the boards behind him, it can be determined that the shot was taken in Chicago Stadium – which makes sense when you see all the other Oilers cards taken there. Nailing down a date was easy – January 27, 1982. This was his only appearance in Chicago that year and is backed up by the fact that he is wearing a helmet and cage combo that he was experimenting with during this part of the campaign. He wore a traditional fibreglass mask most of the time during this era and 1981-82 saw at least three designs painted on it before he settled into a fairly consistent one heading into the Stanley Cup years.
Over the past 25 to 30 years, the price of a 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee set has not moved much at all. In the pre-eBay days, sellers likely found it easier to get $100 or more for one, but it is a bit of a harder sell now. There are some great rookies and the presence of so many Gretzky cards should make it a winner, but the reality is that it was slightly over-produced – a trend that followed for the next two collections. Collectors who may focus more on classic Topps hockey sets may want to grab one for the sake of continuity, though.
Heading into the near future, the value of 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee seems to be in a holding pattern. In time, though, collectors returning to the hobby will want them for the sake of nostalgia and that may spark some growth.
You can check out 1982-83 O-Pee-Chee hockey sets, singles, lots and unopened material on eBay here.