For just over a decade, Canadian kids had the same amount of hockey cards to collect each year. The “396” era came to a close with 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee – a set which ranks among the best the company ever released thanks to a sharp and colorful design, tons of big rookie cards, and an awesome contest.
What the card-buying public north of the border was not prepared for, though, was an increase from 25 cents a pack to 35. Granted, there were 15 cards in a pack along with a sweepstakes entry or instant win card.
The grand prizes were trips for a family of four to go to a Stanley Cup playoffs game in a city closest to them (along with flight, hotel, and $300 in spending cash). In order to enter, folks needed to get an entry featuring a line drawing for all six positions and mail it in by the end of March, 1985. The instant win prizes were very cool as well with the chance to win a pair of skates or a complete set of that year’s cards on three uncut sheets. Which would you have rather had? I’m going with the sheets!
Today, the instant winner cards do occasionally pop up for sale and are red and yellow to differentiate themselves from the regular contest cards.
Best of the Decade?
Getting to the set, it was a bit of a landmark in terms of design. For the first time, two player photos appeared on the basic player cards and team colors were used perfectly along with them. Regarded by many collectors to be the best hockey card design of the 1980s, there was also more strong game action photography than seen in previous years – especially for goalies.
This season also marked the return of Topps to the hockey card market. While their version of the set was condensed down to a mere 165 cards, O-Pee-Chee took it to the limit with a stronger focus on the seven Canadian-based teams of that period. For those of us that look carefully enough, you can spot which cards were in the Topps collection as well thanks to a slightly different typeset.
The set was split into American teams for cards 1 to 206 and they were followed by a dozen cards paying tribute to members of the 1983-84 NHL First and Second All-Star Teams. From cards 219 to 351, there were even more players represented on Canada’s clubs.
Subsets Offer More Than Gretzky
Rounding out the 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee set were more subsets, starting with Team Leaders. For some reason, the Hartford Whalers were out of sync with the others and saved for the end. Also, the St. Louis Blues were a bit different than the others thanks to future Hall of Famers Bernie Federko and Joe Mullen sharing the card. However, the design team transposed their photos and the error was never corrected. Several League Leaders were spotlighted for categories ranging from points to save percentage. Next up were seven Trophy Winners and six Record Breakers and it all closed with a trio of checklists.
Naturally, there were more cards of Wayne Gretzky in 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee than any other player as he not only had a basic card, but also was found in the All-Star, Team Leaders, Trophy Winners (twice) and League Leaders (four), and Record Breakers. While that makes for a whopping 10 cards of the Great One, they remain quite affordable today.
Hall of Fame Rookie Card Lineup
Getting back to the base set, it is loaded up with lots of Hall of Fame talent and perfectly captures the excitement of the era. What most collectors seem to be drawn to, though, is the plethora of Hall of Fame rookie cards. Looking at the checklist, you have Dave Andreychuk, Steve Yzerman, Pat LaFontaine, Doug Gilmour, Chris Chelios, and Cam Neely. On top of that, there are plenty of Hall of Very Good names as well like Tom Barrasso, Pat Verbeek, Dave Poulin, and Hakan Loob.
All told, building a set of 1984-85 O-Pee-Chee is a moderate challenge that is not too hard on your wallet. Purchasing a complete set tends to be a more economical way of doing it and some may even be brave enough to build it from sealed vintage packs that will not break the bank. The reason for that may be linked more to the fact that O-Pee-Chee was in full-blown production mode in this era – something the company cut down dramatically the next season.
You can see 1984-85 OPC hockey cards on eBay here.