In the classic era of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards that ran from 1968-69 until 1992-93, the game’s annual showdown for the Stanley Cup was only rarely given proper tribute on cardboard.
Since O-Pee-Chee was often at the mercy of producers at Topps for card designs and the majority of their set content during this era, Canadian kids rarely got a rundown of the previous year’s clash for the Stanley Cup. As a result, seeing cards that paid tribute to these legendary moments was a treat indeed.
As a bit of history, the first Stanley Cup Finals card in a major issue set was from the iconic 1951-52 Parkhurst collection. Dubbed The Winning Goal, it used the classic Turofsky Brothers shot of Toronto’s Bill Barilko flipping the puck past Montreal’s Gerry McNeil to bring an end to the previous season. Soon after, Barilko disappeared on a fishing trip and his body was not discovered for another 11 years – a time when the Maple Leafs finally reclaimed the Cup.
By the 1972-73 season, O-Pee-Chee and Topps finally brought back proper subsets of cards covering the Stanley Cup Finals clash between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. For the next set, more of playoffs were covered on cards – a trend that remained in place for three seasons before being squashed down to between one and three cards from 1976-77 to 1980-81. After that, the postseason was basically persona non grata in O-Pee-Chee and Topps sets until the 1989-90 set that gave a brief one-card look at the thrilling victory by the Calgary Flames.
That’s right, O-Pee-Chee did not pay tribute to the Edmonton Oilers with a card commemorating their four Stanley Cup wins between 1983-84 and 1987-88. Seems crazy in retrospect, but it was a much different time for the hobby.
Here are five of the best Stanley Cup Finals-themed cards from the classic era of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards (you can find Topps versions for four of them as well):
5) 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee #83
A card that marks the end of a dynasty, the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers to claim their fourth straight title in 1978-79. This card is loved by many for featuring Ken Dryden and his mask as his all-too-short career came to a close, but we also see fellow Hall of Famer Bob Gainey here, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP. Interestingly, O-Pee-Chee did not create cards for the Semi-Finals that appeared in the Topps set that year, instead making team checklists featuring logos of the incoming Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets. Ungraded copies cost just a few dollars.
4) 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee #264
The Montreal Canadiens were at their best in 1976-77 as they went 60-8-12 and steamrolled the competition on the way to a second straight Cup. Easily sweeping the Boston Bruins, we have a great celebratory shot with Larry Robinson, Dryden, 60-goal man Steve Shutt, Bill Nyrop, and Jim Roberts. What is also great is the fact that there are no nameplates on the jerseys – something that would come into full force soon enough for the whole league. Forty years later, it’s still inexpensive.
3) 1983-84 O-Pee-Chee #2
While not a traditional Stanley Cup Final subset card, this card is still pretty amazing in a set that is a bit underrated in the eyes of some. The New York Islanders won their fourth straight Stanley Cup in 1982-83 by eliminating a promising Edmonton Oilers squad and the enduring visage of captain Denis Potvin holding the Cup high is fantastic. Even high grade examples can be had for less than dinner at your favorite restaurant.
2) 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee #216
The NHL expanded from six to 12 teams in 1967-68 and it only took a few years for the Philadelphia Flyers to morph into the Broad Street Bullies and claim a championship by beating Bobby Orr and the Bruins. Seeing Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent together here makes for an excellent, low cost card despite its jarring color comination and somewhat unappealing design. The next year, the Flyers won another by defeating the Buffalo Sabres.
1) 1973-74 O-Pee-Chee #198
The first time O-Pee-Chee showed a player holding the Cup is definitely one to add to your collection as Henri Richard is shown in the aftermath of winning a record 11th title. No other player won as many during their playing days and it is a standard that will likely not be matched. Again, less than $5 is all it takes to own one.