The 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee set has a bit of a bad reputation with collectors thanks to a lack of big rookie cards and a somewhat unimaginative design. For decades, it has been relatively ignored and the reasons for that are certainly fair from an investment standpoint.
For those that have come to love it, though, 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee can have some hidden beauty which perhaps deserves a long-awaited second look. Don’t believe me, well read on with an open mind with 40 years in the rear view mirror and perhaps you’ll come to appreciate it.
First off, kids at the time were treated to an ultra-cool wrapper with art easily representing Ken Dryden of the reigning Stanley Cup champs, the Montreal Canadiens. That 1976-77 club had one of the greatest seasons in NHL history as the set a record with 60 wins during the regular campaign on the way to their second of four straight titles.
Glossy “Autographed” Photos
After being tested stateside with 1976-77 Topps, O-Pee-Chee took a cue from their parent company and gave Canadian kids a bonus Glossy Autographed Photo in every pack on top of that sickeningly sweet (but oh so great) slab of pink gum and 12 cards. Not bad for a mere 15 cents!
The Glossy inserts are smaller than the base cards and they look sharp. There is a lack of information on the back, but variation hunters will like the fact that the come with either square or rounded corners. Strangely, Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito are missing from the checklist this time around. No worries, though, as there is still plenty of star power that most fans remember today (save Dave Maloney and Tim Young, perhaps!). The pick of the bunch from an aesthetic standpoint would have to be Dryden and Rogie Vachon, the latter being the only one in the set with a horizontal photo.
Picking up a set of these inserts is still quite affordable today and it is better to pick up all 22 at once instead of hunting them all down individually.
If there is one great thing about the 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee set, it is the fact that it is loaded up with superstar players. Yes, the fronts are plain but clean and the photography is occasionally lackluster, but it is a great way to get inexpensive cards of Hall of Famers. All-Stars get a banner at the top of their cards and the backs are loaded up with tons of stats and information. However, that information can be a bit tough to read at times – particularly the comics at the bottom thanks to dark inks on top of each other.
A Rare Glimpse
The Cleveland Barons were one of two teams that were transplanted before the 1976-77 season began (the other being the Colorado Rockies). While O-Pee-Chee improvised greatly for that year’s set in order to put the former California Golden Seals with at least the logo for the Barons, the 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee set is the only time collectors would see this woeful club in full jerseys during this era.
What happened with the Barons? Well, the team only lasted two years in the Richfield Coliseum before poor attendance forced the league to merge them with the struggling Minnesota North Stars. The 1978-79 Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets airbrushed most of the players into an improvised green sweater, but over the next couple of seasons, you would still see a small handful of them in a Barons jersey. It was a short run indeed, but there is at least a small cardboard legacy for Ohio’s first NHL team.
Meet The Rookies
As mentioned above, the 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee set has a true lack of elite rookie cards. There are some players debuting that got plenty of Calder Trophy attention in 1976-77. While tough Willi Plett won the award, there are a few cards of players that made an impact in one way or another. The highlights include the controversial Mike Milbury and Don Murdoch, and enforcers such as Stan Jonathan, Dennis Polonich, and Paul Holmgren. There are a couple of solid goalies debuting here as well in future Vezina Trophy winner Don Edwards and Toronto Maple Leafs fan favorite Mike Palmateer, the latter of which has essentially become the set’s key rookie card.
One neat rookie card is of St. Louis Blues forward Rick Bourbonnais. The crazy thing about this card is that it actually depicts Hall of Famer Bernie Federko a year before he got a card of his own!
Team Logo Mania
Subsets are a major part of 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee and the perennial League Leaders subset kicks things off with eight cards. There is plenty of Hall of Fame content to be found here, with some of them showcasing three of the game’s immortals. Cards 71 to 88 are Team Checklists that have traditional posed group shots on the fronts and a place to check off your favorites on the back. Naturally, kids were prone to ticking them off as they built their sets, so it can be a minor challenge to get them unmarked.
Record Breakers make up cards 214 to 218 – and Guy Lafleur makes his presence known on three of them! These are followed by three cards which look back on the previous year’s run to the Stanley Cup that actually make up the last three cards of the Topps version of this set.
Exclusive to O-Pee-Chee here is an ambitious and attractive Team Logo collection which showed off each of the NHL’s then-lineup of 18 teams. These cards look great together in binder pages and the backs list some of each franchise’s all-time leaders. With 40 years having passed, many of those standards have long been broken, yet a few remain intact.
As with any set during O-Pee-Chee’s era of making 396-card collections, there are also three traditional checklists which most kids happily took a pen or pencil to. A quirky thing happens with card 381 as the O-Pee-Chee designers forgot to remove the name “Topps” from the front while building the card. O-Pee-Chee did correct this at some point in the print run, but the second version seems to be a little bit tougher to track down.
Speaking of the Topps set, there are a few cards which differ from the O-Pee-Chee edition as the Canadian collection was released slightly later. In addition to a few traded players that have their new teams updated, O-Pee-Chee managed to have correct photos for some players that have variants in the Topps set. Both Bernie Wolfe and Al MacAdam have the proper headshots on their fronts while Philadelphia Flyers players Rick Lapointe and Tom Bladon have the second photos that Topps used.
There are also a couple of base cards that differ greatly from the Topps set as well. Bill Fairbairn is shown with the North Stars by Topps but O-Pee-Chee decided to move his card from number 255 to 303, replacing him with Cleveland’s Bob Girard. It was a bit of an odd move, as the O-Pee-Chee card of Fairbain uses an older shot of him with the New York Rangers and reflects his being claimed off waivers by the St. Louis Blues on October 24, 1977.
The other big difference between the Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets is stemmed in tragedy. Topps has Pittsburgh Penguins blueliner Stan Gilbertson as card 203, but he was replaced by Bob Paradise, who was acquired from the Washington Capitals before the season started. Why was Gilbertson replaced? The likely answer is because he was in an auto accident before training camp and his hockey career came to a premature end as he lost part of his lower leg.
You can check out 1977-78 OPC hockey cards including sets, singles, packs and more on eBay here.