Completing the 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee set is a monumental task for even the most savvy and patient of hockey card collectors. The first two series, comprising #1-209, is the easy part – even with cards of the day’s biggest stars. Where the real challenge comes in is with the much scarcer third series and there is one card in it that has been quietly selling well above most collector expectations for years.
That particular pasteboard? Well, it’s the rookie card of Don Lever. Don’t believe me? Well, just take a quick search on eBay and check out recent selling prices– especially for high-grade copies.
1972-73 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Cards Explained
First, if you’re unfamiliar with 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee, it was a set that was split up into three series. The first two, which were actually released in the early part of 1973, covered NHL stars in addition to featuring Action and Trophy subsets. Some of the photos were updated from the Topps release that came out a bit earlier, especially those of players that skated for that year’s expansion clubs, the Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders.
One card, number 208, was supposed to be a third series checklist, but it was accidentally numbered 334. Each series was printed on an individual press sheet of 132 cards. This was standard operating procedure for O-Pee-Chee in this era. Many years ago, some collectors assumed that the third series featured just a single WHA card per pack, but this wasn’t the case and cards 290 to 341 were evenly distributed inside.
Packs did contain a neat bonus in the form of push-out crests of both NHL and WHA clubs, though, that have gained popularity over the years.
A Hockey Lifer
Despite finishing last overall in 1971-72, the Vancouver Canucks had the third overall pick in the 1972 Amateur Draft as the two expansion clubs were granted the top selections. The Islanders went with Billy Harris, while the Flames took future 50-goal man Jacques Richard.
In their previous drafts since entering the NHL themselves in 1970, the first picks for the Canucks were defenders in Dale Tallon and Jocelyn Guevremont. The team’s lack of scoring ability created an immediate need for someone who could put up points. Luckily, the reigning MVP of the Ontario Hockey Association was available when GM Bud Poile was ready to make a choice.
The 1971-72 campaign was an excellent one for Don Lever as he scored 61 goals and 126 points for the Niagara Falls Flyers. Even though future Hall of Famer Steve Shutt was taken next by the Montreal Canadiens, Lever had a much better shot at becoming a regular NHL player right away and fit perfectly into the Vancouver lineup. The native of South Porcupine, Ontario debuted on October 7, 1972 against the California Golden Seals. Just five days later, he would score his first goal in Philadelphia.
As the 1972-73 season progressed, Lever managed to stick around at the NHL level and had a particularly impressive showing on January 16, 1973 when he recorded four assists in a big victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the Canucks were once again destined to reside near the bottom of the standings, his eventual totals were respectable with 12 goals and 38 points to his credit.
In subsequent years, Lever became a consistent part of those early Canucks clubs and was regularly among their scoring leaders. By 1977-78, he had taken over as captain and wore the “C” on his chest as they transitioned from their blue, green, and white jerseys with the franchise’s original logo to the infamous flying V sweater the next year. Traded to the Atlanta Flames late in the 1979-80 campaign, he left as the organization’s all-time scoring leader.
Lever’s time with the Flames included the move to Calgary and ended with a trade to the Colorado Rockies. He did not stay long in Denver as that franchise was on the move in 1982 and became the New Jersey Devils. In the Meadowlands, he scored the team’s first goal and was also its original captain. His NHL days ended in 1986-87 as a member of the Buffalo Sabres and the native of South Porcupine, Ontario has been a coach and scout since that time. He presently scouts for the Chicago Blackhawks – a position he has held since 2011-12.
Don Lever’s Rookie Card Explained
So, why on Earth is Lever’s rookie card such a strong seller?
Veteran hockey card collectors have long held a theory that Lever’s first card has been actively hoarded by a mysterious super fan for years that consistently paid whatever it took to keep them out of the hands of other hobbyists (similar to what’s apparently happened with the 1964 Topps Curt Flood). As strange as that may seem, prices for high-grade copies of Lever’s rookie card are still strong and you’ll find only a few online. The fact that it was never in true shorter supply than any other card in its series does not stop the demand and it is truly one of the hobby’s headscratchers. He weas featured on other cards as his career continued and most are readily available.
Is there a secret cache of Lever’s rookie cards sitting in the hands of one collector? It is possible that no one truly knows. Then again, who doesn’t love a great cardboard mystery?