One of the most memorable things for Canadian kids growing up in the 1980s was O-Pee-Chee’s annual hockey sticker album which let you affix the day’s hottest stars to its pages and provided a sense of accomplishment once all the stickers were inside. The fun all started with 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Stickers – a test issue purported to only be available in Ontario and Quebec before that season’s hockey cards hit store shelves.
The idea of an album featuring stamps of hockey stars was hardly something new in Canada, though. A little over a decade earlier, the 1970-71 Esso Power Players were a national sensation as kids descended upon gas stations or begged their parents to grab a pack when filling up. There was some excitement from 1970-71 to 1972-73 for the stamps produced by Eddie Sargent Promotions that could be found at grocery stores and in 1974-75, there was an impressive collection of NHL Action Players that could be purchased by the pack at Loblaw’s grocery stores.
After a slight drought, Canadian collectors were treated to the Hockey ’79 sticker collection that was produced in Italy by Panini. This release only featured skaters from the IIHF World Championship with a handful of NHL players in their national sweaters, but it ultimately helped lead into a relationship between that company and O-Pee-Chee. The results proved to be interesting and helped kick off a cultural phenomenon of sorts.
An Inexpensive Proposal
For a mere 15 cents, kids could open up a packet of four stickers and some of them were printed on foil stock. Releasing in late 1981, they were roughly half the size of a hockey card at 1 15/16″ x 2 9/16″. The stickers could be peeled off the backing and placed anywhere – but the intention was for them to go into the album, which could be purchased for a mere 25 cents – the same price of a pack of cards that were scheduled to come out a few weeks later.
Featured on the 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Stickers album cover was Toronto Maple Leafs captain Darryl Sittler breaking in on Washington Capitals goaltender Wayne Stephenson with Ryan Walter in hot pursuit. Strangely, the nameplates on their jerseys appear to be airbrushed out – a bit of a strange decision even then. Some of the stickers were previewed on the front too, including then-rising superstar Wayne Gretzky along with Guy Lafleur and Peter Stastny. The player selection made perfect sense when the target market is considered.
The 32-page album had spaces for all 21 teams from the era with two-page spreads for the Montreal Canadiens and the Maple Leafs. The interior cover had a list of recent award winners along with a space where the album’s owner could put in their contact information along with a spot to paste their school photo. It was a bit of a personal touch, quaint by today’s standards.
The first page had a six-sticker puzzle which allowed kids to assemble an image of the Stanley Cup. These stickers were printed on foil and could look a bit off-kilter if the centering of a sticker or two was off from the rest. A list of Stanley Cup champions also provided a taste of hockey history, too. The next two pages paid tribute to the previous season’s run to the Stanley Cup and featured game action which was often from the actual playoff series. Some were puzzles and there were some additional stickers for postseason heroes like Jari Kurri, Pat Riggin, and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Butch Goring.
Next up was two pages for the Canadiens and included here is a two-piece puzzle for the Prince of Wales Trophy. At that time, the award was given to the regular season champion from the Wales Conference, but that changed in 1981-82 as it started to go to the Conference’s representative going into the Stanley Cup Final. The team pages included a screened image of a player in action in blue or red and the dual-page spreads gave four players from each club a second sticker. Some basic information on the players is provided in the form of height, weight, hometown, and date of birth. However, no statistics are given.
Clubs are grouped together by division as configurations had changed in 1981-82 as the NHL was looking to help its teams cut down on travel expenses and build rivalries. The Canadiens were part of the Adams Division and followed by the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Quebec Nordiques, and Hartford Whalers. The Whalers page includes Norm Barnes, Rick Ley, and Jordy Douglas – all of whom did not make it into that year’s hockey card set for some unknown reason.
Putting On The Foil
Between the Adams Division and the Norris Division, there was a single Super Action page that included three multi-sticker puzzles. There were some interesting cameos here as Pierre Bouchard of the Capitals is depicted alongside Boston’s Wayne Cashman on a shot dating from the 1979-80 campaign and Washington’s Paul Mulvey appears in a pair of puzzles and he never appeared on his own card.
At the time, the Norris Division was made up of six teams and began with the Stanley Cup runner-up Minnesota North Stars before the Maple Leafs had two pages. From there, we get the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, and Winnipeg Jets. This was the only season where the Jets were in the Norris as they joined the Smythe Division in 1982-83 when the Colorado Rockies moved to New Jersey to become the Devils.
As a break between the Divisions, the 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Stickers album features the starting lineups from the 1981 NHL All-Star Game that was held in Los Angeles. All 12 players are given foil stickers.
After that, the focus switches to teams from the Patrick Division, beginning with the New York Islanders – who were only given a single page along with a two-sticker puzzle for the Campbell Bowl despite also being reigning Stanley Cup champions. The teams that followed were the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Capitals before collectors were treated to another Super Action page.
The Smythe Division kicks off with the Edmonton Oilers, who were loaded with star power among their eight stickers with Gretzky, Mark Messier, and rookie-year issues for Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson. Strangely, Hall of Famer Paul Coffey was not included here. The team pages then close out with the Calgary Flames (following their first season after transferring from Atlanta), Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Kings, and Vancouver Canucks.
The last two pages in the album are dedicated to 1980-81 trophy winners and goal-scoring champ Bossy. There are a pair of Gretzky stickers here thanks to winning both the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy and the stickers featuring those awards are foil.
This was also the last season where the Vezina Trophy was given as a team award to goalies instead of solely an individuals, but only Denis Herron and Michel Larocque got a sticker when Richard Sevigny deserved to get one as well since his name is on the award. Larocque is shown airbrushed into a Maple Leafs jersey since he was traded to Toronto near the end of the 1980-81 campaign, but the photo is the same as his on that appears earlier in the set – just with a different crop. On the last page, the Selke Trophy does not get a sticker but Bob Gainey’s win is referred to and the Triple Crown Line of Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer, and Dave Taylor is celebrated for its scoring prowess.
If you were unable to find certain stickers despite cracking open plenty of packets and trading with friends, O-Pee-Chee allowed you to send in a dollar and a self-addressed stamped envelope in order to help fill the album. You were limited to only two foil stickers per order. This is a concept that has long been the hallmark of Panini sticker albums to this day, so it makes sense that it began here for hockey card collectors. Opportunistic dealers could order multiple copies of star stickers, too, but the market for hockey stickers has long been ignored by the hobby as completionists tend to be interested in them after all these years.
A Sticky Legacy
The 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Stickers collection kicked off a tradition that lasted for nine seasons. While the company’s reliance on Panini ended in 1987, O-Pee-Chee printed them on their own for a few years until the hobby boom took their focus solely onto hockey cards. Panini continued the tradition which is still active today, but the hobby has long been more enamored by cards instead.
Topps did their own version of the sticker albums in 1982-83 and 1983-84. Those years were marked by no hockey cards being issued in the United States, so they proved to be an adequate substitute until Topps made hockey cards again in 1984-85. Hockey stickers are a great introduction to the game for kids, but it is a more expensive proposition now.
The fact that 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee Hockey Stickers were purported to be a test issue (albeit within a generous geographic area) make them quite collectible today and demand should remain strong as lapsed collectors who have strong nostalgic feeling for them seek them out once again. Finding the intact stickers in top condition can be extremely challenging as well as many are unevenly cut, tilted, or poorly centered.
You can find 1981-82 O-Pee-Chee stickers on eBay here.