A great deal of attention gets paid to baseball’s original Hall of Fame class from 1936, but in other sports, there is less discussion about their pioneering players and builders. In the case of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the first group of inductees were an impressive group – even if some of those names have been forgotten today. Some of them are still relevant to modern collectors, but there others that have had zero impact in the hobby as well.
While Canada was preoccupied with World War II, sports and the idea of collecting cards was pretty much on the back burner. Many players were off fighting for their country and the Hockey Hall of Fame was established by James T. Sutherland, regarded as one of the game’s early pioneers and even witnessed the first organized hockey game in Kingston, Ontario in 1886. Decades later, he kicked off plans for the Hockey Hall of Fame in the same city and it was endorsed by the NHL and the Canada Amateur Hockey Association in 1943. The first class was selected two years later and it included a mix of players who had an impact during the sport’s formative years – but there was no official home for the Hall.
In time, the NHL-supported version Hockey Hall of Fame was relocated to Toronto and the Kingston-based version became known as the International Hockey Hall of Fame before it was rechristened as the Original Hockey Hall of Fame back in 2013.
The “Recent” Greats
The NHL itself was established in 1917, but hockey cards arrived several years earlier during the days of the National Hockey Association. Distributed in cigarette packs produced by Imperial Tobacco, some of the game’s earlier stars were found in the C55, C56, and C57 sets released between 1910-11 and 1912-13 – with the latter containing some Western-based stars as well. The first NHL release was issued in candy bar packages from the William Patterson Co. in 1923-24 and issues were sporadic over the next decade until the gum era kicked off in 1933-34 and O-Pee-Chee essentially ruled that landscape until 1940-41. By the time the Hockey Hall of Fame was selecting its first class, the only thing kids could collect were Beehive photos from the St. Lawrence Starch Company.
Here’s a look at the NHL stars which were part of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 1945:
The man known as the “Mitchell Meteor” or “Stratford Streak” was hockey’s biggest star during the Golden Age of Sport in the 1920s. Quite often, he was referred to as hockey’s Babe Ruth. He joined the Montreal Canadiens for the 1923-24 season and was a fresh-faced rookie when his V145-1 card was coming out of candy bar wrappers. A two-time NHL scoring leader, he led the Canadiens to three Stanley Cup championships and was awarded the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP on an equal number of occasions.
Morenz remained with the Canadiens until the end of the 1933-34 season and had plenty of gum cards that year before he shuffled to the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers. He returned to Montreal for the 1936-37 campaign, but his career came to an abrupt close on January 28, 1937 as he suffered a broken leg and never recovered. He passed away on March 8 that year, but his presence on hockey cards going forward allowed future generations to learn about his on-ice exploits. Months after his death, he was included in the 1937-38 World Wide Gum set (which some collectors still refer to as a 1936-37 issue, but reading the backs clearly place it in the following season) and his passing was mentioned.
Once the modern age of collecting began in 1951-52 with the arrival of the Parkhurst collections, he was a part of the company’s 1955-56 set as part of the Old-Time Greats subset. Five years later, Topps included him as an All-Time Great. From there, it was a long drought for Morenz cardboard until a Montreal-based trading card store known as Cartophilium partnered up with artist Carleton MacDiarmid (who was also a long-time goal judge as well) to make a set dedicated to every member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Released in standard-sized formats in 1983 and 1987 in addition to a postcard-sized set, it was often offered up via mail-order through advertisements in The Hockey News.
During the boom years, card companies occasionally made a card of Morenz, but this did not become more commonplace until In The Game began to utilize pieces of game-used memorabilia such as a pair of his gloves or a stick in order to put some hockey history into the hands of collectors. Cut signatures have also been released on occasion, but the demand for anything connected to one of hockey’s first superstars is consistently high.
Even though most fans think of the Vezina Trophy before they consider the man who it was named for, the Chicoutimi Cucumber is by far one of hockey’s most intriguing early stars. Joining the Montreal Canadiens for their second season in 1910-11, he was depicted on his first hockey card the next year as part of the C55 release from Imperial Tobacco in addition to being on an even more incredibly rare and valuable postcard from the same company issued around that time which utilized the same photo.
Vezina backstopped the Canadiens to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 1915-16 and was with the team when it joined the NHL less than two years later. He was the game’s premier netminder during this era and even recorded the first shutout in NHL history. He was the model of consistency and only stepped out of the crease once as he fell ill during Montreal’s battle with the expansion Pittsburgh Pirates on November 28, 1925. The streak of 325 consecutive games came to a close and a few months later, he passed away due to tuberculosis.
Following his death, the Canadiens created an award in his honor called the Vezina Trophy. While the parameters for what it takes to win it have evolved over time, it cemented his legacy and has been won by many of the game’s greatest netminders.
In the hobby, Vezina’s cards have a wonderful mystique. His first issue from the C56 set produced by Imperial Tobacco in 1911-12 is considered one of the greatest hockey cards ever made, but once the age of game-used memorabilia cards arose, Dr. Brian Price, who owned Vezina’s pads, began to chop them up and put the pieces into cards. Still regarded as one of the hobby’s most controversial moves, cards with a piece of Vezina’s memorabilia is highly coveted. A cut signature card has never been produced as it is suspected that Vezina never enjoyed signing or may have been illiterate.
The Chicago Black Hawks (before they were officially correctly called the Blackhawks) were in desperate need for an elite goalie with Hugh Lehman ready to retire and picked up Gardiner from the AHA’s Winnipeg Maroons. A skilled goalie, he had little support in front of him over his first two years in the NHL before Chicago became a serious contender. He backstopped the club to the Stanley Cup Final in 1930-31 before winning the Vezina Trophy the next year. The 1932-33 campaign was still a solid one, but he secured his place among hockey’s immortals in 1933-34 by taking the Black Hawks to their first Stanley Cup.
Sick throughout most of the 1933-34 season but still protecting the crease and winning his second Vezina, he amazingly played at a high level on the way to the title. In the aftermath of celebrating, he passed away due to a brain aneurysm on June 13, 1934 at the age of 29. He did get a single NHL card in the 1933-34 Canadian Chewing Gum set, but there was also a 1928-29 Paulin’s Candy card issued in Western Canada that still showed him with the Winnipeg Maroons. During the modern era of collecting, pieces of his game-used pad were featured in memorabilia cards produced by In The Game.
An Ottawa native that starred for the Senators during their days in both the NHA and NHL, Gerard excelled at both left wing and defense for 10 seasons before moving into the world of coaching. Known for great speed and stick handling in addition to the ability to throw a bone-rattling check, he won a pair of Stanley Cup titles and the respect of fans and peers alike.
He coached the second-year Montreal Maroons to a championship and famously protested when Lester Patrick went into the net at the age of 44 to protect the net for the New York Rangers in the 1928 Stanley Cup Final. His last coaching duty came with the St. Louis Eagles in 1934-35 and he passed away due to a throat ailment in 1937.
The Cardless Pioneers
Over half of the names enshrined by the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945 never had a trading card at all at the time and it would be a few decades before their accomplishments were finally acknowledged on cardboard in that coveted Cartophilium set. Three of the players were gone from the game before hockey cards were even something to collect, and there is little out there even today for Hod Stuart, “One-Eyed” Frank McGee, and Harvey Pulford.
Stuart was one of the game’s early pros and was one of the few offensive-minded cover-points (much like a defenseman) from that era. He was often named an All-Star and by 1906-07, had joined the Montreal Wanderers. He was instrumental in the team’s run to the Stanley Cup that year, but the increasing violence in hockey prompted him to announce his retirement soon after. He had only begun to settle in to post-hockey life as a bricklayer and was working in Belleville, Ontario when he tragically drowned in the Bay of Quinte on June 23, 1907 at the age of 28. An All-Star Game was held in his honor soon after. His brother, Bruce, joined the Wanderers the next year and was eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961 – the same year he passed away.
Pulford, who was a notable multi-sport athlete, won four Stanley Cup championships with the Ottawa Hockey Club and was one of the best early defensemen in pro hockey. He was not a prolific scorer by any means, but he stuck around a long time as he debuted in 1893-94. By the time he was done in 1907-08, the highest level of the game itself had shifted from amateurs to professionals. In retirement from hockey, he was considered to take on the role of President of the National Hockey Association and passed away five years before being welcomed into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
McGee is one of the legendary names of old-time hockey as he is best known for scoring 14 goals in a single Stanley Cup playoff game in 1905 against the Dawson City Nuggets – a team that had made an arduous journey from the Yukon to battle for the game’s greatest prize. He played with one good eye as he had been blinded by a puck in 1900, but he did not let it get him down and he was one of the best amateurs of the time. Capping off his career with another Stanley Cup in 1905-06, he left the game and went to work for the Canadian government. He went off to fight for his country in World War I and was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme on September 16, 1916. McGee has occasionally received some cardboard love in recent years, most notable in releases from In The Game.
A mercenary of sort, Phillips rose to fame as a member of his hometown Rat Portage (later Kenora) Thistles and was a goal-scoring machine. He was part of Kenora’s Stanley Cup win in 1907 and teams paid heavily for his services throughout the rest of his career. Eventually, he settled out west as was occasionally involved in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, but returned to Ontario and passed away due to blood poisoning which happened after having a tooth pulled in 1923.
Introduced to hockey as a teenager, Baker is another one of hockey’s early figures that has taken on a certain mystique. In 1910, the multi-sport threat arrived at Princeton University and was an influence on author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who later based a character on him in the book This Side of Paradise. His hockey career came to an end for the most part in 1914 and he never turned pro since the concept disgusted him. In World War I, he enlisted to become a fighter pilot. With orders to come back home in 1918, he took a final flight and died in the ensuing crash.
A few years after his induction in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Hobey Baker Award was created for America’s top collegiate hockey player. He did not have a trading card until 1983, but has occasionally been included in several sets since then.
From the start, the Hockey Hall of Fame recognized those that helped the game grow. While it strangely did not include Lester and Frank Patrick in its initial class, it did induct a couple of important individuals in 1945. First up was shipping heir Sir Montagu Allan, who was a prominent business figure and noted philanthropist in Canada that donated the Allan Cup in 1908 with the intention that the award be presented to the best amateur team in the country.
For many years, the winner in Olympic years would represent Canada at the event and is still competed for today. Allan was not featured on a hockey card or any sort of catalogued trading card until the 1983 Cartophilium issue. He has not appeared on any cards since the 1987 edition of the same set.
The most notable Builder in the Hockey Hall of Fame’s inaugural class, of course, was Frederick Arthur, Lord Stanley of Preston. While he was Canada’s Governor General (the Queen’s representative in Canada), his sons were active hockey players in Ottawa and he donated a silver bowl that the nation’s top amateur teams could challenge for. The Stanley Cup was first awarded in 1893, but Lord Stanley had returned to England before he could hand it out.
Featured in many sets over the years, there is actually a vintage card that came out before the Stanley Cup was even a reality – let alone pro hockey. Featured as part of Allen & Ginter World’s Sovereigns set that came in packages of cigarettes in 1889 which was later dubbed N34 in the American Card Catalog, it is a rare find that performs well when it comes up for sale. There are also some fantastic cut signature cards with an authentic Lord Stanley autograph that have been produced by multiple trading card manufacturers over the past 15 years.