Monday, November 27, 2017

Black Friday Blowout - 2011-12 ITG Enforcers Hockey

Just before Thanksgiving I received my Black Friday order from Blowout Cards. There were at least four different products included - but a significant portion of it was included my Secret Santa gift to someone who might be reading this, so I won't reveal what I bought.

One purchase that was not part of any gift or trade was this box of 2011-12 In The Game Enforcers hockey:

Enforcers is a unique set in that it focuses on the NHL's tough guys rather than the scoring stars. It was a controversial release at the time after the deaths of three such players earlier that year. Many of the cards have blood-stained backgrounds and depict in-game action photos of two players fighting - something that had been banned from traditional hockey card releases.

For the purposes of this post I'll refrain from the debate about fighting and its place in the game of hockey - except to say that I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't want to see fighting (or enforcers) completely disappear from the NHL but I don't think I'd be a fan of 1970's-style hockey, when games often featured more brawls than goals.

When In The Game released Enforcers, the price of a 12-card box was about $60 US. I bought at least two boxes at the time, hoping to pull a rare Peter Worrell card. No such luck. Five years later, I thought I'd try one last box - at the Black Friday Blowout price of $39.11.

Each box contains 5 autographed cards (all hard-signed, no stickergraphs) five base cards, and two memorabilia cards. Instead of a sealed pack the cards are contained in a 2-piece UltraPro plastic holder nestled inside the outer box. This would appear to be safer (though at least one card was slightly dinged) but it also reveals the top card.

I'm not certain that the "hit" is always at the top, but it was in this pack:

This is a standard Combatants dual relic (there are red versions limited to ten copies) However, the 3-color swatch of Georges Laraque's Oilers jersey and the mesh on Wade Belak's Maple Leafs sweater are a cut above. Many of the dual relics are multi-color and/or patch relics; In The Game did a great job of keeping the swatches interesting.

A standard Instigator jersey card of Capitals tough guy Dale Hunter. Hunter is one of the most accomplished players featured in this set, having amassed over 1,000 points over his 19 seasons in the NHL. More notably for this set, Hunter is second all time in penalty minutes with 3,565 career PIMs - and was suspended 21 games (1/4 of a season) for this vicious hit on an unsuspecting Pierre Turgeon in the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Now we get to the Band-Aid and blood splatter portion of the pack -- the autographs.

Phil Russell was a first round pick of the Blackhawks in the 1972 draft. He played over 1,000 NHL games and logged over 2,000 penalty minutes for four teams, including the New Jersey Devils. Russell is headed to the box - my Devils PC box - since he's pictured in the classic red and green sweater from their early years in New Jersey.

Brad May was one of the baddest dudes in Buffalo Sabres history, racking up 1,323 PIMs in just 425 games with the club. Unlike most of the other pugilists in this product, May may be best known for scoring a game winning goal in a playoff game:

Back-to-back Buffalo Sabres - or so I thought.

At first glance it appeared that Denny Lambert was wearing this late 90's Sabres sweater - but he never played for the team - which means this photo was likely taken during his two-year stint with the Ottawa Senators. Lambert was the NHL's league leader in penalty minutes in the 1999-2000 season, with a relatively tame total of 219.

Link Gaetz was part of the bizarre formation of the expansion San Jose Sharks - in which the Minnesota North Stars supplied half the Sharks' players, then replenished their roster by participating in the Expansion Draft alongside the Sharks. Link's career was short-lived, but he still holds the Sharks single-season record for penalty minutes with 326, set in their inaugural season of 1991-92.

Bryan Watson's 16-year career ended before I was born. Didn't know what position he played or what teams he played for (he's pictured in a Detroit Red Wings sweater), though his name sounded kind of familiar to me. With the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1971-72, Watson led the league in penalty minutes with 212 - the lowest league-leading total until the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.

You might notice that the autographed cards have blue or red backgrounds:

I can't think of any reason for this (such as AFC/NFC in football) but it's not a variation. As far as I can tell, all of the Link Gaetz cards are blue, and all of the Bryan Watson cards are red.

That's it for the autos and relics...but there are still some hits in this box. Literally.

A Bloody Battles base card featuring Sandy McCarthy and Bob Probert. The back of these cards details the circumstances of the fight depicted on the front, which is neat. (There is another one of these, but I'm showing the cards in the order they appeared in the pack.)

Tough Franchise is one of four subsets in the base set - and my personal favorite. This card features four of the toughest players in Vancouver Canucks history, including legendary enforcer Dave "Tiger" Williams, who scored a career high 35 goals in 1980-81 - which he celebrated thusly:

Three more base cards, including the baddest Broad Street Bully of them all:

Dave Schultz holds a lot of penalty-related records. This card recognizes his 42 PIMs in a playoff game against the Maple Leafs in 1976. The "Hammer" squared off against Scott Garland and Tiger Williams, in a brawl-filled game straight out of Slap Shot.  

I have no idea how the NHL cleaned up its act by the end of the 1970's, but I'm guessing it had a lot to do with the arrival of Wayne Gretzky. 

I'll have to be honest - this card stumped me. I didn't know if it was Wade Brookbank or his brother Sheldon, and the only Islander named Gillies that I could recall was Clark Gillies - who retired years before the Ducks franchise existed.

The card back didn't help.

Through some sleuthing on, I deduced that the combatants were Sheldon Brookbank of the Ducks and Trevor Gillies of the Islanders. 

Last card in the box... a Tale of the Tape card featuring Donald Brashear and another Sabre bad boy, Rob Ray. Looks like Brashear got the worst of this bout, though that photo may have been taken after a different fight.

Overall,this was probably an average or slightly below average break. I didn't get any higher-end hits like Fight Straps, Tough Franchise Quad jerseys, or the 1 of 1 Nameplates and Tough Patches.

Who own this card?
"Ooowns. Ooowns."

However, I did get a nice multi-colored swatch and a Devils autograph for my PC. There aren't too many sports card products that guarantee seven hits for under $50, so I can't complain. 

Do you have a favorite enforcer? What do you think of fighting in hockey? If you're not a hockey fan, would you purchase a specialty product of role players in your favorite sport? Do you have any ideas for a similar product (such as Quarterback Club or All-Goalies)?



  1. Nice post. I wish In The Game still had an NHL license. I always felt their price point was really good for what you got. Nice break!

  2. In my lifetime the Penguins haven't had a ton of enforcers. They have more of the instigator/agitator type of players like Darius Kasparitis, Matthew Barnaby and Matt Cooke. They did borrow George Laraque for a short period.

    Baseball has had plenty of HOF sets and team oriented releases. I always thought specialty auto sets within a big set would work. Pitcher/catcher dual autos, coaching staff etc...

  3. Your inclusion of the May Day video made this Sabres fan's day a bit brighter!