Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We're Throwing This One Back - Lightning Card of the Week

Enrico Ciccone 2002-03 Fleer Throwbacks Stickwork Relic

What a fantastic card.  It’s from the pre-cup era (yes I’m defining Lightning history in eras now, a la the Star Wars expanded universe.  Deal with it), it has a piece of a hockey stick on it and it features Enrico Ciccone.  Perfect card?  Close, but not quite (needs more shiny).

I’m not sure Throwbacks qualifies as a retro-set, more like a “hey we don’t have a players’ license so let’s feature a set of retired players,” but it did do a good job of showcasing some older players for a new generation of fans.  It gave collectors a chance to pick up relics from retired players such as Dale Hunter, Dirk Graham and Bernie Federko.

The best part about this card is that it was totally unexpected.  It was part of a stack that Tim from The Real DFG had set aside for me and intended on giving me at the Sun Times Card Show a couple of weekends ago.  I was a no-show at the show (you liked that didn’t you?) so he left them with Sal.

Having nothing better to do on Saturday I met up with Sal at Tim’s Baseball Card shop to drop off an autograph for him and pick up my bounty from both Sal and Tim.  As usual, those two went way above and beyond what I was expecting. 

The Ciccone card was on top of a stack of about 67 Lightning cards of which I think I had maybe one.  It’s so delightful to get cards that I haven’t seen before since most of them pre-date my collecting career. My hockey collection is quite sporadic. It includes a lot of stuff from 1992-95(you know, the super cheap wax days) and then a lack of cards until about 2009.  There are a lot of delightfully horrific players from the Lightning’s past slapped on pieces of cardboard that I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on.

Does Enrico Ciccone fit in that category of “delightfully horrific”?  I’m not sure.  He was good at what he did – get into fights.  Despite only playing 135 games a Lightning uniform he is 4th all-time in penalty minutes with 604.  To put that in perspective The Little Ball of Fury, Steve Downie, played 79 more games in a Lightning uniform and still trails Ciccone by 50 minutes.

Granted it was a different time, a less-civilized time, when Ciccone wore the Silver, Black and Blue for the Lightning. Still, averaging almost 4 and ½ penalty minutes a game is impressive.   More importantly, it was fan-friendly.

Let’s face it, hockey in Florida started as a gimmick. The Lightning, not exactly playing in a thriving hockey market, needed something to gain fan interest.  In the early days of the club fighting, more than goal scoring or even winning, helped bring the fans in. On the 1995-96 team, Ciccone led the team with 258 penalty minutes. Four other players (Shawn Burr, Michel Petit, Chris Gratton and Roman Hamrlik) had over 100 penalty minutes as well. That team also was the first Lightning team to make it to the playoffs.  Coincidence? Probably.

Ciccone would be dealt to Chicago in March of 1996 for Igor Ulanov, but would find his way back to the Lightning a little more than a year later and play a handful of games in the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons.

Never a big scorer (his career high for goals in a season was 2) he still managed to play in parts of 11 NHL seasons and he was well-liked in most of the towns that he played in.  In Tampa he was a fairly frequent guest on The Bubba The Love Sponge Show (yo yo yo yo) and provided the epic third-person sound clip of “Chico’s on the ice. Chico will take care of you”.

Players of Ciccone’s sort are being phased out of the NHL game. The brawlers, the intimidators, the protectors, the enforcers, whatever you want to call them are a disappearing breed as the league tries to dissociate itself with its violent past. There is still fighting in the league, but now it’s being done more and more by guys who can also chip in 15 goals a season.

It makes for a better game, skill should always trump brute force, but still there is a sense of nostalgia when I see cards of players like Ciccone and Bob Probert.  Oddly enough, it’s nostalgia for a game that I only have seen on YouTube or read in books since my real hockey involvement didn’t begin until around 1996.   Is it possible to fondly remember a type of NHL that I didn’t watch? I guess so.

1 comment:

dogfacedgremlin said...

Wow! I never thought that card would have inspired an entire post. Glad you could use a few of those.