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Bob D’Angelo

Bob is a longtime member of the Florida sports media, having served as a reporter and copy editor for more than 30 years. His true sports passion, however, is the history of the various games, exhibited by his in-depth book reviews and hobby of collecting cards and other sports memorabilia. He blogs for on both subjects, transferring his work for the Tampa Tribune to the realm of cyberspace.

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Enforcer set pays tribute to NHL’s tough guys

Posted Feb 1, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo

Updated Feb 1, 2012 at 12:49 AM

For a set dedicated to the NHL’s enforcers, In The Game’s latest effort certainly has taken its share of hits.

In the several months leading up to the Jan. 19 release of the Enforcers product, the set design — some cards are adorned with fake blood spatters and bandages — has come under fire, with several news organizations literally dropping the gloves and taking healthy swings.

Well, at least you can say that In The Game can take a punch, as they weathered the blows and delivered their product on time.

I certainly do not condone bloody fights in hockey games, or high sticking or ramming players’ heads into the boards. And I am sensitive on the issue of concussions. It’s a hot-button topic and rightfully, a major concern. My colleague at The Tampa Tribune, columnist Martin Fennelly, noted in his eloquent way this week that “everybody in hockey should think about concussions. Or they should have their heads examined.”

Certainly, not all concussions in the NHL have been caused by dirty play.

Still, it’s a fact that enforcers have played a key part in the sport. Enrico Ciccone was cheered lustily by Lightning fans when he was protecting Tampa Bay players. Hockey fans do enjoy a good scrap on the ice. Same with current Bolts enforcer Steve Downie. There is something interesting about watching two players square off, drop the gloves, circle each other warily, and then flail away. It’s an intricate ice dance.

Tough guys were immortalized in film by Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson and Dave Hanson, who portrayed the Hanson brothers in “Slap Shot.” You know, the 1977 film about the Charleston Chiefs that revered “old time hockey.”

As Brian Price, the owner of In The Game, told CBC News in Manitoba last month, “I’m not glorifying violence. I’m paying tribute to the players.”

That’s what I believe the Enforcers product does. It is aimed toward a niche group of hockey fans who enjoy toughness.

A box will run somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 and contains 12 cards. Five are autograph cards, while two are game-used relic cards. Rounding out the box are five base cards.

The names are impressive: Ciccone, Tie Domi, Bob Probert, Joey Kocur and Marty McSorley, to name a few.

The box I sampled had five autographs, as advertised: Rob Ray, Stan Jonathan, Paul Laus, Reed Low and Craig Berube were the names I pulled. The photo of the player is a small head shot, and the autograph is large, bold and stretches across a bandage (although at first, I didn’t realize it was a Band-Aid. I thought it was some kind of wood grain until I inspected it more closely). The player’s name is in small type in the bottom right-hand part of the card.

The blood spatters on the left-center and upper right-hand corner of these autograph cards really don’t add anything to the design. They probably should not have been included. It doesn’t disturb me, but I don’t believe it enhances the design, either.

The relic cards are more sedate in appearance, but impressive in the size of the swatch. An Instigator relic of Nashville’s Sheldon Brookbank features a large gray swatch with one black looped string. The second card is a Combatants dual relic of the Blues’ Basil McRae and the Ducks’ Todd Ewen. McRae’s uniform swatch is white, while Ewen’s is half gray and half black.

The base cards I saw covered three different subsets: there were two Tale of the Tape cards. This card takes two players and relives a specific fight. The back of the card is the true “tale of the tape,” comparing the players’ heights, weights and penalty minutes.

The cartoon-like Bloody Battles subset is an artist’s rendering of famous scraps on the ice. Both cards I saw depicted Probert, the Red Wings enforcer who always had the back of current Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman during his playing days in Detroit. Probert, who died of a heart attack in July 2010, is shown in battles against Domi and Tony Twist.

And the Tough Franchise card featured four Florida Panthers players: Laus, Peter Worrell, Rocky Thompson and the late Wade Belak.

The inclusion of Belak and Derek Boogaard in the set has raised some hackles, since both players died last year. Belak was found dead in a Toronto hotel on Aug. 31. Boogaard died on May 13, 2011, and according to his death certificate the cause was from an accidental overdose of painkillers and alcohol.

Certainly the passing of Belak and Boogaard were tragic events. But to not include them in a set honoring enforcers would have been a disservice.

Simply put, hockey fans who like tough guys will love this set. If you fall into that category, then this set is for you. The five autographs alone should be attractive to collectors, but the relic cards pack an extra, um, punch.

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