Confessions of a reluctant sports card collector – Entry 2


Every sports card has two stories.

The first story is the player’s personal story and their performance in sport.

The second story is how a person ended up with a certain card in their possession.

In my last entry, I told you why I changed my cynical attitude towards sports card collecting. And I confessed that I’d been married to a card collector for nearly 20 years and I saw sports cards as nothing more than over-priced cardboard.

If you haven’t read that post, don’t get mad at me. Read it first and then decide.


This week, I’m going to tell you about the first “set” that I’ve decided to work on. And I use “quotation marks” around set because it’s not an actual set. Let me explain.

As I said in my first entry, I’m a details kind of person. I love knowing player stats like how many seasons they’ve played, which other teams they’ve played for, their game performance, and other things like the correct spelling of their name. If that makes me weird, I don’t care.

I also love reading and hearing stories about each player. And I enjoy researching the history behind the team they play for and, in fact, the entire history of the NHL.

I could spend hours reading up on a player, following link after link after link on the internet, which would lead me from player to team to teammate to former team to longstanding rivalries, etc. etc.

To keep a long web search story short, I was looking at what other people were collecting when I stumbled upon the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players of All Time.

Yes, I know this list is controversial.

Yes, I realize that there might be other, “better” lists of the NHL’s top 100 players. I’m sure you could name at least one player who shouldn’t be on that list and two players who should. I’m not disagreeing with you.

As I thought about the idea behind the top 100 greatest NHL players, I realized that focusing on this list – and giving myself freedom to add any player I chose to add as I research my way through the A to Z (or Y for Yzerman in this case) list – I would be looking at hockey from the early 1900s until today.

Not only would I be learning about hockey history, reading up on hockey player’s stories, and delving into the evolution of the sport, I would also be able to see a wide variety of hockey cards from over the decades.

Needless to say, this is a huge project that might take me a couple of years to complete if I’m going to give it the attention I would like to.

Hmmmm…maybe I made a mistake?


Card 1 of my collection


Here is the first card I bought that officially kicked off my 100 – or more – greatest NHL players of all time. (I say “I” but it’s not just me. In a future post, I’ll talk about how the building of this card collection is something that has already involved my whole family).

Meet Charles Joseph Sylvanus, or Syl as he’s more well known, Apps of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Syl Apps NHL hockey Toronto Maple Leafs

Syl Apps – 10 years playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs


When I first read his name, I knew absolutely nothing about Syl’s history. In fact, I had never even heard of his name before last week. But after doing a little research…


NHL 100 greatest players hockey Syl Apps

What can I say? I go a little crazy when I research. And that’s why internet research can be a huge time suck for me.


I found out that I was missing out! Syl Apps was not only a great hockey player, he was also a stand-up guy.

Here are a couple of things about Syl that impressed me.


The card’s first story


1. Syl was the real deal.


In his 10 year NHL career, Syl tallied up only 56 career penalty minutes.

Contrast that with another Wayne Gretzky, another “good guy”, who tallied up 577 penalty minutes in his 21 year career.

And just for fun, compare those both to Tie Domie who had over 3500 career penalty minutes in his 17 years.

Syl was known as an all around athlete and great guy. Both his teammates and his opponents respected Apps for his sportsmanlike character off and on the ice.

When I see Apps in black and white pictures and consider the books and articles I’ve read, I imagine him to be a charming fellow.

Like Jim from “The Office.” Everyone likes him. And he’s just…genuinely good.


2. Syl put his NHL career on hold to serve his country.


NHL hockey did not stop when World War 2 began. After all, hockey was a game that raised the morale of the country in a time when stress levels were high.

Syl didn’t have to go to WW2, but he chose to. Even though he was the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs as well as one of their top players, Syl chose to take a two year leave in order to serve his country. Ted Kennedy took his place as captain and when Syl returned from War, he resumed his role like nothing had happened.

That’s remarkable.

There was one other time Syl put his NHL career on hold. The NHL was calling him but he chose instead to compete in pole vaulting for Canada. He won a gold medal in the 1934 British Empire Games and came in 6th at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.


3. That time when Syl tried to return his paycheque.


Halfway through the 1942-43 season, Syl broke his leg. Obviously, he was out for the rest of the season, and being the guy that he was, Syl tried to return half of his paycheque that he had already cashed.

Conn Smythe refused the cheque but Syl’s humble attitude was never forgotten.

Syl Apps Stanley Cup

Syl Apps helped the Toronto Maple Leafs come back after losing the first 3 games in the series to Detroit Red Wings.
April 18, 1942

source: 100 Years 100 Moments: A Centennial of NHL Hockey by Scott Morrison


4. Syl’s career highlight – the insurmountable win.


The Toronto Maple Leafs were the first team to come back from a huge deficit to win the Stanley Cup playoffs. You might already know this story, but if this kind of thing doesn’t motivate young kids –  or anyone – playing sports today, I’m not sure what will!

The Maple Leafs had lost three games to the Detroit Red Wings in the final series of the 1942 Stanley Cup. Rather than rolling over and admitting defeat, the Toronto team, with Turk Broda in net and captain Syl Apps leading the way, pulled their $#!% together and won the last four games.

In fact, of the 10 seasons Syl played with the Maple Leafs, he helped them get into the playoffs 8 times and win 3 Stanley Cups.

Talk about being able to handle the pressure!


The Card’s Second Story


Not only does every single NHL player have an interesting personal story, but there’s also the story of how the actual card came to be in a collector’s hands.

For example, my new card-collecting friend Chris told me the story of how he got his Tris Speaker card.

Tris Speaker Winnipeg Goldeyes Winnipeg baseball Winnipeg sports card show Manitoba

A baseball collector’s dream – an authentic Tris Speaker card.


Back in 1927, Purity Ice Cream Company in Winnipeg ran a promotion. If you brought in the full set of 21 Honey Boy baseball cards, you would get a free half-gallon brick of ice cream.

This was Winnipeg, people. Imagine the idea of free ice cream! Stampede!

Other than Tris, the set includes:

  • Steamer Maxwell,
  • Babe Ruth,
  • Eddie Collins,
  • Grover Cleveland Alexander, and
  • Frank Frisch.

It’s an extremely rare and valuable set. Serious baseball card collectors have this 1927 set on their must-have list.

Chris got the card from his mom. And his mom got it from her grandfather. 

And this 90-year-old story of ice cream and the Winnipeg company who ran the promotion will always be associated with this sought after Tris Speaker vintage baseball card for as long as it’s around.

Doesn’t that make you want to hold onto your sports cards so that one day, they too can be part of a story you tell your great grandchild?


Our Syl Apps card story


The Syl Apps card I got has a short story to go with it, but it’s not extremely interesting, probably because it just happened last weekend. Give it 90 years.

One day, I plan to pass the card down to my youngest son who was with me the day we got it. And he will pass it on to his child or grandchild.

Syl Apps Winnipeg Manitoba sports cards collector hobby

I remember that year. It was the first year that the Winnipeg Jets won the Stanley Cup!


Hopefully, his story will include some of these details from the day we stumbled upon it:

  • this was the first card of his mom’s first hockey card “set”…
  • based upon a list made by NHL alumni and executives in 2017…
  • in order to commemorate the NHL’s 100 year anniversary.
  • we found the card when we made an unplanned stop at Superstar Sports Cards. We were on our way home from a card show in Oak Bluff where he was given THREE Sidney Crosby hockey cards! What a day for a 9-year-old boy!
  • we also ate at A&W (a rare occurrence for our family of 7).
  • he might even remember spending the afternoon with both of his parents and no siblings! (Even more rare for him!)


Who knows how this story will evolve as my son will tell it over the years!

So there you have two stories to every sports card. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hockey card, a baseball card, a basketball card, or another sport.

It doesn’t matter what the card is worth in dollars and cents.

But it is fascinating to learn about the person pictured on the card – their life and their involvement in their sport.

And it’s equally interesting to consider how some cards get passed down from generation to generation.

Do you have an interesting story about how you came into possession of a card in your collection? If so, I’d love to hear it!

Email me at [email protected] or comment below.



Part 3 of Confessions of a Reluctant Sports Card Collector is now up. Check it out here!