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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

Hockey as art & politics: Gretzky, the 50/50 Club & a White House Visit

What set Upper Deck apart from other trading cards in the early 90s, aside from aesthetics, was their unique sub-sets or inserts. We've already seen that with the Canada Cup , and will see more soon with their All-Rookie Team insert series. These next three cards, presented in non-sequential order, represent some true uniqueness for the 1990s.


Card # 38 - Gretzky 99
















This card features an artistic rendering of Wayne Gretzky in both his time with Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings, as well as the Hart and Art Ross trophies. In the 1990-91 season Gretzky was awarded his ninth Art Ross trophy, extending his lead over Gordie Howe (six) for the most in league history. The Great One would add one final scoring title in 1993-94, for a total of 10.


Even more impressive than the scoring titles, by the 1990-91 season Gretzky had won nine Hart trophies as league MVP, including an unbelievable eight in a row from 1979-80 to 1986-87, followed by his final win in 1988-89. Blame Mario Lemieux for breaking the streak in 1987-88, with Gretzky finishing third in voting behind teammate Grant Fuhr.


Gretzky’s dominance, at least in trophy form, cannot be matched in the other Big 4 pro sports leagues. Barry Bonds is the closest, having won seven National League MVP awards; however, it is important to note that baseball gives out two MVP awards, one for each league. Basketball’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar checks in third with six MVPs and Peyton Manning is the NFL’s representative with five MVP awards.


Card # 45 - 50/50 Club, featuring Hull, Lemieux and Gretzky
















This card features Brett Hull, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky in the oil painting-style popular in this series’ insert cards. This time Upper Deck is commemorating Brett Hull’s 50 goals in 50 games (49 games actually) in the 1990-91 season.


Hull became only the fourth player in NHL history to accomplish the feat, following Maurice Richard (1944-45), Mike Bossy (1980-81), Wayne Gretzky (1981-82, 1983-84, 1984-85) and Mario Lemieux (1988-89). He would turn this trick scoring two goals in the Blues’ 49th game of the 1990-91 season, beating Detroit Red Wings rookie goalie Dave Gagnon to reach the milestone.


The Golden Brett would repeat the feat in the 1991-92 season, scoring his 50th goal against the Los Angeles Kings' Kelly Hrudey in the Blues’ 50th game of the season.


In researching the 50-50 club, it turns out there is a bit of a divide in what counts as a true 50-50. The official record requires the player to score 50 goals by the time his team plays its 50th game - a player who scores 50 goals in his first 50 individual games played doesn’t count. If you expand the criteria and include 50 goals in the first 50 individual games for a player, you would add Jari Kurri (1984-85), Alex Mogilny (1992-93), Mario Lemieux (1992-93, 1995-96) and Cam Neely (1993-94) to the 50/50 club. Either way, scoring 50 goals in 50 games, whether it's measured by team games or individual player's games, is an incredible record and one we will probably never see achieved again.


Card # 47 - Pittsburgh Penguins White House Visit
















This card commemorates the Pittsburgh Penguins 1990-91 Stanley Cup victory and their visit to the White House to meet the 42nd President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. This was the first time a Stanley Cup champion had visited the White House, a tradition that was long established amongst other American pro sports teams. The first team that is believed to have visited the White House was the Washington Senators in 1925 after winning the World Series.


This visit is particularly memorable thanks to some awkwardness from the first President Bush. As captain Mario Lemieux was presenting the President with a customized Penguins jersey, Bush straight up asks Lemieux ‘and you are?’ An embarrassed Lemieux introduces himself and things proceed nicely from there. President Bush made up for his initial awkwardness by inviting Tom Barrasso and his family to a private visit after the reception (Barrasso’s three-year old daughter had cancer at the time).


While the majority of the Penguins roster consisted of Canadians, there were 10 Americans on the roster, including Barrasso, Phil Bourque, Joe Mullen and Kevin Stevens.


With the current president, many players and even entire championship pro sports teams have declined visiting the White House; however, a NHLer was one of the first players to do this. Tim Thomas, goalie for the 2011 champion Boston Bruins, declined to visit the White House and President Barack Obama in 2012, stating that the government at all levels had grown too large and was threatening "the Rights, Liberty and Property of the People.” Given Thomas’ well-known Libertarian beliefs, he probably would have declined to visit any President.


The next post will feature the Upper Deck All-Rookie Team. Hint: it features a lot of Hall of Famers.

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