Hockey CardsHockey Cards: Made in USSR

Winter 2002, Massachusetts, USA
In February I bought my first set of hockey cards. Each card had pictures of the 1972 Summit Series players and coaches with their series statistics on the back. It was a fantastic set.

"What an excellent choice!" said the salesman. "Is it for your kids? I wasn't even born at that time. It was a great game."

"No. It's for me. It's my first hockey cards set."

I couldn't say what the card salesman thought about me. After all, it was his job to sell things. He was a good sales person. He just gave me a weird look but said nothing.

My mind time machine started its work. I couldn't really control it. It just happened.

Summer 1975, Somewhere in the south of Russia
The Moscow-Anapa train carried hundreds of people desperate to get to their vacation places at the Black Sea resort area. I was a part of a group of 8-12 year-olds going to a summer camp. As usual air-conditioning were not working and the heat was unbearable. But, hey, we were so close to the sea.

"Calendars! Posters! Hockey Cards! Souvenirs!"

The voice of the guy selling homemade souvenirs was slowly approaching our compartment. Hockey cards? It caught my attention. I looked out of our compartment.

Those were two guys that jumped on the train on the previous stop and now were offering their goodies to the passengers. On the next stop, they will get out of the train and go one stop back. Then, the cycle repeats itself. Both guys were blind.

I've heard of them before. They got a nickname, "blinds mafia". In the state run economy their activity was illegal. It was a Russian black market in action. But the state had no hockey cards published. These guys did.

"How much are your hockey cards?"

"One rouble each"

My parents gave me 10 roubles for the summer camp. I hesitated to spend one tenth of my belongings. The blind salesman read my mind.

Without saying a word, he hurried to the next compartment. He had to hurry. He had to sell his goodies before the train reached the next station.

"Wait. Here is the rouble."

That was my first set of hockey cards. There were no names or players bios in the back. Those were playing cards with the pictures of the 1972 Team Canada Stars on the "J", "Q" and "K" cards.

I went back to my buddies and we played card games till we got to the our summer camp. I am not sure if the ranking was correct, but I still remember that in my first hockey cards set Phil Esposito was higher than Bobby Clarke.