Are hockey cards an art form? I certainly think so, to the extent that I started this feature as an homage to the cards I grew up collecting.
Up until now, I’ve focused on notable players depicted on some of the cards in my collection. In the likely event you’re wondering, “Who the hell is Jim Bedard?” I’ve chosen this installment to focus on the card itself: an unexpectedly arty picture of Washington Capitals goalie Jim Bedard from the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee set.
The 79-80 set is well known, even among non-collectors, because it contains Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card. A rare “gem mint” example of the card fetched $1.29 million US at an auction in December 2020.
Even without Gretzky, the set is one of the most memorable of its era, with blue-bordered cards (a departure from white) and its creative presentation of team names and logos. It was also the year that four surviving clubs from the rival World Hockey Association joined the NHL (and brought Gretzky with them).
Although the set hits a high water mark for design, the photography isn’t much different than any other of the era: action shots for most players, interspersed with the occasional studio picture and a few unintentionally hilarious airbrush jobs on traded players.
Even as a kid, the picture of Bedard caught my eye for being so different — and I’m still intrigued by it. It looks like the photographer snapped Bedard during a stoppage in play down the ice, taking a skate into the corner. Bedard is squarely in the foreground, but the frame has an unusual amount of background in it, including the scoreboard hanging from the roof. The composition is downright artistic, I think.
So much of the commentary about any work of art is what the audience projects upon it, which doesn’t necessarily jibe with what the creator intended. I like the picture of Bedard because I feel like it so neatly captures the archetype of a hockey goalie: the solitary figure at the end of the rink. The most likely reason it was used is because there weren’t many pictures of Bedard to choose from. The thing is, it appears many of the photos in that set were taken at Capitals home games — and Bedard played in 30 matches the previous season, when the photo was likely taken. I have no way of knowing what the photographer had in mind, but I’d like to think that he or she chose it for esthetic reasons rather than necessity.
In a way, trading cards are a form of packaging for athletes, so I chose to pair Bedard’s card with a beer from a brewery that has elevated its packaging to an art form: Collective Arts Brewing in Hamilton, Ontario. Four times a year, the brewery posts an open call for artists interested in submitting their work for feature on a label. It’s a laudable venture to generate exposure for artists made even more laudable by the fact that Collective Arts pays artists for their work and the creators retain ownership of it. Any business that promotes the work of creative professionals while also acknowledging its value with actual remuneration (as opposed to an insulting offer of “exposure” in lieu of payment) is A-OK in my books.
By focusing on Collective Arts’ packaging, I don’t want to give short shrift to their beer, because I really enjoyed it. I had a seasonal variant of their Jam Up dry-hopped sour made with boysenberry and blackberry. This is no one-dimensional yogurt beer soured by throwing some lactobacillus into the kettle: it gets a considerable amount of tartness from what I can only conclude was a shitload (technical term) of blackberries and boysenberries. The tartness and berry flavour are intense up front — in a good way — but yield and the hops pick up nicely where they left off, adding some bright tropical notes with a bit of passionfruit flavour that brings some moderate tartness of its own. The overall impression is refreshing and there are nice levels of complexity and balance, which don’t always have to be mutually exclusive.
So, that’s the beer. What about Jim Bedard, then?
Bedard’s career may not be the reason I featured his card, but the guy deserves his due. In his first five years as a pro, he played parts of two seasons with the Caps interspersed with long stints in the minor leagues. It’s fair to say he was a journeyman — but by no means is that grounds to diminish his accomplishments: he made it to the NHL and played 73 games at the top level, at a time when the league was much smaller. And if you know anything about the Washington Capitals of that era, you’ll know that he didn’t get much help in terms of defence or offensive production. (Don Cherry, who coached the Colorado Rockies at about the same time, spent years making cheap jokes about the team’s goalie, Hardy Astrom, despite the fact he had a mediocre team playing in front of him and a shitty coach. Neither Astrom, nor Bedard, deserve that kind of disrespect.)
Bedard went to Finland sometime around 1980 and played an additional 13 seasons before retiring in 1994. Since then, he’s been a goaltending coach for the Detroit Red Wings, the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League and the Dallas Stars’ American Hockey League affiliate in Austin, Texas. It sounds like he’s had a long and productive career in the game and would have a lot of interesting stories to tell. Perhaps over a beer or two.