Sunday, November 29, 2015

Best Binder Page Top Nine - Arturs Irbe

We here at Third String Goalie are regular readers of the Wrigley Wax blog about one man's Chicago Cubs baseball card collection. Based on an idea from The Junior Junkie, who posted his Best Binder Page of his top nine Ken Griffey Jr. cards, our friends at Wrigley Wax posted their Top Nine Chicago Cubs cards of all time.

Inspired by this idea, we decided to post our Top Nine Binder Page of our all-time favorite player, Arturs Irbe. The cards span essentially Irbe's entire career and are presented in chronological order.

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Top Row: 
1990-90 O-Pee-Chee #501 - This card pictures Irbe from his Soviet Championship League team Dynamo Riga from his hometown of Riga, Latvia, which was then a part of the Soviet Union. This photo was taken during a Super Series game vs. the Minnesota North Stars, a game we were in attendance for. Irbe must have impressed the North Stars management that day, as he was drafted by Minnesota in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft.

1991-92 Kansas City Blades #5 - This card pictures a smiling Irbe while in uniform for the Kansas City Blades of the IHL. In a complicated deal, the ownership of the North Stars were given an expansion franchise, the San Jose Sharks, and sold the North Stars to new ownership but were able to retain the rights to a number of North Stars players and draft picks, one of which was Irbe. This card was a part of a 20 card Blades team set. Irbe played 32 games for Kansas City in 1991-92.

1991-92 Upper Deck French #532 -  From Irbe's rookie NHL season, this card has it all. It shows his birdcage helmet and white goalie gear, when combined with his white home jersey gives him the appearance of the Michelin Man. We've always liked the NHL 75th Anniversary logo which adorns the front of the card, but perhaps our favorite part is the French translation for "goaltender" on the upper right - "Gardien de But".

Middle Row:
1991 Swedish Semic Stickers #77 - Made in Sweden and quite difficult to obtain, this sticker shows Irbe in a CCCP jersey and the sticker is decorated with a Soviet Hammer and Sickle flag.

1993-94 EA Sports #120 - Only available packaged with copies of the EA Sports NHL video game, another card that is not easy to come by.

1994-95 Topps Stadium Club Members Only #17 - This card shows Irbe in his first NHL All-Star jersey from the 1994 game in Madison Square Garden hosted by the New York Rangers and is another good look at his helmet and pads.

Bottom Row:
1995 Sporta Avize - Sporta Avize is a sports magazine from Latvia who produced a set of unnumbered cards, one of which was Irbe, pictured for the first time in the maroon jersey of his native Latvia following the breakup of the Soviet Union. His well worn leg pads are looking particularly dingy by now.

2000-01 Be A Player Memorabilia Emerald #255 - This card was chosen for three reasons. First, it's horizontal format shows Irbe in full extension doing the splits and reaching up to make a glove save. Seriously, tilt your head to the left and take a look at how it shows off his renowned flexibility. Second, his leg pads, blocker and glove are just beat to hell by now, and certainly more grey than white, especially when contrasted with his helmet. Irbe was known for carrying a sewing kit and making his own repairs to his well-worn pads and this shot shows just how hammered they had gotten. Finally, this card represents all the mindless parallel cards we accumulated in our fervor to have all Irbe's card releases. This particular card came in four variations - the base card, the ruby version limited to 200, the sapphire version limited to 100 and this emerald variation, of which our is #3 out of a run of just 10. We have quite a number of other limited run Irbe cards, some genuine low print runs of unique cards, while many others short prints of color variations of varying amounts, many of those being 50 or less, but chose this emerald version to represent those.

Regrettably, we were drawn into trying to collect all the needless versions of his cards, most of which is the fault of the defunct Pacific Trading Cards company. For example, in 1999-00 Pacific released eight different hockey card sets (Aurora, Crown Royale, Dynagon Ice, Omega, Pacific, Paramount, Prism and Revolution) and then produced as many as nine different color and finish variations of each of those eight base set cards, not to mention the insert cards for those sets! It was out of control madness.

In that one season alone of 1999-00, Pacific was responsible for 49 Irbe cards if you count all the variations. Sticking to just the base cards and the inserts, that number shrinks to a much more reasonable 13 cards, meaning 36 of the 49 were simply color variations of the perfectly fine base cards. We could go on about the effect that had on Topps and Upper Deck, who joined in on the craze, but we've still got one final card to talk about…

2005-06 HK Riga 2000 #041 - After the demise of Irbe's original club Dynamo Riga, a new club rose to take it's place, HK Riga 2000. The team was founded in 2004-05 and lasted until 2008-09. Irbe had been traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the 2004-05 season, but the NHL season was cancelled and he, like many others, kept active that season by playing in Europe. When the NHL returned to the ice in 2005-06, Irbe remained in Europe with Riga 2000. While the photo on his HK Riga 2000 card from the previous season is better, we like the 2005-06 card because it is all done in the Cyrillic alphabet, making it just that much cooler. This card is also where he chose to stop our extensive collection, as it was the final one produced of him prior to the end of his playing career in 2006-07.

While there have been a number of cards produced of Irbe since the end of his career, we found that it was a good time to come to our senses and call it a day as the gimmicks and exclusivity of the cards had taken the fun out of it for us.

That said, we never did track down a 1998-99 Dynagon Ice #33 Ice Blue variation numbered out of 67 and would still love to fill that singularly annoying gap in our collection... 

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