The Greatest Sticker Collection of All Time
All the stars, all the grinders. The greatest goalies. Brushcuts and Brylcreamed dos. No facial hair. A soft cover and a hard cover album. None of that peel and stick late 1970s technology. Nope. These babies had to be licked to stick. Of course, I am referring to the 1970/71 Esso Power Play NHL sticker set. Without a doubt, the greatest hockey sticker set of all time (according to no less an authority on hockey stickers sets than me).
The National Hockey League and Imperial Oil teamed up to produce this loyalty program for the 1970-71 NHL season. You received one pack of 6 stickers with each fill of gasoline. You had to purchase at least $3 worth. In 1970 though, gas was .36 cents a gallon (or 8 cents a litre for you millennials). You could purchase one of two albums (Savers) to hold the stickers. The softcover would set you back .79 cents while the hardcover was $4.95. There was a free vinyl “wallet” that you could use to carry your extras. These inevitably wound up at school so you could trade with friends at recess (gottem, needem, gottem).
These were my crack cocaine. My gateway drug into everything hockey. Every week my dad would come home with a pack or 3 for my younger brother and I. He was given the softcover book and I, maybe being number one son, got the hardcover. We actually still had both of them up until a few years ago but but they were lost to a flood. Just looking at some of Uncle Google’s images of these however brings back so many great memories. I can remember laying on the floor on a Saturday night in front of the Zenith 26 incher, watching Hockey Night in Canada and leafing through the pages. This is where I learned about hockey. I memorized the player names. I studied the jerseys and logos. I was a goalie at the time and loved those images especially. Eddie Giacomin, Jacques Plante, Phil Myre and of course, Rogatien Vachon.
In 1970, there was a 2 bay Esso station at the corner of Talbot and Watt streets in Winnipeg. It’s the heart of Elmwood. My friends the Meissners lived across the street and the Derksens lived behind the station. It’s a 7 Eleven now and if I remember correctly a guy was stabbed to death just in front of it about 20 or so years ago. I know right? Slurpees + Murder = Winnipeg. Regardless, I lived on Nairn avenue and my elementary school was on Riverton so I walked by that station every day, 4 times. We soon found out that the greasy kid behind the till at the Esso station would sell us a pack of stickers on the sly for 5 cents. I thought I had won the lottery one night when my dad came home after getting an oil change and threw 40 packs at my brother and myself. At the end of the season, we ordered a stats package. There was a sticker for each player that would go under the picture and contained their season’s numbers.
I say that these are greatest set ever somewhat facetiously but in my mind they are. For other kids it’s a set of inserts from 77/78 or the first year of ProSet (doubt it). If you are older than I am it may be BeeHive photos that caught your fancy or 64 Topps tallboys (love them!). The point is all hockey collectibles are great in some way. It has nothing to do with their monetary value. I have a Gretzky card. It’s worth a lot. But for most of us, it’s the hockey card or game program that you got the first time a parent or older sibling took you to a game. Maybe it’s a souvenir cup or pennant. Remember Danny Devito in “Throw Momma From the Train.” He shared his valuable coin collection with Billy Crystal. At first what you see is the crappiest coin collection of all time. But then he goes on to explain why certain coins are so important to him. It’s the memories that are priceless. The sticker set is just a thing. I don’t even have it anymore. But again, just thinking about them or seeing the pictures, I remember so much more!