By Hank Davis
North America’s greatest hockey show for collectors lived up to its name and reputation once more with a generous array of autograph and photo ops, as well as special features like auctions, wrapper redemptions, and Q&A sessions with big name stars.
The Toronto Sport Card & Memorabilia Expo, held May 3-5 at The International Center in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, also continued its welcome pattern of offering something for non-hockey fans. The show featured Toronto Blue Jays legend and fan favorite Robbie Alomar, and Montreal Expos stars Steve Rogers and Baseball Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero. You can bet that most of the questions Vlad faced were about his son, emerging superstar Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.
Hockey legends on hand for autograph signings included Brett, Bobby and Dennis Hull, Phil Esposito, Frank Mahovlich, Denis Potvin, Steve Shutt, Bernie Nicholls, Kirk McLean, Mike Palmateer, Pete Stemkowski, Billy Harris and Paul Henderson. Even Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was there to represent football.
Corporate presence — such as Ultra-Pro Products, Beckett Media and Lelands Auctions — was easy to spot and as usual made a visible contribution to the weekend’s entertainment. The eBay main stage featured a steady stream of auctions and lively question and answer sessions with guests like Expos pitcher Steve Rogers and NHL star Wilf Paiement, who drew audience response for his playing days with both Toronto and Quebec. Both Rogers and Paiement followed their Q&A stints with autograph sessions.
A quick trip around the hall (actually, there are no quick trips around the hall, between the large crowds and more than 200 dealers), put you face to face with a larger than life statue of Kratos, the God of War. This product, manufactured and boxed in more manageable sizes by the New Jersey-based Neca Toy Company (who also do everything from Spider-Man to Ninja Turtles), is represented by Grosnor Distribution of Brampton, Ontario. Rob Roche spoke about his company’s regular presence at the Toronto Memorabilia Expo.
“We’re here to support our customers and their customers. We represent Beckett in Canada, who certainly don’t need an introduction to this audience,” Roche said. “And we’re also very much involved in collectible toy figures, like the one that drew you over here. Neca produces all kinds of pop culture and movie heroes.
“Our company’s been around since 1990 and we’ve been here every year since. We’ve seen the Expo in its infancy, as well as through all its highs and lows. We’ve gone through it all together.”
Since taking the world of card collecting by storm in 1989, Upper Deck has become a regular presence at the Toronto Expo.
“I’m proud of our year-to-year continuity here,” said Randy Reyes, a representative from Upper Deck. “We want Canada to know that we’re not just about America’s big three sports. Hockey is also important to us and where better to make that known than the Toronto Expo? I enjoy the flights from San Diego. I’m always impressed by how warmly we’re received up here.”
I suggest to Reyes that not only are Canadians friendly people, but Upper Deck is a household name in the world of collecting (celebrating their 30th anniversary this year). Plus, whether it’s southern California or northern Ontario, hockey is the great equalizer.
Reyes made it clear that Upper Deck is invested in the younger generation. He said it is important to listen to fans and collectors because “the hobby has no future without them.”
He also talked about the importance of featured players.
“We search for future stars and nurture exclusive relationships with them whenever possible,” he said.
Reyes described the careful process by which key players are scouted and signed by Upper Deck. He is very proud in particular of the company’s investment in Alexis Lafreniere, whose life-size card replica was prominently displayed in the Upper Deck arena, and whom Reyes referred to as an example of “the future.”
The next Toronto Sport Card & Memorabilia Expo is scheduled for Nov. 15-17.
Hank Davis is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest and is the author of Small-Town Heroes: Images of Minor League Baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.