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Guelph's hockey history through hockey cards part of new museum exhibit

Lifelong Guelph resident Stephen Gazzola set about trying to collect hockey cards for anyone with a Guelph connection that played at least one game in the NHL
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Stephen Gazzola holds hockey cards of Lou Fontinato, Aldo Guidolin and Joe Contini that are part of the display at the Guelph Museum depicting Guelph's hockey history through hockey cards. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday

Stephen Gazzola chose an interesting way to document part of Guelph's history.

About 25 years ago the Guelph architect decided to start collecting hockey cards of players with a Guelph connection who had played at least one game in the National Hockey League. They might have been born here, they might have played junior hockey here or, in the case of Frederick "Bun" Cook, they might have played for Ontario Agriculture College.

The results of his efforts, Guelph’s Hockey Tradition Through a Collector’s Eye, are now on display at the Guelph Civic Museum until April 24.

"This was an easy collect," Gazzola said. "I wasn't looking for all their cards or just rookie cards. I just wanted a card from all those that were either from or came through Guelph."

From NHL Hall of Famers to guys that played two games in the NHL. It's quite a collection, although even Gazzola doesn't think it is by any means complete.

"It's just fun. It's something to talk about and is a small piece of Guelph's history," Gazzola said.

From the easy to find such as Guelph Storm grads Robby Fabbri, Jeff O'Neill and Todd Bertuzzi, to the more obscure. The collection spans roughly 65 years of Guelph hockey history, pretty much the time period that hockey cards have been made.

Some are NHL cards created by the major card makers. Others broaden the boundaries.

Andy Bathgate's card was part of a collection you could get if you mailed in labels from bottles of Beehive syrup.

Bill Sweeney, who never had an NHL card made, is represented by an American Hockey League commemorative card.

Guelph native Lloyd Finkbeiner's card (he played two games for the New York Americans in 1940) is from a senior team in Quebec. From 1950, it is the oldest card in the collection.

"I knew about the Finkbeiner card for 10 or 12 years. I kept looking on EBay and finally it showed up," Gazzola said.

Some were easier to find than others, for obvious reasons. Some are from major hockey card makers, others from various sets put out by other leagues.

"When cards started they were an add-on to a product. You bought something and the card was an extra - cigarettes and all kinds of stuff," Gazzola said. "Things grew in the 70s then went crazy in the 1990s.

Longtime Detroit Red Wing Kirk Maltby is from Cambridge, but he was born at Guelph General Hospital.

Joe Contini's card is from his days with the junior Hamilton Fincups.

One of the more interesting cards belongs to Gord McTavish, a first round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 1974. McTavish only played 11 games in the NHL and never had a card of his own, but his image was mistakenly used on Mario Tremblay's card.

It was at a garage sale in the early 1990s that Gazzola came across a Leapin' Lou Fontinato hockey card. His father Richard was a classmate of Fontinato's at Sacred Heart school so the card struck a chord.

He went about researching and hunting as many cards with Guelph connections as he could. By no means complete, the collection now sits at around 500.

Gazzola doesn't claim that his collection is complete or exhaustive. It's what he's been able to find and he knows there are more out there.

For Gazzola, the innocence of collecting hockey cards has gone. There are so many sets and subsets from a variety of manufacturers, that it isn't the same.

"It's not pure any more. It's an ugly kind of thing now, it's not for a kid or the casual collector. That's gone," he said.

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Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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