Man amasses full set of rookie cards for Indigenous NHL players

It's a goal for Naim Cardinal of Edmonton. 'I just thought ... I should try to do something meaningful for myself, and something I could look at and be really happy for accomplishing.'

Naim Cardinal of Edmonton scored a lot of likes online when he posted a picture of his collection

Naim Cardinal's collection of rookie cards for Indigenous NHL players. It took him two years to find the large one in the top left corner — a Ted Hodgson card from his Western Hockey League days. (Naim Cardinal/Twitter)

It took him a few years, but Naim Cardinal of Edmonton is hoisting his own personal Stanley Cup — a complete collection of rookie cards from every Indigenous player who ever played an NHL game.

"I just kind of got tired of buying packs of cards and, you know, trying to do sets or pick up certain rookie cards," he said.

"I just thought I should — since I'm a collector — I should try to do something meaningful for myself, and something I could look at and be really happy for accomplishing."

Cardinal marked his achievement this week by tweeting a picture of all 70 cards, laid out on his kitchen table.

Reggie Leach is there, along with Ron Delorme, Jordin Tootoo, and Cardinal's personal favourite — Fred Sasakamoose, the first Indigenous player in the NHL. 

"I actually purchased two of them off of eBay," he recalled.

The most prominent card in the array was also the toughest one for him to find — a large, hand-drawn portrait of Alberta's Ted Hodgson, who played for the Boston Bruins in the 1966-1967 season. There's no official NHL card for Hodgson, though, so Cardinal "searched high and low" for something else.

It took him two years.

"I did a lot of Googling, I went to a lot of flea markets, card shows — asking if anybody even knew who he was. And you know, I kind of just got a lot of shrugs," he said.

Eventually, he scored a team set of the World Hockey Association's Cleveland Crusaders, who Hodgson also played for.

"I had to buy the whole set, just to get the one card of Ted Hodgson."

Not every search was successful, though, because not every player has a card.

For example, Vic Mercredi of the N.W.T. hit the ice with the Atlanta Flames in the early 1970s, but Cardinal says he couldn't even find a team-issued card for Mercredi. 

'A lot of pride'

Cardinal says he's had a lot of response since posting his collection online. Lots of people, he says, have been intrigued to find out certain players have Indigenous backgrounds.

He's now thinking about starting a website with all the players' biographies.

"When I started the collection too, I was surprised and I never knew that any of these people identified as an Indigenous person," he said.

"I just feel a lot of pride for, mostly, those players and the things they've overcome and accomplished in their lives to reach the pinnacle of hockey, which is the NHL.

"It also makes me happy that I can be part of that somehow, and that's through my collection," he said.

Cardinal's not sure how much his cards are worth, should he ever decide to sell the collection. 

Not that he would.

"Sentimental value — it's worth a lot to me. I don't know if I could ever part with it," he said.

"It's going to be something that I'm continuing to add to, because there's going to be more people making it to the NHL who are of Indigenous descent."

With files from Loren McGinnis