Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The Daley Show

The last line of defence for the WHA Jets is now the first name in hockey cards in Winnipeg

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Prior to last month's Olympic hockey tournament, a trio of Free Press scribes -- Ed Tait, Tim Campbell and Jason Bell -- put their heads together and came up with a list of global dream teams comprised of the best players who have ever laced 'em up for the Winnipeg Jets, based on each skater's country of origin. Finland's starting right winger, for example, was Teemu Selanne. Sweden's centre was Ulf Nilsson. And so on.

When it came time to choose a goaltender for an all-Jets Team Canada, the writers opted for Thomas "Joe" Daley, a three-time Avco Cup champ who grew up in East Kildonan and now operates Joe Daley's Sports Cards, a sports memorabilia shop located at 513 St. Mary's Rd.

Which leads us to our first question: on the ice, Daley was known for coming up with the big save, correct? But was he as big a saver when it came to sports cards?

"Heck, no," Daley says with a laugh. "I was the same as every other kid in the '50s and '60s who put his Gordie Howe card in the spokes of his bike or left it in his back pocket before his mom washed his jeans. I didn't save any cards from my youth. And when I think about what I had back then and how much they'd be worth, it makes me a little sick."

2014 marks the 25-year anniversary of Joe Daley's Sportscards -- a run that is significantly longer than Daley figured it would be when he and his son Travis took over an existing card shop on Osborne Street in 1989 and relocated it to St. James Street near Polo Park later that same year.

"Before we moved, the guy on St. James said he wanted us to sign a three-year lease. I took a hard swallow and said to Travis, 'Three years? This business is going to amount to enough to keep us going for three years?'"

Daley was the first player chosen by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1967 NHL expansion draft. He played five seasons in the National Hockey League -- three for Pittsburgh, one for the Buffalo Sabres and one for the Detroit Red Wings -- before returning to his hometown in 1972 to backstop the WHA Jets.

"I played on expansion teams, on poor teams and, with the Jets, some of the greatest teams ever assembled anywhere," Daley says with a smile. "I remember when we went to Russia to play the national team; the only English the chambermaids at the hotel knew was 'Booby Hull, Booby Hull.'"

Daley retired after the 1978-79 season. He remained in Winnipeg and got his real estate licence. But interest rates in the early 1980s were hovering at 23 per cent, he says, and "you couldn't give stuff away, never mind sell it." So Daley, his "high school sweetheart" Darlene and their two sons moved to Penticton, B.C., where Daley caught on with a construction company.

One day, Daley was working on a new hotel when somebody involved with the project told Daley the restaurant component of the hotel was looking for somebody to run it -- and that it might be a good opportunity for the former netminder.

"We had Daley's Family Restaurant for nine months; I was out front, my wife was in the kitchen and the kids were washing dishes," says Daley, who also coached the Penticton Knights, ex- of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League, during his stay in B.C. "We were doing pretty well until the partnership I was in soured. That's when we decided to sell and move back to Winnipeg."

Daley and Travis were sitting in the kitchen of their home one morning when Travis suggested they find a venture of their own -- something small they could grow with. Daley reached for the Saturday Free Press, turned to the classifieds and spotted a listing for a card shop that was up for sale.

"We signed on and the rest is history," Daley says.

Ray Giguere is the owner of Argy's Collectibles. Giguere had already been in the used music business for seven years and was just getting ready to add sports cards to the mix when Joe Daley's Sportscards opened in 1989. Was Giguere concerned Daley's instant name recognition would spell doom and gloom for his locale? Yes and no.

"Having a local athlete from a major league team open a store is indeed a boost for his sales," Giguere says matter-of-factly. "But you can only get by so far with a pretty face -- you have to have a personality to go along with it. Joe is a good guy, easy to talk to and honest. He wouldn't have lasted otherwise."

***

About 10 years ago, a gentleman in his 70s entered Joe Daley's Sportscards, back when it was located near Polo Park.

The fellow was carrying a plastic grocery bag teeming with old baseball cards from the 1950s. He told Daley he'd been thinking about selling his cards, and that he had been told by a friend to "Go see Joe."

Daley asked permission to look inside the bag. The first thing Daley spotted was a 1952 Mickey Mantle -- a card that, when in mint condition, can easily command five figures.

"And he had a bunch more from that same time period -- all piled on top of one another, not in plastic or anything," Daley says. "My heart started to pound and I asked him, 'Do you realize what you have here?'"

Daley invited the man into his office and for the next couple of hours, the two documented every last card in the bag.

"I probably could have offered him $5,000 on the spot and that would have been the end of it," Daley says. "But that wasn't the way to do this, I thought. Somebody had told him to come and see me, and so I was going to get this guy the best deal I could."

Thing was, hockey has always been king in this city when it comes to sports memorabilia, so Daley wasn't sure he had a market for the type of baseball cards the man had brought in. So he partnered up with another dealer in town who had connections across North America. A week or so later, Daley invited the man back to the shop.

"Travis handed him a cheque for $26,000 and I thought he was going to drop dead on the spot," Daley says.

***

Daley doesn't pretend his 25 years in business have been all sunshine and lollipops. Sure, there was that period in the early '90s when the sports card industry went through the roof and new stores seemed to be opening every other week.

But after the Jets packed up and moved to Phoenix at the close of the 1995-96 season, interest in the hobby -- at least in this part of the world -- dropped off considerably.

"Interest in hockey definitely declined; a lot of people told me they were so upset (by the loss of the Jets) that they simply quit watching hockey altogether," Daley says. "And if you're not watching hockey, you're sure as heck not shopping at Joe's on Saturday afternoon."

One morning, Daley told his wife he wasn't sure he wanted to continue. Darlene asked him what his back-up plan was. When he didn't have an answer for her she told him to pack his lunch and go to work.

"But I'll tell you this, if the Jets hadn't come back three years ago, I'm not so sure we'd be sitting here having this conversation today," Daley admits. "Their returning not only invigorated the entire city, it renewed my enthusiasm, my interest in the hobby... everything."

Although Travis is a big part of the day-to-day operation nowadays, Daley, 71, still shows up for work at least four days a week. After all, it's his name above the door, he says. Plus he continues to get a kick out of 10-year-olds who look at him quizzically when their fathers point him out and say, "That guy used to play for the Jets."

Speaking of the Jets, just how much does a Joe Daley card from that first year of the WHA fetch, anyways?

"A '72 Joe Daley will cost you about $3," Daley says with a chuckle. "My '68 rookie card, on the other hand, is valued at $12. But I defy anybody to find one for that price. They're probably going to have to pay a helluva lot more than that."

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2014 D13

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