Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The puck stops here

Winnipeg's Rankin a rabid Rubber Man, but Ontarian the go-to guy for ranking vulcanized valuables

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Five years ago, Lyle Rankin purchased a dusty box of hockey pucks at an Ellice Avenue flea market.

Some of the pucks dated back to the 1970s, and featured the crests of defunct World Hockey Association teams like the Calgary Cowboys and Birmingham Bulls.

At the time, Rankin owned a sizable hockey card collection, so the pucks were more of an impulse buy than anything else, he says. Which is why Rankin wasn't too troubled a couple of months later, when he parted ways with some of his pucks, after noticing that others just like them were fetching as much as $100 each on eBay.

Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?

"The money was good but if I had the chance to do it over again, I wouldn't have sold any," says Rankin, who now devotes the majority of his spare time to his collection of souvenir pucks.

The walls of Rankin's basement lair (let's call it his rubber room) are lined with hundreds of different pucks. Most of them are emblazoned with logos of professional hockey teams or portraits of retired superstars. But the married father of two also keeps his eyes open for promotional pucks, distributed by breweries like Labatt or retail chains such as Canadian Tire.

"Pretty much, if it's a puck, I want it," Rankin says, matter-of-factly.

Nowadays, Rankin thinks nothing of going to the ends of the Earth -- or in some cases, Saskatchewan -- for the express purpose of adding another 50 or so discs to his colourful cache.

His latest prized possession is a wooden wall plaque boasting pucks from all 21 teams that played during the 1982-1983 National Hockey League season, a campaign that included dearly departed squads like the Hartford Whalers, Colorado Rockies and Winnipeg Jets 1.0.

Perhaps the oddest -- and rarest -- puck in Rankin's collection is attached to a two-metre-long plank of wood, and is endorsed by one Robert Marvin Hull.

"This is the only one of these I've ever seen, but basically it was something kids could buy in stores in the '70s to measure how fast their slap shot was,' Rankin says, offering to demonstrate the gadget for a visitor.

The contraption works a bit like one of those sledgehammer-strongman thingies you see at the Ex. When you shoot the puck, it runs down a grooved-out path. It then slams up against a device that lets you know how cannonating your drive is, as compared to the Golden Jet's.

Rankin notes that there is one clear-cut advantage to collecting pucks instead of hockey cards.

"If that zombie apocalypse ever comes, I'll be well-armed," he says.

Darren Becker is the author of Becker's Hockey Puck Guide, a 314-page, spiral-bound tome that has become a bible of sorts for puck collectors around the world.

Becker, whose own puck collection numbers in the thousands, never set out to be an author.

About 15 years ago, the Bolton, Ont. resident compiled a checklist of pucks he was hoping to net one day. He carried it with him whenever he was out shopping at sports collectible shows. He realized he might have something marketable on his hands after a fellow collector noticed the "book" and offered Becker $100 for it on the spot. (Becker accepted the money and printed off another copy the next day.)

Becker has since published two editions of his puck guide. Each volume contains more than 20,000 listings. Chapters are divided into pro ranks, minor leagues and college levels.

"Most people consider the NHL Spalding game pucks from the 1920s and '30s to be the holy grails," says Rankin, who once sold a bunch of his doubles to a restaurant in Paris called Le Puck. "They can fetch $500 to $1,000 if they're in good condition."

Becker say pucks from the early days of the WHA -- back when the renegade league experimented with blue pucks -- are also sought after by collectors.

"A blue Ottawa Nationals with the league logo on the back can go for a ton of money," he says, referring to a team that competed for only one season before relocating to Toronto, where it became known as the Toros.

Game-used pucks usually command the highest prices, Becker says. For example, the Gold Medal-winning puck from the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif., once listed on eBay for $60,000.

For more information on puck collecting, visit Becker's website, www.officialgamepuck.com

(Make sure to check out the virtual puck museum, especially the section devoted to wedding pucks; that is, newlyweds who commemorate their big day by printing the date of their nuptials -- and a quip like "He shoots, he scores" -- on a puck.)



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 E3

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