Naim Cardinal is once again finding out just how generous fellow hockey card collectors can be.
Cardinal, a member of Tallcree First Nation in Alberta, has earned notice in the sports card collecting industry in recent years.
That’s because he is believed to be the first individual to start a unique collection. Back in 2014 he started amassing rookie cards for Indigenous players that have suited up for at least one game in the National Hockey League (NHL).
Cardinal’s latest venture, which he began last month, is the Base Cards For Kids Project. Base cards are regular cards that come in hockey card packs. He put out a call for other collectors to send him any cards they are willing to part with of any Indigenous players who toiled in the NHL.
Cardinal then plans to ship out all the cards he receives so that they can be distributed to Indigenous youth players that attend hockey camps or clinics across the country.
“I’ve been thinking about it for awhile and trying to find a way to give back to the community,” said Cardinal, a 39-year-old who lives in Kelowna and works as an education facilitator at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus.
Cardinal had initiated a somewhat similar venture back in 2018. He knew that Moose Cree First Nation would be hosting the popular Little NHL tournament that year in Mississauga, Ont.
And Cardinal found out that former NHL star Jonathan Cheechoo, a member of Moose Cree First Nation, would be making several appearances throughout the youth Indigenous tournament.
Cardinal put out a call, primarily to some collecting contacts, to see if they had any extra Cheechoo cards they would part with. He ended up receiving close to 400 cards, which he then shipped to tournament organizers, who then shared them with event participants.
Before putting out the request for others to send him cards for his latest project, Cardinal contacted some current and elite players who run their own camps and clinics.
Among those he got in touch with were 3Nolans, a business operated by former NHL player and coach Ted Nolan and his two sons, Jordan and Brandon, who also both played in the NHL.
Others that Cardinal contacted include Wacey Rabbit, a member of Kainai Nation in Alberta, who is currently toiling with the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen, and Devin Buffalo, a member of Samson Cree Nation in Alberta and a former ECHL goaltender.
Though he’s still playing in the pro ranks, Rabbit launched his own company last year, WR20 Power Skills On Ice Development. Buffalo also started his own business in 2020, Waniska Athletics, a company which offers varying services including goalie skills clinics.
“They all wanted to be a part of it,” Cardinal said of the current and former players who are keen to distribute cards at the camps. “After I contacted them and they said yes, that’s when I started collecting.”
Cardinal said if others are interested he’s also willing to ship cards to other hockey camps in Indigenous communities.
Though his request was simply for base cards, Cardinal has been receiving much more than that. Some collectors are sending him autographed cards. He’s also received vintage cards and jersey cards (ones that include a snippet of a player’s shirt).
“I was thinking I might be able to get 2,000 cards,” said Cardinal, who put out the word he was seeking cards just over three weeks ago. “We’re halfway there now.”
Cardinal has received packages from collectors in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.
He’s also received some cards from collectors in a pair of states, California and Oregon.
One of his friends, fellow collector Brett Miles from Calgary, shipped a total of 465 cards to Cardinal.
“I was blown away,” Cardinal said. “He had said ‘I’m sending a few cards’.”
Cardinal said all those that have been sending out packages have been paying shipping costs themselves.
“I was really thankful they’re willing to do that,” he said.
The oldest card, sent to him from a collector from Enoch Cree Nation, is a 1970-71 O-Pee-Chee card of former Toronto Maple Leafs’ captain George Armstrong.
Cardinal estimates the Armstrong card is worth $10.
Other collectors sent Cardinal rookie cards of former and current players, including Theo Fleury, Jordan Nolan, Ethan Bear and Zach Whitecloud.
Cardinal said he will have no idea which hockey camper ends up with certain cards. He plans to make packs featuring 10 cards for each camper.
“I’m just going to randomly make packs together,” he said. “It’s just going to be a random thing.”
Cardinal is also planning to place a personalized inspirational message in each pack.
“I thought it would be a good way to get kids into collecting,” he said, adding he’s hoping young players will also be inspired to further their own hockey dreams.
Those who might be able to assist Cardinal with his Base Cards For Kids Project can reach him via email at [email protected] or send him a direct message on Instagram through indigenousrookiecards or his Twitter handle @IndigCards.
Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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