BY KEVIN GLEW
Canadians often visit sports card stores to buy memorabilia of their hockey heroes. But what if their favorite player was working behind the counter?
This scenario has played itself out at Joe Daley’s Sports Cards in Winnipeg many times, where the affable ex-NHLer mingles with customers and rings through sales.
“I think half the time they’re (his fans) surprised that I’m actually here,” said Daley, who tended goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings and also spent seven seasons in the WHA with his hometown Winnipeg Jets.
Collectors often reminisce about the Jets and how much they enjoyed watching Daley play, unaware they were talking to the man himself.
“Once they realize who I am, people apologize. And I say, ‘Don’t worry about it. Why should you expect when you walk into this shop that I would be standing behind the counter?’ ” said Daley, who mans his 800-square foot store alone.
The former netminder has operated his card business for 19 years. Not one to flaunt his ex-NHLer status, it took customers and friends several years to convince Daley to sell his own autographed pictures.
“I found it so difficult for many years to put an item out on the shelf of me that I’ve signed and actually charge for it,” he explained. “But people told me, ‘If you don’t, you’re crazy. The people will buy it.’ So I started to put pictures out and people actually do buy them.”
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Daley first played hockey when he was nine years old. He was drawn to goaltending almost immediately.
“I just told people that I put my name down as goalie because nobody else did and that assured me of playing,” he said.
Evolving into a promising prospect, he was inked by the Weyburn Red Wings, a Saskatchewan Junior League franchise then sponsored by the Detroit Red Wings. He played the 1961-62 and 1962-63 seasons in Weyburn, before commencing his nomadic trek through minor pro circuits in the U.S.
“I played in almost every league that existed,” Daley said.
While he was in the Red Wings organization he suited up for Johnstown (EHL), Memphis (CPHL) and Pittsburgh (AHL). After four seasons in the minors, however, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected him in the 1967 NHL expansion draft. He would spend the 1967-68 campaign with Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in Baltimore, before serving as a backup to Les Binkley in Steeltown in 1968-69.
Daley played just nine games for Pittsburgh in ’69-70, before being chosen by the Buffalo Sabres in the intra-league draft in the off-season. He was the first player ever on the Sabres roster.
Daley and Roger Crozier shared the goaltending duties for the Sabres in 1970-71, but life wasn’t easy for a goalie on an expansion team. Daley recalled facing 72 shots in a game against the Boston Bruins on December 10, 1970.
“The game was tied 2-2 after the second period, and I was thinking, ‘My God, we’ve got a chance of getting a point out of this,’ ” Daley recalled.
Unfortunately, Boston scored six goals in the third period.
In total, Daley played 38 games for the Sabres that season and recorded a 3.70 goals-against average. After that campaign, he was dealt back to the Red Wings, where he appeared in 29 games in what would be his final NHL season.
Daley then migrated to the WHA and joined his hometown Jets.
“When I found out that there was a good chance (Bobby) Hull might end up in Winnipeg, that was kind of like an insurance policy for me… I said, ‘Wow, this league’s for real,’ ” he recalled.
Toiling for the Jets for their entire seven-year WHA existence, he was a part of three championship teams and retired as the winningest goaltender in WHA history.
“I’m not a guy who wraps my arms around personal achievements, especially when you’re playing a team sport, but I’m proud of that,” Daley said. “That says two things: I performed pretty well and I played on a pretty good team.”
When he hung up his pads after the 1978-79 season, Daley ventured into the real estate business. He later moved to Penticton, B.C. for four years where he coached a junior hockey team before returning to Winnipeg.
It was his son, Travis, who convinced him to open a sports card store. Initially, Travis ran the operation, but Daley, who had continued to work in sales, eventually joined him. Travis is now in the framing business and has framed some pictures for his father’s store.
Though Daley remains passionate about hockey and his hometown, he’s not convinced an NHL team will return to Winnipeg any time soon. He believes the MTS Centre (the home of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose) does not have enough seats (its capacity is 15,015) and there’s not the economic wherewithal in Winnipeg to sustain an NHL team for a prolonged period.
Of course, if you want to hear Daley’s opinions in person, you can visit his store, where people can not only buy cards of their hockey heroes, they can also meet one of them.