LADNER, B.C. - A stinky goalie stick from Game 4 of the 1972 Canada-Russia series is now one of the sweetest items in Andrew Castell's massive collection of NHL memorabilia.
"This thing, it just stunk, the tape on it," says Castell, as he picks up Vladislav Tretiak's stick, which was given to him as a 12-year-old boy after watching the game at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.
"It was the most foul-smelling thing I'd ever smelled in my entire life," he says of the stick that "smelled worse than any manure" and was handed to him on Sept. 8, 1972, by Robo Rennie, who managed the press box at the time.
"My dad said,`Andrew, you've got to take the tape off or Mum's not going to let us into the house.'"
The stick Castell put up on his bedroom wall now plays a starring role among the thousands of items worth an estimated $4 million in Castell's private collection.
Castell got Tretiak to sign the blade in 1989 when the goalie was promoting his autobiography at a bookstore in West Vancouver.
Then in 1992, when Paul Henderson was in Vancouver to promote the 20th anniversary of the Canada-Russia series, Castell bought a commemorative print of the star scoring the goal and lined up for an autograph with the stick in hand.
"He turned over the blade and saw Tretiak's autograph on it and he said, `Oh, yeah. I know who that guy is,' and he signed it."
Henderson scored against Tretiak in Game 8 of the series in Moscow on Sept. 28, 1972, when Canada clinched the Summit Series with a 6-5 win that would go down in hockey history.
Castell's collection, which has taken over his home in the Vancouver suburb of Ladner, also showcases 234 jerseys—80 per cent of them game-worn.
One was donned by icon Gordie Howe and several graced the body of Pavel Bure, the "Russian Rocket" who shot to stardom during what turned out to be the Canucks' failed attempt to take home the Stanley Cup in 1994.
Castell began his hockey collection at age nine as a rink rat who'd get players' autographs and grab abandoned sticks and pucks that went over the glass during the Canucks' practices, which he skipped school to attend.
"I was nine when I went to my first-ever NHL game on Oct. 9, 1970," he said.
"I still have my ticket stubs and the top ticket we paid for that game was $6.50, and that was in the lower reds."
He and his parents later had seasons tickets.
Over the years, Castell's collection grew as trainers, pro shop owners and others got to know the super fan, who also bought items from sellers and at auctions.
Along with his nearly 100,000 publications and programs, Castell owns an endless array of items including commemorative prints, beer steins, bobbles and rows of plates that grace a wall in the hallway.
One plate features Howe and Wayne Gretzky after "the Great One" broke Howe's scoring record in 1994.
Castell, 51, who works for Industry Canada and was a 29-year season-ticket holder with the Canucks, also owns 1,827 hockey sticks of the stars.
They include four Bobby Orr sticks, which Castell got after the former Boston Bruins legend played his last game in Vancouver on Nov. 21, 1978.
"The trainer asked me to come down after the game and he pulled out four Bobby Orr sticks," Castell says as he surveys one of them.
"All the sticks are numbered 1, 2 and 3, and they're all within a quarter-inch height difference."
Castell's oldest stick once belonged to goaltender Ed Chadwick, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers in the 1950s.
"It looks like it's been put together by a wish and a prayer," he says as he lifts the "big lump of wood. You can see the staples or nails holding it together. There's no fibreglass on it so you wonder how it ever stopped a puck."
Castell's collection even includes a signed helmet from former Chicago Black Hawk centre Stan Mikita from 1974.
"I'd love to have it all on display but I think the only place big enough to display it would be the Air Canada hangar out at the airport," says Castell, a walking encyclopedia of NHL history.
Some of his artifacts, including Bure's jersey from his introductory news conference as a Canuck in November 1991, are currently on loan to the team for its 40th anniversary display at Rogers Arena.
Castell also loaned some artifacts to the BC Sports Hall of Fame's temporary Go Canucks Go gallery last year, and will provide moreitems for a permanent exhibition to be assembled at the hall next year.
Jason Beck, curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame, says he was blown away when he saw Castell's collection for the first time last year.
"It's absolutely unlike anything that I've come across, both on the Canucks and simply a sports collection in general," he says.
While some collectors aim for certain items, Castell has it all covered, Beck says.
"There's every game sheet, every media guide, every program. For a single person to accumulate what he did is pretty remarkable, and the Hockey Hall of Fame was knocking on his door to get the collection."
Beck says it's no longer possible for anyone to have the kind of access to artifacts that Castell had years ago.
"He was collecting at a time when there wasn't a huge value from the general public on sports memorabilia."
"It's incomparable," he says. "It is the benchmark."
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly reported Castell went to his first NHL game in 1979