It's all Pete Van Vleet's fault.
Pete hosted a weekly all-night poker game, back in the early part of the decade. It'd often go through to dawn, with enough beer and food to last throughout. Pete also lived about four blocks from me, so things like "moderation" and "responsibility" were foreign concepts.
Late one night, early one morning, I stumbled home through 4 a.m. Atlanta, and, well, if you drink a lot, you shouldn't leave your computer on all the time. The next morning, I woke up to find out I'd spent $495 on a game-worn hockey jersey. Petr Prajsler, Los Angeles Kings -- remember him? No? With good reason. But he had a solid season for the Phoenix Roadrunners when I lived in Arizona, and he'd lodged in my mind all these years.
That's how it all started.
I became addicted to surfing the net, searching for jerseys. Thankfully, I quickly decided to limit myself to Czech players, in the name of sanity. Even with the limitation, I found plenty of cool stuff. An '80s Leafs Miroslav Fryčer jersey. A few Sparta Praha jerseys, including one of David Výborný's. And a bunch of cool stuff that I wish I had bought back then -- a Šlégr Canucks, a Jiří Hrdina Flames.
Soon enough, sanity prevailed, and I stopped buying. I had a few cool jerseys making a nice display on the wall, and that was that.
Until the lockout. And then the end of the lockout, and the reflowering of my hockey passion. And two unfortunate things happened at once:
* I found a Pavel Skrbek HC Poldi Kladno jersey on eBay, and
* I found this post, referring me to the magical place where Czech jerseys are auctioned off.
I won the Skrbek, didn't win Balaštík, but I was hooked. The Skrbek jersey was great, absolutely hammered, and it was off to the races again. Pretty quickly, I realized I had to drop aspirations of getting a big NHL collection; $350 is now bargain-basement for a NHL jersey. (Exceptions: various favorite players) For the most part, I've been collecting European jerseys (primarily Czech league) now -- they look cool and generally are far more heavily worn than their North American counterparts.
So what's the appeal, exactly? I've never been big on having things just to have them -- I'm most acquisitive about books, which I can actually read -- but the jerseys just look cool. Hockey jerseys (and sure, I'm biased here) are far more attractive than those of the other major sports (only baseball comes close), and the wear on the actual game-worn jerseys does tell a story. I've got a few jerseys from Czech team HC Sparta Praha, dating to the '70s and '80s, and they're just destroyed.
I've stopped purchasing, now, unless something really cool comes up, but there's quite a variety to the collection. Jerseys from seven countries, ten leagues plus international play. Almost all Czechs, with the odd Slovak (Demitra, Vaic) and one Pole (1980s national team goalie Gabriel Samolej).
It's a small place I've got here, so I restrict the jerseys to three on the wall at one time, in the hallway. That's not enough to escape the slings and arrows of friends, alas. Girls usually range from wide-eyed fear to a dismissive "hey, that's pretty neat."
The triad effect lends itself to themed displays -- the Ales Pisa good-luck charm, the Klouček vigil. Right now it's all Czech jerseys, as seen above (left to right: Ales Pisa Pardubice, unknown '70s Sparta player, Pavel Vostřák Dukla Jihlava, complete with hedgehog), marking the season getting under way over there.
Some random facts and figures about the collection:
Most jerseys, one team: HC Sparta Praha, five (two unknown jerseys from the '70s and '80s, Leo Gudas, David Výborný, and Robert Schnabel).
They're followed closely by the Thrashers with four (Klouček, Kaberle, Štefan, Hnilička), and HC Kladno, the Blues, and the Los Angeles Kings (?) with three each. Only one Avs jersey (Josef Marha) -- they haven't had a lot of Czechs, and Milan Hejduk jerseys tend to be pricey.
Most jerseys, one player: Klouček, with four (Rangers pre-season, Predators, Thrashers pre-season, Chicago Wolves. I think the only other player with more than one is Roman Vopat (remember him?).
Favorite jersey: Late 1980s Gudas Sparta Praha jersey. He was regularly among the top penalty-getters in the Czech league at the time, and it shows it -- a giant gash in the front, lots of marks all over the place. Plus the little "fighting saint" logo at the bottom of the numbers. Photos here and here, but they don't really do it justice.
Honorable mention: Tomáš Divíšek Pardubice, Roman Meluzin Tappara Tampere, Marha Avs
Ugliest jersey: Poor, poor Lubo.
Honorable mention: Jaroslav Balaštík Syracuse Crunch (do they not have graphic designers in Syracuse?), Libor Zábranský Worcester Icecats (or maybe it's just the AHL -- though half the time I think the Zábranský jersey is really pretty cool).