Where in the World is Jaromir Jagr?
Updated: May 16
A couple of years ago, there was a great story about Steve Babineau, the photographer who took the photo used by Topps for Wayne Gretzky's iconic Rookie Card (RC). That got me thinking about the image used on one of my favourite cards.
Though nowhere near as significant in the hobby as Wayne Gretzky's RC, Jaromir Jagr's 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee (OPC) Premier RC is still important. It is symbolic of the 1990-91 hockey card season, a watershed moment (if an entire season can be considered a moment) that marked the end of the vintage card era and moved the hobby in a different direction.
I always thought I knew where the photo used for Jagr’s OPC Premier RC was taken. After some recent digging into that set, I'm now convinced of it. Here's why.
The photo contains three details that help identify the arena. First, the blue dasher at the top of the boards. Second, the yellow kick plate at the bottom of the boards. Third, and probably most important, the design of the stanchions holding the glass in place, specifically the square attachments affixed to the glass itself, which seem to be somewhat unique. I’ve circled these in the closeups below.
The Dale Kushner card from the same O-Pee-Chee set also has the same three arena details present (dasher, kick plate, and stanchions). Like the Jagr card, it also has the same board advertising, for BonTon Potato Chips. So it would seem the Jagr and Kushner photos were taken at the same arena, but which one?
After taking a closer look at the rest of the set, the answer became clear. I wanted to find other cards showing the same three arena details, but unlike the Jagr and Kushner cards, I was looking for ones that showed players in their home white uniforms. (In 1990, it was the home teams that wore their white uniforms.)
Two cards that jumped out were those of Pat Lafontaine and Craig Ludwig of the New York Islanders. Both cards also showed the same three arena details, including the unique stanchion attachment.
In 1990, the New York Islanders played on Long Island, at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. That would have been a common destination for the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, who were in the same division - the NHL's Patrick Division - as the Islanders.
At this point I had my answer. Especially when you consider that BonTon Potato Chips were sold in the New York area, at least according to Wikipedia. But I wanted to be certain (or as close as possible), so I kept looking through the set.
The cards of Mikko Makela and Jeremy Roenick, which both have Islanders players in their home white uniforms in the background, also contain the same three arena details.
Next, I looked at the cards of other Penguins players in the set. Those of Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, and Bryan Trottier all have Islanders players in the background. Clearly, Long Island was a popular location for the photographers used by Topps. In my estimate, more than 30 cards in the 132-card Premier set use photos taken there.
Case closed. At least for me.
Of course, none of this really proves anything, but I’m convinced. If I was 80% sure the Jagr photo was taken at Nassau Coliseum before, I’m at 99% now.
On the other hand, is it possible these photos were all taken at a completely different arena, perhaps one used by the Islanders for pre-season games in 1990? That is 100% possible.
But here’s the kicker. If you look closely at the right side of the Jagr photo, I’m pretty sure you can see a fan in the crowd wearing an Islanders home white jersey. There even appears to be a number 16 on the sleeve, which would be for Islanders star Pat Lafontaine.