After postponements to the NHL’s regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a seemingly-annual tradition was put on hold: players spending a Day with the Stanley Cup.
Year in and year out, the franchise which comes out on top after a grueling run in the postseason generally goes through a usual routine in the month of June: a championship parade, the usual media cycles with local news outlets to reminisce on the season that past and the year ahead, and then a relaxing summer off the ice.
As part of that usual break from July until September, each member of the Stanley Cup-winning roster gets to spend a day with the trophy in their hometown. Some take it to their home country to celebrate with their loved ones, while others use it to drink alcohol, eat cereal, or accompany them for a round of golf.
While that tradition had to be put on hold until the league’s bubble-based postseason is finished, sports card collectors around the world took matters into their own hands and decided to make their own fun to celebrate their love of hockey.
In January of 2020, William Seward founded Raccoon Alliance Breaks, which allowed sports fans to buy into “breaks” of hockey cards as an alternative for those who don’t have access to boxes or packs of cards in their area.
As he kept opening boxes of Upper Deck’s O-Pee-Chee Platinum, Seward started to notice a trend: there were tons and tons of base cards for Dallas Stars forward Joel L’Esperance.
“After seeing his card a few times, I started saying “Did you see Joel score 3 goals last night late in the third period?'” Seward said. “Next time we pulled his card, it was, ‘Did you see Joel scored 6 goals last night late in the 3rd period?’ Each time we pulled his card, his goals went up by three. By the end of the night, I believe he had 36 goals.”
Along the way, Seward and his card-collecting community started calling L’Esperance “The man, The myth, The legend,” and the fandom stuck.
The next day, the “Man Paw Alliance” – the Raccoon Alliance Breaks community – cemented L’Esperance’s status as their “Great One,” the player that Seward and his audience would get excited about when it came to pulling and buying his card, and sharing his cards with others.
“I decided early on we would do two big things,” Seward said. “One – Pass around a 1/1 card to everyone who has bought in, and that wants to play along. This, I feel, makes us more than a service, or more than just a transaction.”
“Two – I wanted to give back,” he continued. “While we are making money…I wanted a brother/sisterhood. I wanted to (and feel we are) making it a personal experience that is fun to watch, fun to be a part of and fun to keep coming back to.”
So, Seward had an idea: he would pass around a 1-of-1 card to members of his community, replicating the NHL’s “Day with the Stanley Cup.” And, when it came time to select which player’s card to send around, the choice was obvious: Joel L’Esperance.
“All hockey fans/players dream of being called up, dream of winning the Stanley Cup and having their moment,” Seward said. “Statistics show that breakers are typically men in their mid-to-late 30s and up. We’re not in the NHL. Some do play adult league hockey, but why not have a smaller ‘Day with the Lespy’ like it was the Cup with a bunch of other guys?”
As COVID-19 kicked off, Seward’s audience took to Zoom to keep in touch as a community every other Friday. They discuss hockey, show off cards from their collection, and discuss the happenings in the NHL’s bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
Then, that Zoom call turned into the perfect planning location for the “Lespy” and its journey. A roster was built up to figure out who would get the card and when, and the worldwide travels of a 1-of-1 Joel L’Esperance card began.
It started with Seward in Virginia, and began its way down (and back up) the East Coast. Throughout the entirety of its trip, a tracker gets updated with the card’s latest location and what it did in each city it visits.
In Woodbridge, Virginia, Seward had the “Lespy” oversee mailing of cards to members of the “Man Paw Alliance.” Next, the card traveled 57 miles to Culpepper, Virginia, as Kris Schneider showed off his own “Lespy” collection.
“A lot of folks are never lucky enough to have a 1/1 in their collection, so this gives us a taste of what that’s like,” Schneider said. “I think what is really special was that this card of L’Esperance was unique to begin with, but now has an amazing story that this great group of friends is able to share.”
The card went down to North Carolina, where a collector named Donnie took “Lespy” to Target to buy a box of hockey cards. Afterwards, it went down I-95 to Tampa Bay, Florida, where a collector named Rob gave “Lespy” a tour of Amalie Arena, home to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Continuing its trek throughout Florida before heading back up North, the card traveled to New Port Ritchie, where a collector named Adam played NHL 20. Of course, Adam used L’Esperance in the game, “scoring three goals late in the third, while short-handed, all by himself.”
On its sixth stop, the “Lespy” found itself all the way up in New Hampshire, as David Bird sat poolside with the card before taking it out for some golf and “a nice, romantic dinner.”
“We all joke about what we will do with him, and how can we get him and Upper Deck to show that, even during all the 2020 nightmares, we can all act like kids for a little while and get back to our childhood,” Bird said.
The card will continue to make its way around the world, and Matt Foxall, a Canadian collector, is scheduled to receive the “Lespy” whenever the Canadian leg of its tour begins.
“Who ever heard of a breaking group adopting a random player and then buying his 1 of 1 and sending it around the world?” Foxall asked. “I haven’t. But it’s brought the community closer together. Wondering who gets it next, what will they do with it, and seeing all the people joining in and following it. It is truly incredible.”
While he’s excited to take the card into Toronto to potentially see the NHL’s bubble, visit the CN Tower and the Scotiabank Arena, Foxall mentioned the happiness that comes with being a part of such a massive endeavor for the group.
“It is all about the community,” Foxall said. “In the midst of a pandemic, our group became more like a family. We wanted to do things differently, we wanted to support each other. A lot of the time the cards are secondary to the friendships and conversations happening during breaks.”
That close-knit community is exactly why Seward is okay with sending such a limited-edition card around the world to numerous collectors, especially one with such a large meaning to both him and his audience.
“People are trusting me as a breaker to break cards, not be shady, mail them their cards, and deliver a great experience every break,” Seward said. “They put their trust in me with each purchase. On the other side of that coin, if folks are going to pay me, I feel I can trust them with the 1/1 card that has become our Holy Grail to enjoy their day with it and pass it along to the next person on the list.”
“People are typically good – and I have a feeling that the Alliance has a not only good, but a great group of guys that will keep passing it around.”
As for the future? Seward isn’t sure what exactly is next. But, unlike the Stanley Cup’s travels each year, the “Lespy” and its journey will be a one-time, special occurrence for members of the “Man Paw Alliance,” and an exercise in trust among members of a hobby that is back on the rise in 2020.
“Do it again? Nope,” Seward said. “We’ll have to have another great idea in the future to keep us unique.”