With all due respect to every other hockey card on the planet, no card will ever compare to the 1976-77 O-Pee-Chee Henry Boucha.
The colours are perfect. Henry’s hair is perfect. His facial hair is perfect. And of course, there is the piece de la resistance: Boucha’s trademark headband. It perfectly complements the blue and gold of the once upon a time Kansas City Scouts.
It was a different look, but very fitting for the times, both on and off the ice. The 24-7 training and the strict diet plans were a long ways away when Boucha rocked the headband on his 76-77 O-Pee-Chee.
“Compared to where the league is now it was basically a beer and pizza league,” says the 61-year-old Boucha.
And when it came to life on the road in the NHL in the mid 70s, the party was often on 35 thousand feet in the air.
“When you’re on the road — my God," Boucha said. "You know I think back, some of us smoked, we would gamble and stuff on the planes. If we were flying out to Vancouver we’d probably fly from Detroit to Toronto first, then hop a cross country flight on a 747 and we’d all be sitting around and gambling our meal money, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer all the way out there. And you know the coaches didn’t care.”
If there’s one thing that has impressed Boucha over the the years it is the evolution of the game: the training and discipline. Boucha won a Silver Medal with Team USA at the 1972 Olympics. He ended up playing on the national team after being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. He represented the USA on a number of occasions and he saw firsthand how serious the Russians took their conditioning.
“They practiced for conditioning for six hours a day. When you go up against a team like that and you’re practicing an hour and a half a day who do you think is going to win?”
Boucha’s hair got a little longer once he was done with the U.S. national team. He soon found himself in the NHL playing for the Detroit Red Wings, where he got rid of his helmet. Next thing you know, his hair was in his eyes, sweat dripping into his contacts. He was a speedy player on the ice, often playing on a checking line. When you’re trying to keep pace with Yvan Cournoyer on a sticky night at the Forum, a man has to see, and look good while doing so (it was the 70s). Enter the headband.
“One of my friends … a tennis club member said ‘Why don’t you try one of these tennis headbands. It might keep the hair out of your eyes.’ It’s a sweatband, so realistically that’s how I started wearing it.”
Of course, Boucha knew he would take a little heat in the hockey world for his new found sense of style.
"I think I wore it the first time against Pittsburgh," Boucha said. "I had worked with Bugsy Watson and Gordie Howe at a hockey school the summer before. Bugsy came up to me. He’s kind of old school. And he says ‘Oh my God, take that thing off.’ I just kind of laughed about it. It kind of caught on after that.”
We sure are lucky it did. Boucha ignored the odd shriek of “HIPPY” from the stands and rolled with the headband. He says his native heritage helped him rock the look. And rock it he did, no matter where he played. Different team, different headband, no problem.
“It all matched out pretty well,” said Boucha. “It’s kind of interesting now. You’re looking at probably about 40 years later, 35 years later. It was unique to wear that head band and have that type of look. And then you look on both sides of the coin and you’re going ‘geez, nobody is wearing helmets!’
"Our equipment wasn’t near anywhere near the way the equipment is today. It was just the times I guess. You could have that look or you could have long hair and you could be cool out there during that time period. It was great.”
These days Boucha lives in Alaska where he’s a very active member of the business community. He works at DanTech Services, a technology company in Anchorage. He’s also a consultant with the Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership. And yes, in the office, or at a school speaking engagement, the old pictures will pop up every once in a while.
"It’s embarrassing at times when I go out there and I make my speeches and pull the pictures out and do my powerpoint survey. You know they’re gonna say, ‘Wow you kinda look different!’ It’s hard to explain … what can you say? You just say ‘Well it was the times. In the 70s, we were all cool.'”
Boucha was even cool enough to have a few extra beaded headbands in his playing days, just for interviews. Perfect for a quick intermission interview: off comes the sweatband, on goes the beaded band.
An eye injury during an incident with Boston’s Dave Forbes helped put an end to Boucha’s career years before he should have played his final NHL game. He was out of the NHL at just 25.
But he left his mark on the league and in shoeboxes throughout North America. Flip through an old pile of hockey cards. I dare you not to take a double take when you come across a Henry Boucha. And he still sees his old cardboard all the time. A few letters arrive every week, accompanied by his cards, with requests for Boucha to sign them.
“Most of the time you never liked the way you looked. You wish you would have had a different pose. Some are OK and some you’re going ‘oh my God.” I guess you know, just heck, to have them, there are not that many players or people that reach their dream. So, you know, I guess I’m proud of the fact that I was able to play.
“I reached my dream.”
And those old headbands, Boucha’s trademark for so many years: they’re still around, too. At least the beaded ones.
“I got those in some trunks. I don’t even know whether my kids will even want some of this stuff. What am I gonna do with it?”
I’m sure there are a few hockey card fans out there who may want one more pose.