Dealer finds ice hockey fans here just below surface Skipjacks games key marketing tool


The Skipjacks average about 3,000 fans per game in the 11,025-seat Arena, and the Orioles seem to be No. 1 for all seasons in the hearts of Baltimore fans.

That would seem to qualify Baltimore as an ice-melter, even in the middle of winter.

But Mike Benton finds no dearth of hockey card collectors.

The Baltimorean has been selling cards as All Hockey By Mike for the past 3 1/2 years. He works card shows, does some mail order and has a contract with the Skipjacks to set up at all their home games.

"I grew up watching hockey, and it was my favorite sport," he says. "I was probably one of the first 11,000 people to see a hockey game at the Civic Center."

Working Skipjacks games has been good for business. Benton has found that people who attend baseball card shows are usually looking for baseball cards exclusively.

"It's a nice core of people who go to the hockey games," he says. "There's people who gave up their baseball cards to go with the hockey." Out-of-town fans will often pick up business cards. He gets requests for cards popular in other cities that are less expensive here.

Benton, who estimates 40 percent of business is in autographed cards, says Eric Lindros is popular among collectors. He does a good business in Washington Capitals material, and Al Iafrate rookie cards have become difficult to find. When the Hershey Bears visit the Arena, Benton sells a lot of Philadelphia Flyers material.

Card lines Benton finds doing well are Pinnacle, especially the Team Pinnacle subset, and the Topps gold cards. Fleer Ultra sales are dropping after early-season popularity. He's also selling a lot of Matchbox trucks decorated with team logos of the Capitals, Flyers, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.

The rookies are coming

SkyBox Series 2 features rookies, including star first-rounders Shaquille O'Neal, Christian Laettner and Tom Gugliotta. They're in the continuation of the first-round insert set that started in Series 1. There will be no cards numbered DP4 or DP17 because those players have not signed, and the six Series 1 cards will not be repeated in Series 2 packs. There are also 33 cards of rookies shown in action in their NBA uniforms. Cards carry the SkyBox gold rookie logo. Other series highlights are five more cards in the David Robinson set and six three-card "School Ties" puzzles. The puzzles are similar to the USA Basketball team puzzle from last season's Series 2 and features players who attended the same school and have been successful in the NBA. There are puzzles for UNLV, North Carolina, Illinois, Georgetown, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Look for the 12-card foil packs in mid-February.

On the block

Mike Tyson gave his three heavyweight belts to trainer Kevin Rooney as a gift. Rooney doesn't work for Tyson anymore, and he's consigned the belts to auction for Superior Galleries' Feb. 27 sale. Each carries an estimated value of $40,000 to $50,000. Other interesting items are a high school yearbook signed by Jackie Robinson, an Elvis Presley tennis racket, three sets of Sammy Davis Jr.'s golf clubs and manufacturer's samples of championship rings. The rings, even though they were never owned by the players whose names appear on them, aren't cheap. The William Perry Super Bowl ring sample, a rare size 23, is estimated between $4,500 and $5,500. Call (800) 421-0754.

Star card

Miami Dolphins defensive end Marco Coleman, Pro Set's Rookie of the Year, will be featured on a special card in Pro Set's

1992 NFL final update set, due out this month.

Coming events

Through Oct. 31, exhibit on Rex Barney's 50-year sports career with memorabilia from his Brooklyn Dodgers days, Babe Ruth Museum, (410) 727-1539.

Saturday, card show to benefit North East Elementary School PTA, North East Fire Hall (Mauldin Avenue), 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., (410) 287-3954 or (410) 287-6067.

Sunday, card show to benefit Essex Girl Scout Troop 561, Essex Elks Lodge No. 1866 (1007 E. Hamburg Ave.), 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., (410) 780-3037.

Feb. 27, card show to benefit PTSO, Bates Middle School (701 Chase Ave., Annapolis), 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., (410) 268-4309 or (410) 266-8015.

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