Back in 1988-89, a company called ProCards put out a set of minor league hockey cards. The set included all the AHL teams, and some of the IHL teams. The sets were sold in the individual cities of the respective teams, but you could order master sets from the company. The cards aren't all that flashy; most are posed photos of the players. But the cards filled a void at the time.
These sets contain many key players: Mark Recchi and Ed Belfour are the most famous. The 1988-89 set is unnumbered, and there are variations; if you bought the sets at the rinks, you got a couple of extra cards (trainers, coaches, mascots, etc.). These extra cards are mostly undocumented. There are couple of errors in Beckett Hockey Annual's listing of the AHL set; they list Doug Yingst and Frank Mathers in the Hershey set -- those cards were most likely the extra cards. [Beckett does not list any of the other extra cards]. They also omit numbers 270 and 274 in their numbering scheme, causing it to be off. So there are really 344 cards in this set, excluding the rink-only extras.
Again, there are some good players in these sets. Mike Richter is featured with the Flint Spirits, 1 year before his NHL rookie card. These sets are numbered, but the sets are still separate (in other words, there is an IHL card #1 and an AHL card #1). Again, there are variations depending where you bought the cards.
The player selection drops off a little here; the most notable are Dominic Roussel and Dominic Hasek (have you noticed how all the stars are goalies -- that's because goalies develop later than scorers, and scorers are allowed to develop with NHL teams, and rarely see time in the minors). The cards were finally issued as one big set, and are numbered accordingly. This set contains the cards of the Albany Choppers, the last IHL team to go belly up in the middle of the season. There is a numbering problem with this set as well; there are two #99's. I don't think that there are extra cards in this year's set, but I could be wrong.
This is the last set made, and it is probably the nicest looking. Many more action photos, and a more interesting card border. Felix Potvin is the star of this set, and Valeri Zelepukin is also in it. ProCards included a Colonial Hockey League team this year, the Flint Bulldogs. I don't know why they did this. Again, the mascot/owner variations appear. I've discovered something new; I found a Flint Bulldogs set that contains not only mascot/owner variations, but also contains 8 extra unnumbered player cards. I have included these cards in my checklists.
ProCards discontinued the hockey cards following this set. I believe they were bought out by Fleer shortly after, and concentrated on minor league baseball sets. I'm not sure if they're still in business. If someone tries to sell you one of these card sets and tries to tell you how hard they are to find, don't believe him. When ProCards emerged from bankrupcy protection, their assets were freed up. It turns out that they had given many of the people in the company tons of the cards (all sports) as payment in lieu of cash. Recently, someone has been selling the hockey sets to the teams that remain in business. The Phoenix Roadrunners were selling most of the IHL sets in 1994-95 for $5, even the Ed Belfour set. So beware, they're not as scarce as you might think.
All in all, I wish ProCards was still in business. No one has produced sets with the scope that ProCards did (the 90-91 set had 628 cards). Now, people focus on minor league prospect cards, often ignoring the minor league journeymen. But if you look at all the cards that ProCards ever issued (about 2280 cards total), there are only a handfull which can be considered NHL stars. The lesson: most minor league prospects don't make it; collect minor league cards because you enjoy minor league hockey.