Hockey fans know it's hockey season, and this year, the sports hobby business knows it, too.
From the 1954-55 season until last season, except for 1982-83 and 1983-84, when it did not issue hockey sets in the United States, hockey cards have meant Topps.
This season, four card companies are producing sets, and there's even a hockey-card magazine.
Score, Pro Set and Topps cards are available now, and Upper Deck's are being shipped and are expected in stores next month.
Score cards resemble their baseball and football counterparts, with action photos on the front and color head shots on the back; card fronts have a team logo and a position silhouette. Stats on the back are last season/career.
Pro Set cards are similar to Score's (action front, color head shot on the back); the front also lists the player's number. Backs give full pro stats and an informational blurb, but vital statistics categories are in French (ne, anniversaire, grandeur, poids), although everything else is in English.
Topps cards still are Topps, with the plain cardboard back -- this year's in mint green with blue lettering -- full stats and the outline of a stick and puck and, yes, a stick of gum in each pack.
Upper Deck, maker of the foil-wrapped baseball cards, has been tantalizing hockey fans in Chicago, Detroit, Edmonton, Los Angeles and New York with --er-board ads for the cards that no one has seen. It has radio tie-ins in Detroit, New York and Los Angeles. According to Upper Deck promotions manager Jan Newton, promotion nights are planned in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and St. Louis, when limited-edition sheets of "cards special to that team" will be given out; Upper Deck sets will be given between periods to fans with lucky numbers. Newton says Upper Deck contacted all clubs in July about advertising and had to turn down several clubs interested in the card promotion because of budget limitations.
Beckett Hockey Magazine, which joins Beckett's lineup of price guides and hobby-card magazines (baseball, football and basketball), seems to be trying to make hockey fans out of card collectors and collectors out of hockey fans. The first issue (it's a bimonthly) has Wayne Gretzky on the cover, features on Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Pat LaFontaine, a price guide, a look back at last year's Topps cards and an interesting "Errors and Varieties" column. There's more for the card collector than the veteran hockey fan.
* For baseball holiday shopping, check out the catalog of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (Cooperstown, N.Y., 13326;  547-9988). Items range from a $2 Hall of Fame patch to a $2,000 limited edition sterling silver baseball; reproduction old-time caps and jerseys (for the Brooklyn Dodgers or the St. Louis Browns fan on your list) also are available.
Today, Mid-Atlantic Card Shows, Comfort Inn, Pikesville, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Today, Baseball card show, Baltimore Ramada Inn, I-695 Exit 17, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday, Baseball card show, Quality Inn Catonsville, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday, Baseball card show, Casey Community Center, Gaithersburg, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., (301) 990-1957, (301) 948-0217 or (301) 253-1526.
Dec. 1, Sports card and memorabilia show, Hit and Run Club, Memorial Stadium, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 776-1798.
Dec. 2, Mid-Atlantic Card Shows, Comfort Inn, Pikesville, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dec. 14, Baseball card show, Eldersburg Community Center, 549-1478.
Dec. 15-16, Baseball card and autograph show, 4-H Building, Maryland State Fairgrounds, 10 a.m., 254-2729 or 360-0832.
Dec. 15, Mid-Atlantic Card Shows, Holiday Inn-Cromwell Bridge, Towson, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dec. 16, Mid-Atlantic Card Shows, Howard Johnson, Hagerstown, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.