For a kid who has never played hockey, 13-year-old Ross Vender still has a lot of puck sense.
The Hamilton native started collecting hockey pucks just three years ago and already has close to 600 in his possession, many of them Montreal Canadiens-themed pucks in honour of his favourite NHL team.
Vender is not alone in his passion for sports collectibles. He is just one of thousands of fans who collect artifacts, sweaters and other memorabilia. But it's a hobby with a potential downside: Some of those collectibles may be knock-offs, worthless to true fans. Knowing the origination and provenance of an item is key.
"He has a great passion for pucks," said Ron Vender, the boy's father, who is scrupulous about making sure items are legitimate.
The Grade 8 student came by his hobby naturally.
His father, a dermatologist, has one of the largest collections of Nolan Ryan artifacts in existence, a collection that runs into hundreds of items from autographed baseballs, gloves, hats and pictures.
Vender said his interest in major-league baseball's strikeout king began in the early 1990s when he started to follow the career of Ryan, then a member of the Texas Rangers, simply because of the player's steely-eyed determination and level of success.
Vender's prized possession is a personally autographed baseball that Ryan presented to him on his 34th birthday. No. 34 is also the jersey number that the fireballing pitcher made famous when he played for the Rangers and the Houston Astros.
In 2009 the Venders attended the NHL's all-star game in Montreal, where his son's fascination with pucks started to develop.
The younger Vender talked his father into purchasing about a dozen commemorative pucks during the all-star weekend and later, at a gala event, got a few signed by Sidney Crosby and Carey Price.
Ross Vender's collection, which includes pucks that were used as far back as the 1920s, has grown substantially with the teenager scouring Internet sites for online sellers.
Ross Vender's 14th birthday is in February and his Dad has already purchased his gift; a puck that contains the signatures of 14 players who played for the 1950-51 Canadiens, who lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup final.
The players signed their names on white hockey tape in ballpoint pen and the tape was then affixed to the puck.
The signatures include the likes of Emil (Butch) Bouchard, Elmer Lach and Bud MacPherson and Vender said he paid an on-line collector from Vancouver $500 to secure the disk.
Vender knows that the business of sports memorabilia is rife with bogus dealers trying to market fraudulent goods, many that contain forged autographs of celebrities.
In California in 2000 the FBI indicted 26 people after seizing phony memorabilia that was designed to be sold for $10-million, items that included a box of baseballs bearing the signature of Mother Teresa.
"You have to know what you're buying," Vender said. "You have to be familiar with the autograph that you want."
Glen Humenik, the owner of From Hockey To Hollywood, a Toronto memorabilia store that deals in sports and entertainment collectibles, said buying merchandise online can be tricky.
"I trust the people I buy from or else I wouldn't have it in my store," he said. "It's like when you're buying a car. You have to do a little research on the item you want and the autographs.
"And if the deal appears too good to be true you might want to smell around a little bit."