Nothing says it’s the holiday season more than the avalanche of
hockey books now available at your local book store.
Books about coaches, books about goalies, books about fighters,
and owners not holy.
Books about scouting, book about teams, books about the best
players you’ve ever seen.
In all honesty, many of the hockey books out there for the holiday
season read as if they were rushed into the marketplace for the big shopping
stampede. The worst offenders are the “as told to” tomes. Actually, tome is the
wrong word; most of those literary classics are razor thin reads, which is a
good thing. Sometimes less really is more.
For the past month, The War Room has highlighted a number of
hockey books that we think are worth plunking down cash for. After numerous
requests, we present to you the cream of the crop. Consider this our Christmas
gift to you.
For nothing says Ho Ho Ho, Like Hoc Hoc Hockey Books.
PICK OF THE LITTER
We recommend the following two books for your home library. One
won’t cost you all that much money; the second is a limited edition release,
and will take a few more shillings to purchase.
The Lives of Conn Smythe
By Kelly McParland,
Fenn/McClelland & Stewart, 370 pages.
This is the must read hockey book of the 2011 holiday season.
McParland is a writer, and editor, for the National Post newspaper in Canada.
His politics are decidedly right leaning, but unlike many of his columns, he
doesn’t use this book as a soapbox, instead crafting a compelling study of one
of the most fascinating, and influential, men ever to walk the walk in the
National Hockey League.
McParland’s strength comes from not being a sports writer, thus he
avoids the straight jacketed approach so many hockey books are encumbered by.
McParland weaves a highly entertaining tale of Smythe’s rags-to-riches rise in
Protestant Toronto, as the city, and the country, slowly emerge from their
colonial status as the 20th century unfolds. Smythe cemented his
legacy as the heart and soul of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ franchise, but he was
also a modern Renaissance Man. McParland painstakingly researches all the
various incarnations of Smythe’s jam-packed life, but the book never reads like
a dusty, dry biography.
Instead, McParland reanimates the old guy, breathing life into
this hockey titan, for example shining a light on Smythe’s Boys Life exploits
in the Great War, and World War Two, as well as his direct involvement in a
Constitutional crisis that threatened to bring down the Canadian Federal
But in the end, it’s the hockey stuff you want to read about, and
McParland delivers that in spades. Suffice to say you’ll come away from this
book having gained a very good grasp on the formative years of the NHL, and how
big of a shadow Smythe cast over the league.
Behind the Moves
NHL General Managers Tell how Winners are Built.
By Jason Farris.
Only available at the website, it might be sold out before you
convince yourself to shell out at least a hundred bucks to pick up this coffee
But it will be worth it. And while it looks like a glossy coffee
table hockey book, it’s anything but.
Farris has decided to publish this himself, which enabled him to
wield complete creative control, and he made the most of that opportunity. The
reader is the benefactor of that path less travelled. Farris gained
unprecedented access to almost every current and former NHL general manager
that you can think of, and somehow got these often reticent gentlemen to open
up enough for us to take a privileged peek into the power backrooms of big
There are great stories that haven’t been published before,
explanations of how and why certain moves were made, as well as various charts
and graphs, enough to keep any hockey fanatic busy until Easter.
The shame is the limited edition status that will keep this
instant classic out of the hands of most hockey fans. Then again, the limited
edition approach is an integral part of its charm, and no doubt helped to open
a few previously locked doors. Heck, if he can get Lou Lamoriello to reveal a
few of his deepest secrets, then the least you can do is open up your wallet
and buy this book.
Or hope that your brother-in-law buys it, so that you can borrow
it. If you do, you won’t be returning it any time soon.
The Story of the NHL’s Unlikeliest Tough Guy. with Pierre
Thibeault, Penguin. 346 pages.
The old saw about hockey tough guys being far more interesting
than other players holds up in the case of Monsieur Laraque. My theory is that
the tough guys spent less time playing hockey while growing up, since they had
many other interests to indulge in (literature, music, burning cars), but Georges
does not fit that model. He was a talented scorer at a younger age, and his
engrossing tale about overcoming racism to make his mark in the NHL is both
impressive and inspiring.
By the end of the book, I felt exactly like the suburban sloth I
have become. Laraque puts his money where his mouth is, and is open about his
upbringing, his progressive politics, vegan lifestyle, humanitarian work, etc.
Oh, and there’s a ton of great hockey stories in here, and his doesn’t pull any
punches. The book has already made waves in the hockey community. Well worth
Over the Line
Wrist Shots, Slap Shots, and
Five-Minute Majors. By Al Strachan, McClelland & Stewart, 268 pages.
What is it about hockey writers and their right leaning politics?
Unlike Kelly McParland, old hockey war horse Al Strachan infuses his politics
into this latest offering. Often he comes across as a grumpy old man, not all
that happy about the path his beloved game has taken.
But oh the stories he tells. Strachan has been around long enough
to know practically all the power brokers in the NHL, and he spins as good a
yarn as any writer. Over The Line is structured in such a way that you can pick
and choose which tales to read on any given dip into the book. Some are as
short as a joke with a good punch line; others are lengthier pieces that allow
Strachan the opportunity to make more than a few salient points about the
current state of the game.
30 Years of the Game at Its
Edited by Gare Joyce, Viking
Canada, 247 pages.
Another quality coffee table book, and a timely one at that, what
with that Great Canadian Holiday, the World Juniors, just around the corner.
Joyce is a hockey author that has delved into a myriad of interesting hockey
themes in the past, and this time oversees this compilation of memories and
observations of arguably the most interesting yearly hockey tournament not
Kevin Allen. Triumph Books.
Yet another hockey anthology, this time focusing on the evolution
of hockey in the United States. Most people know about the 1980 Miracle on Ice,
but what about the 1960 Squaw Valley team? Or how about the old-timers (such as
the under-rated Neal Broten) who strapped on the skates one more time at
Klagenfurt in 1998 to help the States get back in the good graces of the
international hockey community? Great stuff for anyone interested in hockey
history, and a must for American hockey fans.
Hijinks, Highlights, Late
Nights, and Insights. Ron MacLean w/ Kirstie McLellan Day. HarperCollins
Publishers. 316 pages.
The ultimate Straight Man is much more than that. MacLean is a
multi-faceted individual in a sport that often looks to suppress external
influences. He weaves a compelling yarn of his time with Hockey Night in
Canada, interjecting childhood stories, and tales about his early days in radio
in Alberta. The book bounces around a lot, but that’s alright…it reads like a
late night conversation with a good friend. And yes, there’s a lot about Don
Cherry in this book. How could there not be?
Sid vs. Ovi
Natural Born Rivals. By Andrew
Podnieks, McClelland & Stewart, 308 pages.
Another book by the prolific Podnieks, and another solid read.
Though their rivalry is currently at low tide, the Crosby-Ovechkin dynamic has
infused the National Hockey League with much needed blood ever since the league
emerged from the lost season of 2004-05.
Podnieks explores the changes to the game through the Sid versus
Ovi narrative that frames this book. He effectively examines that dynamic by
comparing and contrasting these two rivals over a series of head-to-head on-ice
encounters. It’s amazing how many times these two have butted heads in crucial
games. By comparison, the Wayne Gretzky-Mario Lemieux rivalry of the 1980’s
pales in comparison for the very reason their teams rarely faced each other.
Black and Gold
Four Decades of the Boston
Bruins in Photographs. Photography by Steve Babineau, Written by Rob Simpson.
Wiley. 290 pages.
Fantastic photos! So much so, will anyone read the accompanying
text? They should, for Simpson has a dry sense of humour that adds to this Love
Letter to the B’s. But the photos are simply amazing; so much so this is not
only for Bruins’ fans (though this is a must for that tribe), but also a worthy
addition to any hockey fan’s library. The other 29 NHL teams should have a
similar high quality book to offer their fan base.
WORTH A LOOK
My First Goal
50 Players and the Goal That
Marked the Beginning of Their NHL Careers. By Mike Brophy, McClelland &
Stewart, 254 pages.
A number of interesting tales contained within about a player’s
first time lighting the lamp in the NHL. Nothing earth shattering here, though
it’s a pleasant read, and one that will allow you to sound like a hockey expert
the next time you’re hoisting a few with friends at the local watering hole.
Little Athletes, Big
Effective Sport Parenting.
Bruce Beaton. Bruce Beaton Leadership Training. 165 pages.
Beaton, a former CFL all-star with the hated Edmonton Eskimos,
does a wonderful job of putting his finger on why exactly we put our kids in
competitive sports, including hockey. If you’re got a child in sports, or plan
to, this is a good read to make sure your head is screwed on correctly. Sports
is life, they say, but life is so much more than that.
A Letter From Frank
An Unlikely Second World War Friendship. Stephen J. Colombo.
Dundurn. 260 pages.
The most intense of all the books on this list, A Letter From
Frank may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’ve got the time, and an
interest in issues greater than hockey, then give this one a chance. Stephen J.
Colombo combs through World War Two correspondence between his father (a
Canadian soldier), and a German soldier, and discovers a man, and a world,
previously unknown to him.
Okay, fascinating stuff, but what’s the hockey connection? Turns
out his father’s commanding officer was one Clarence Campbell, Rhodes scholar,
former NHL referee, and about to become President of the National Hockey
League. Some interesting tales are told about Mr. Campbell.
For more information, check out http://www.aletterfromfrank.com/