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Looking back, the theme of 2017 wasn't hard to establish—the number 100 came up again and again. It was the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Hockey League, and the Toronto Maple Leafs claimed it was their 100th anniversary as well (but that one can be debated, since they weren't the Leafs in the first NHL season).
After highlighting two books that celebrate 100, please enjoy Todd Denault's take on the top hockey books of the year. As many of you know, Todd has been having some ongoing health issues. The one plus from being stuck in hospitals and at home in Cobourg, Ontario? Lots of time to read, so he's uniquely qualified to offer up the choices.
Thanks to everyone who emailed and commented on this column, which began in the summer of 2017; I doubt it'll be going in 100 years, but hey, who knows! See you again in 2018.
100 YEARS, 100 MOMENTS: A CENTENNIAL OF NHL HOCKEY
Author Scott Morrison will admit there's a difference between 100 years of hockey history and 100 years of National Hockey League history. So in the new officially-sanctioned book, 100 Years, 100 Moments: A Centennial of NHL Hockey you are not going to find the Summit Series, Canada Cups, Memorial Cup sagas or international competitions like the Olympics and World Championships.
But what there is there is almost overwhelming in its breadth of scope, a beautiful collection of photos enhanced by 80,000 or so words from the long-time hockey writer and broadcaster. It is also up-to-date, with the Vegas Golden Knights included.
“We truly wanted it to represent the 100 years as best as we could, so it had to reach from the donation of the Stanley Cup and creation of the league to as close to the present as possible,” explained Morrison. “But we still wanted to focus mostly on the best stories and moments.”
It was a team effort to select the moments, said Morrison. “I had a small group of hockey friends assemble thoughts and we started to create a list. Because the book has the official NHL Centennial logo, I reached out to some friends with the league, knowing their group was doing the same. So we all put our heads together to come up with the list, leaving it open to change a few as we got deeper into the process and we would stumble across some different ideas.”
100 Years, 100 Moments starts out chronological, but then veers into hyperspace, jumping back and forth across the century of NHL hockey. The Stastny brothers defecting from Czechoslovakia in 1980 follows an entry about the Boston Bruins being the first NHL team in 1925-26, and then the narrative leaps back to Gordie Howe's 1000th point in 1960. The end result is a surprise of sorts every turn of page, which includes some truly great photos.
Morrison is pleased with the pictures too, even if he didn't have much to do with their selection. “The editor and designer had the major say in the photos, in part because of availability and design purposes. I certainly saw them all in the proofs and had input into the cover,” he said.
It's not a photo book, Morrison stressed. “The key was to keep the stories fairly brief, but to give them the space they deserve. In many ways the words came first and the pictures second.”
Currently the Executive Producer of Hockey of Sportsnet, Morrison began covering hockey in 1979, spending more than two decades at the Toronto Sun. In 2006, he was presented with the Hockey Hall of Fame's Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award. A past-president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, he's worked on hockey books, including Hockey Night in Canada: By the Numbers, Mats Sundin: Center of Attention and Hockey Night in Canada: My Greatest Day.
It was a joy to learn some new things and to kickstart his memory. “I think there were elements to the stories that were new, especially the details surrounding some of the older stories,” he said. “And it certainly inspired and refreshed a lot of memories.”
Understandably, 100 Years, 100 Moments is not the place to look for controversy. There's no Gil Stein NHL presidency, the attempted union by Ted Lindsay getting shut down by the worried owners, or Alan Eagleson and the NHLPA.
A pro's pro, Morrison knew his role. “There was zero pressure from the NHL. Having said that, because it carried their Centennial logo, you appreciate and understand you are fair and honest in the writing. You don’t have to be over the top critical, but everyone understood you have to acknowledge what happened, happened.”
THE FIRST SEASON: 1917-18 AND THE BIRTH OF THE NHL
If Scott Morrison had to deal with 100 years, give or take a few with inclusion of the Stanley Cup being donated, at other end of the spectrum was Bob Duff's fanatically-researched The First Season: 1917-18 and the Birth of the NHL, which covers, as promised in the title, a single year.
That single year also pretty well describes the speed in which the project came together, said Duff. “The project was first discussed between Biblioasis publisher Dan Wells and I last November, and I started hammering away at it almost immediately,” said the veteran Windsor, Ontario-based writer. “Knowing we had just over a year until the actual anniversary of the first NHL games, that gave me plenty of time to get it done.” Final edits were finished in September and photos added, and the book hit shelves in late November.
Duff knew there would be other publications marking the 100th anniversary of the NHL, but figured his angle would stand on its own. “I didn’t think anyone else would be delving so deeply into the first season of the league – how it came about, the characters involved in the story. To tell the truth, I was probably more worried about whether there would be an audience for the topic. Would anyone actually care that deeply about how the NHL was born? To my pleasant surprise, there’s been a real buzz about the book and lots of interest in how the league came to be.”
With no first-person interviews available, Duff went to all kinds of secondary sources, including previous books like Morey Holzman and Joseph Nieforth's Deceptions And Doublecross: How The NHL Conquered Hockey.
“But the vast amount of research came through endless hours of pouring through microfilm of newspapers who covered the league,” said Duff. “As someone who majored in history and lives (and loves) to research, that was a very pleasurable experience. It was wonderful to bring the rich bunch of cranks and cronies who came together to make the NHL happen to life, to put stories behind the famous (and not so famous) names.”
Duff came away even more fascinated by Eddie Livingstone, the owner of the Toronto franchise in the NHA that the other owners wanted out when the NHL was formed. “Probably the biggest surprise to me was that the original plan for the NHL was that it would be a one-hit wonder, so to speak. The other owners figured that by forming their own league, Eddie Livingstone would admit defeat, sell his NHA franchise and go away quietly, allowing them to reform the NHA in time for the 1918-19 season,” he explained. “Of course, that didn’t happen and Livingstone kept seeking to launch a rival league and fighting them in court for a decade. After years of dealing with Livingstone, you would have thought they’d be well aware of how hard-headed and stubborn the man was.”
The First Season: 1917-18 and the Birth of the NHL is actually Duff's second book out this fall. He also teamed with Ken Daniels on If These Walls Could Talk: Detroit Red Wings: Stories from the Detroit Red Wings Ice, Locker Room, and Press Box, which is a series of books from Triumph Books.
If These Walls Could Talk was “vastly different” than The First Season.
“Basically, I was serving as a conduit for Ken to help him tell his stories. It’s no different than the biographies I’ve written with Johnny Bower, Marcel Pronovost, Joe Kocur and Bob Probert. Your job is get them talking, telling their tales. It’s not about you, it’s about them,” Duff said. “And you have to accept that as well once the book comes out. They are the stars. They will draw the crowds and get the attention. And I’m OK with that. If the choice is between fame and fortune, I’ll always choose the latter.”
TODD DENAULT'S BEST HOCKEY BOOKS OF 2017
As many of you might now I suffered somewhat of a medical setback this spring. One of the side-effects of spending some time in the hospital, and then once out spending hours of time in offices waiting for checkups, appointments, and chemotherapy, is that I have had to pass the hours by reading … which has resulted in me reading more books than I can remember, a significant amount of which have been hockey related.
What you have before you is a list (with little write-ups) of the hockey books that I have read during my “sabbatical.” They are in no particular order of preference but if I had to pick out a couple, I will choose Ken Dryden’s Game Change as the most important book on the list and George Grimm’s We Did Everything But Win as the most enjoyable read.
I will also admit that there are some books missing from this particular list … only because I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. (Not sure I want to read Sean Avery's on principle.)
But in truth each of the books listed below have done more than their share to get me through my own little rough patch.
So without further ado …
Game Change: Steve Montador, Brain Injuries, and the Future of the Game
By Ken Dryden
There are books that entertain you and then there are books that inform you. This one falls into the latter category. In the skilled hands of Dryden, three stories are told in this book … the short life and tragic death of Steve Montador, the ongoing scientific effort to better understand the short and longtime effects of concussions and finally the history of hockey to illustrate how players have become in time more vulnerable than ever to these injuries. Clearly the most important hockey book of the season.
We Did Everything But Win: Former New York Rangers Remember the Emile Francis Era (1964-1976)
By George Grimm
The story of one of the greatest teams to never win the Stanley Cup, George Grimm tells the story of the Emile Francis-era New York Rangers, with significant input from Francis himself along with many of his players. A rare, fond, look back at a team without a championship, but with an entertaining and colourful legacy.
Toronto and the Maple Leafs: A City and Its Team
By Lance Hornby
The prolific Toronto Sun scribe digs deep into his bag of Leafs’ stories to tell the history of the team, the town, and its loyal fans through a series of vignettes, some of which feature fans like Mayor John Tory, superfan Mike Wilson to average Joe Fan; from influential voices of the Leafs, such as Foster Hewitt and Joe Bowen, to the ushers, cleaners, and ticket scalpers. Not to mention a funeral director who performs Leafs-themed services.
Killer: My Life in Hockey
By Doug Gilmour with Dan Robson
The story of one of the most unlikely superstars in NHL history, Doug Gilmour takes us from his younger days starting out in Kingston, Ontario, to being passed over in the NHL draft, gaining an NHL foothold in St. Louis, a Stanley Cup in Calgary, the glory days in Toronto and beyond … all the way to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Gratoony the Loony: The Wild, Unpredictable Life of Gilles Gratton
By Gilles Gratton & Greg Oliver
In a sport with its fair share of characters, I’m not sure if there has ever been one as off-the-wall as Gilles Gratton. To say that he never fit into the world of hockey would be something of an understatement. After all he refused to don his goalie equipment and man his net if the planets were not properly aligned. He skated naked at practice. He created one of hockey’s most famous goalie masks based on his astrological sign. He fought with coaches and management, speaking his mind to his detriment. Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll ruled his life, not stopping pucks. Truthfully? He never really wanted to be an NHL goaltender; he wanted to be Tibetan monk. And so, he quit hockey to seek enlightenment. Trust me this is a hockey tale quite unlike any other.
Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father
By Murray Howe
We all know Gordie Howe the player … now be prepared to meet Gordie Howe the man. As a child Murray grew up wanting to be his father, only as an adult to discover that didn't necessarily mean playing hockey. Built out of hundreds of stories and memories Murray emerges with nine pieces of wisdom that only define his father but have come to define him as well.
Young Leafs: The Making of a New Hockey History
By Gare Joyce
An in-depth look at the Toronto Maple Leafs 2016-17 season, with particular focus on the team’s young stars: William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Morgan Reilly, Nazim Kadri and especially rookie sensation Auston Matthews, tracing their individual stories against the backdrop of the Maple Leafs improbable season.
Dennis Maruk: The Unforgettable Story of Hockey’s Forgotten 60-Goal Man
By Dennis Maruk with Ken Reid
A unique hockey tale of a player who had to scratch and claw for everything he earned in the sport. Starting out with the California Golden Seals and the Cleveland Barons, and standing all of 5-foot-9, well let’s just say that Dennis Maruk faced his fair share of challenges, all of which he overcame, and in spectacular fashion when in 1981-82 he became one of only 20 players to ever record 60 goals in a single season.
Calling the Shots: Ups, Downs and Rebounds – My Life in the Great Game of Hockey
By Kelly Hrudey and Kirstie McLellan Day
Few people have had a better vantage point than Kelly Hrudey. Among his former teammates are some of the sport’s most legendary names: Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and Wayne Gretzky to name but a few. And there was Hrudey at some of the games most magical moments, the 1987 “Easter Epic,” the 1987 Canada Cup, and the Los Angeles Kings unforgettable run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993. Now a member of the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast team, Hrudey continues to keep a close eye on the sport that has been a mainstay of his life.
Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey's Greatest Coaches
By Craig Custance
Just like the title says ESPN's Craig Custance sits down for film sessions and candid conversations with some of the game's most successful bench bosses — names like Mike Babcock, Joel Quenneville, Dan Bylsma, Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock, and Claude Julien—all of whom share their singular views on a number of topics ranging from strategy secrets behind formulating on-ice game plans. A rare behind the scenes glimpse of the game.
The California Golden Seals: A Tale of White Skates, Red Ink, and One of the NHL's Most Outlandish Teams
By Steve Currier
Has there ever been a “failed” franchise more beloved than the California Golden Seals? Perhaps the greatest example of how not to run a franchise, Currier’s book tells the whole chaotic story of countless players, non-interested owners, apathetic fans, and poor marketing decisions that led to tons of losses on the ice and more massive losses off of it.
The First Season: 1917-18 and the Birth of the NHL
By Bob Duff
Amidst the pomp and circumstance of the NHL’s centennial celebrations, Bob Duff takes us all the way back to that first season … and finds a league not only in turmoil but one struggling to survive. A fascinating portrait of a league and a sport attempting to find its footing.
The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History
By Eric Zweig
The prolific Zweig’s latest offering – just in time for the Maple Leafs centennial – is an oral history of those first 100 seasons, as told by the players and the coaches who made it happen, and the reporters who chronicled it every step of the way.
The Pepper Kid: The Life and Times of Ken Randall, Hockey's Bad Hombre
By J. Shayne Randall
The first of three independently published books on the list (see the next two entries) this biography of Ken Randall is truly a labour of love, researched and written by his grandson. Over the course of a two-decades plus professional career, hard-nosed Ken Randall found himself often on the frontlines of hockey’s evolution as a professional entity. He was an accomplished scorer when playing forward, and was a good defencemen which he became exclusively later in his career. He turned professional in the Ontario Professional Hockey League (OPHL), and played in the Maritime Professional Hockey League, the Eastern Ontario Professional Hockey League and the Saskatchewan Professional Hockey League before joining the Toronto Blueshirts of the National Hockey Association (the forerunner of the NHL) in 1915. He played for the organization (including the NHL’s first season in 1917-18) until 1923, as it changed from the Blueshirts to Arenas to St. Patricks, winning two Stanley Cups, in 1918 and 1922. In 1923, he joined the Hamilton Tigers, which in 1924 became embroiled in a labour conflict and his contract was sold to the new New York Americans, for which he played two years before becoming a player coach with the Providence Reds. He became a full-time coach in 1928, but still had some playing time left in him, playing for the Oshawa Patricias when the OPHL was revived in 1930. Not only Randall’s hockey life but the times he lived in are chronicled in this heavily researched book about a period and time that has long been in need of telling.
Guyle Fielder: I Just Wanted to Play Hockey
By James Vantour
Quick trivia question … after Gretzky, Jagr and Howe which professional hockey player has accumulated the most points? Hands up if you answered Guyle Fielder. Widely considered to be the greatest minor-league hockey player of all-time, holding the career records for the most games played, assists and points scored, Fielder’s unique hockey life is finally told in James Vantour’s long-awaited biography. A veteran of just 15 NHL games the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks and Detroit Red Wings Fielder played a total of 22 seasons in the Western Hockey League, principally for the Seattle Totems, as well as for the New Westminster Royals, the Salt Lake Golden Eagles and the Portland Buckaroos, where he was awarded the league’s MVP award on six separate occasions, named to the first All-Star team eight times and the second team four times. He also played a single season for the St. Louis Flyers of the American Hockey League and had short stints with both the Quebec Aces and the Edmonton Flyers. This book tells the story of the greatest hockey player that you didn’t know.
The Art of the Dealers: The NHL's Greatest General Managers
By Matthew DiBiase
Following up his last book Bench Bosses where he ranked the greatest coaches in hockey history, Matthew DiBiase with his new book shines his spotlight and does the same for hockey’s general managers. Looking at the great (and not so great) trades, draft picks, and free agent signings; how they discovered and hired (or fired) many of hockey’s greatest coaches; their managerial methods and organizational philosophies, DiBiase is able to rank those general managers who have had the largest impact on the game.
Father Bauer and the Great Experiment: The Genesis of Canadian Olympic Hockey
By Greg Oliver
Rectifying one of the biggest oversight's in hockey publishing, Greg Oliver finally delivers a long-awaited biography of Father David Bauer ... surely one of the most important figures in Canadian hockey in the second half of the twentieth century, especially on the international scene. Bauer (who passed away in 1988) is remembered here primarily through the remembrances of those who played for him, and through Oliver's dogged research. What emerges is the story of a man that changed lives — at the rink, in the classroom, and at the pulpit.
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