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If there was a shelf in a bookstore for “Passion Projects,” you would definitely find Helen Edwards' new book there. It's called The History of Professional Hockey in Victoria, and, while she's been working on it for eight years, in reality it's been a life-long journey.
Edwards has lived in Victoria, British Columbia, all her life, and has been a hockey fan for most of that time. It started when a radio station offered tickets to Victoria Cougars games for a nickel, and then she had season tickets for the Victoria Maple Leafs—“I had season tickets because I was finally working”—and, much later, the Victoria Salmon Kings.
A devasting two-some in 2011 resulted in the book. For one, the ECHL's Salmon Kings closed up shop, and are the last professional team to play in Victoria. The other was the death of Bill Shvetz, who'd been a Maple Leafs' defenceman.
“They were a big part of my life, and I suddenly realized that if somebody didn't document even their part of history, they would all be gone,” said Edwards over the phone. “We've got very few of those guys left now. I started researching and I found there was very little information other than the Patricks—everybody writes about the Patricks—but nobody delved into statistics and stuff.”
An architectural historian by training, Edwards decided she was the right one to document hockey history in Victoria, from the Lester and Frank Patrick's Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1911 to the Salmon Kings. The History of Professional Hockey in Victoria is 612, 8x10 pages, of statistics, results of every pro game ever played in the city, with profiles of key people and 483 players, and the buildings that housed the games.
“I'm a historian by trade and this just combined my fabulous love of hockey with historical research, so it was easy—it just took a long time,” she said. Of note, there are copious end notes, she added: “If anybody doubts a source, it's there; I'm very thorough, that's all I can say.”
Edwards can also say that she was miffed and annoyed at times. Some interviews escaped her completely, like the elusive Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, who grew up in Victoria; Jamie's older brother Jordie Benn has signed with Vancouver, and Edwards expects to wag a finger at him -- and indirectly at his little brother -- at the upcoming Canucks training camp.
Missed interviews are one thing, misogyny is quite another.
“When I phoned people to ask if I could interview them, 'Oh, you're a girl, you don't know anything about it.' I couldn't believe it. This is the younger guys, right? The old guys, my God, they talk to you for hours—and some did,” recalled Edwards.
Her reply to a doubter? “I've been watching hockey since long before you were born, hon.”
It didn't stop her. “I've run into it all my life,” she said, working in a male-dominated profession, historical architecture. “There, it was not a problem, because it was a history of buildings and nobody cared if you're male, female or otherwise.” For more on her day job, check out Edwards Heritage Consulting (http://edwardsheritageconsulting.ca/)
The History of Professional Hockey in Victoria was self-published through Friesen Press, and distributed to select book stores and online (ORDER HERE -- https://books.friesenpress.com/store/title/119734000067775471/Helen-Edwards-The-History-of-Professional-Hockey-in-Victoria ). However, if you happen to be in Victoria, Edwards is more than happy to share a cup of tea, talk hockey and sell you a book.
“It's never going to be a bestseller, but I'm proud that it's out there,” said the long-time Society for International Hockey Research member. “It's a labour of love and it's a thank you to all those guys” who played hockey in Victoria.
I will put this out there. At the end of 2019, there is no doubt that we will look back and go, “The Men on Magic Carpets: Searching for the Superhuman Sports Star is the most unique, interesting and unexpected sports book of the year.”
It comes from British writer Ed Hawkins and the UK Bloomsbury imprint, so from the start, it has a different tone and insight than someone deeply immersed in American sports. With previous books on cricket and football, er, soccer to you and I in North America, Hawkins is as much a part of the story as the spoon-benders, shamans and psychics that he talks to while putting together his exploration of world-wide attempts to improve the human condition, especially on the sporting field.
On an overarching level, his argument is that some just transcend regular humanity. So he explores Muhammad Ali, for example, and, hockey-wise, the elite status of Bobby Orr comes up—though he does not talk to the interview-shy Orr. But to whomever gets Orr on the phone next, be sure to ask about his “abilities of thought projection” that allowed him to “hypnotise” players.
There's way more American football in it than I expected going in, and I really want to blow the secret of his hunt for a key interview, because it could / would / should be a selling point of the book, but, for whatever reason, they elected not to mention this A-list coach on the jacket or in publicity, so I will go spoiler-free.
If you have an open mind, and enjoy reading about characters as much as what happens on the field, and also have an affinity for X-Files-like conspiracy theories and governent coverups, then give The Men on Magic Carpets a ride.
THE WRIGHT STUFF (JUST NOT HOCKEY)
The Cost of These Dreams: Sports Stories and Other Serious Business is a just-released anthology celebrating some of the work of writer Wright Thompson. Primarily, Thompson has written for ESPN, both online and in its magazine, so, quite honestly, I went into it not knowing a lot about him or his style.
I came away a fan.
Writing feature-length articles today is a lost art, but I found myself drawn into profiles of people I thought I knew well, like Michael Jordan and basketball coach Pat Riley, and amateur wrestling legend Dan Gable, who I've met and chatted with a few times. But I learned so much.
Then when he turns his attention to other subjects, such as weaving in his own relationship with his father into a piece on fathers and sons and the Masters golf tournament, well, you will be moved to tears.
For all the greatness, there's no hockey to be found, though. Just great writing and stories.
- Congratulations to Kevin Shea. His book about the Hockey Hall of Fame, The Hall: Celebrating Hockey's Heritage, Heroes and Home, published by Griffintown Media, has been nominated for a Heritage Toronto Award. Winners will be announced at a gala ceremony at The Carlu on Monday, October 28.
- There's nothing like a summer vacation, eh?I did two weeks of camping, on separate occasions, and was a part of the crazy pro wrestling week in Toronto with WWE SummerSlam in town in early August. Fortunately, I had a new book to sell—The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Storytellers (From the Terrible Turk to Twitter). Cheap plug! It's a good gift for the wrestling fan in your life!
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