Two Minutes for Reading so Good

Serge Savard triumphs again

Two Minutes for Reading so Good

Greg Oliver


Serge Savard triumphs again

Posted November 16, 2020

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Serge Savard book cover

Having heard the same thing for years and years, Serge Savard caved, gave in, but it turned out okay—in two languages.

“Every publisher came to me, 'You should publish your story, you should publish your story.' I don't know, maybe I was too lazy. It was a lot of work,” chuckled Savard on the phone from his winter home/golfing haven in South Carolina.

“I have everything in a box, all the stuff of my career. At one point in time, my son told me, Marc told me, 'If you don't do it, I'll do it sometime.' I guess that's when I decided then, I might as well do it.”

Veteran journalist Philippe Cantin signed on for the job, and the result was 2019's Serge Savard, canadien jusqu'au bout, which has reportedly sold 30,000 copies in Quebec. (Cantin's two previous hockey books are 2015's 50 matchs de hockey qui ont marqué le Québec and 2012's Le Colisée contre le forum : mon histoire du hockey.)

An English-language version came out in October 2020, Serge Savard: Forever Candien.

It is written as a biography instead of an autobiography, meaning that Cantin can bring in other voices, whether quotes from a newspaper, or insight from Savard's wife, Paulette.

“That's what we decided right at the beginning, to do the story it will be Phillipe that talks, not me,” said Savard. “I must have had 115 hours of tape with him. Two, three times a week, we did that for three hours, four hours in a day. Phillipe did a hell of a lot of work, he worked so hard, and he double-checked everything.”

But ultimately, it's about Serge Savard, #18 on the Canadiens (and briefly, the Winnipeg Jets), who succeeded as a defenceman, captain, and a general manager with the storied franchise in Montreal, and played for Team Canada too, including at the Summit Series. (You know there are plenty of accomplishments when the publicist has to create a separate sheet with them all.)

“Your first question, why did it take so long? I didn't really want to hurt anybody, didn't really want to say something that somebody mentioned was either not true or different than the thing I've seen. So I decided to write the book. I say, 'Well, I'm not going to mention people, other books or anything. I'm just going to say things the way they happened, and I'm going to tell the truth.' It was not that hard,” he said.

“I published the French version last year and I published the English version last Wednesday [October 21]. I didn't have one person that came to me, or said it publicly, 'That's not true. That's not true what happened.'”

At no point does the narrative over its 504 pages get bogged down by minutiae, details of games, particular goals he scored, or prevented.

In part, that's because Savard doesn't seem to dwell on the past as some players often do.

“The part that I had more fun was probably my youth, between six and 10, and when I grew up in Abitibi, in my small village,” he recalled of the writing process. “Then we went through the four Stanley Cups in a row in the 1970s, and I didn't know what to say. [Philippe] says, 'Tell me stories. Tell me this. Tell me that.' It was tough.”

Detailing some of the other things going on in the country and the province, there's an historical aspect too, said Savard. “I was told by a couple of people, very knowledgeable people that read my book, and they say it's more than a book, 'Your book will be seen as a reference book for somebody, a reference for the 1970s.'”

Like Savard, there's no bitterness; he doesn't seem angry at anybody or trying to settle any scores, not even with Canadiens President Ron Corey, who hired and fired him as GM.

He lays that out right at the start. “There's no vengeance in this book, I'm telling things the way they happened.... I was hired by Mr. Corey, I don't think I was tough on Mr. Corey in my book. I give him credit on good things he did.”

Savard offers some intriguing insight into what it was like to be a general manager. To this reader, his respect for the media was evident, even if it was tough in the competitive Montreal media landscape, in two languages.

“I always made sure that I was fair with everybody, and even the one that criticized me at times because, in Montreal, for a period of time, you were either, even amongst the press and the fans, you were either a Nordiques fan or a Montreal Canadiens fan, and a couple of them were tough. But me, I was fair with everybody,” he said.

That included stopping the occasional scoop, in pre-social media days. “At times, I knew somebody was going to come out with the scoop early, and I didn't wait to the next day, I did the press conference right away, to make sure everybody had the news at the same time.”

There was one small shot taken during the conversation. Savard wishes the two editions came out simultaneously, as happens with, say, his old teammate Ken Dryden's books. “I played in Montreal, and Montreal is bilingual. I played in Winnipeg. I played with Team Canada. I feel I was fairly well-known across Canada, not as Orr or Gretzky, but I was known. I think my publisher made a mistake by not publishing the book in English at the same time.”

It's a lesson worth noting by the publisher, KO Éditions, if Savard's musing about a second book comes to pass.

“I was thinking, Bobby Orr, he published a second book that was basically pictures, and he was writing about the pictures. I really don't know if he did well with that book, probably, but I don't know exactly. I've got so many other things, pictures with politicians, pictures with Putin, I've got pictures with George Bush, the father, Mulroney. ... I don't know if it's worth doing that, but I just thought about it a little bit.”

 

R.I.P. HOWIE MEEKER

Hockey fans across Canada lamented the passing of Howie Meeker on November 8, 2020, just days after he turned 97.

On a personal level, he was hugely important in two of my books.

When Allan Stitt was looking for someone to put together a book about his collection of amazing paperwork and artifacts, I was given access to three items and asked to write about them on spec. One was Meeker's October 1946 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hmm, how to write about paperwork? In August 2013, I gave him a call, and as anyone who every dealt with Howie knows, he was always generous with his time. I got the gig, and that interview is in Written in Blue & White: The Toronto Maple Leafs Contracts and Historical Documents from the Collection of Allan Stitt.

Roughly a year later, I called him again for the second book on documents, Blue Lines, Goal Lines & Bottom Lines, but more importantly, I wanted to tap his brain for memories of growing up in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, as I was working on my book about Father David Bauer, and wanted details of what the growing city was like when he was a youngster. That it turned out that he not only knew the Bauer family, but that he'd played on the outdoor ice at Victoria Park was just one of those strokes of good luck that biographers need to have.

Golly gee, I sure felt lucky that day.

Stop it there, back it up

 

CONSIDER ENTERING THE ARENA

There are occasions where I am the one being interviewed, rather than doing the interviewing. Recently, I was interviewed by author Rafi Kohan, who is working on a book about trash talking, so we dropped the gloves and talked about both talking smack in hockey, but especially pro wrestling.

Then we moved into a discussion about his previous book, The Arena: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-Scalping, Mascot-Racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sport, from 2018. It turns out there's some hockey in there.

“Theres's a chapter that I did about logistics, and the inner workings of arenas themselves. I actually spent an overnight at the Prudential Center where the Devils play, and I helped them convert the arena from a hockey setup up to a concert setup, and from a concert setup to Disney on Ice,” said Kohan, and right off the bat, I learned that Disney on Ice and figure skaters in general want softer ice than hockey players. “None of the book deals with sport itself, it deals with everything that's surrounding the sport. And so hockey played the biggest role in terms of the logistical aspects, but not too much in terms of fandom and that kind of thing.”

It's pretty cool and unique book. I suspect the next one will be cool too, and he said fans of the Fastest Game on Ice will be happy. “I expect to have more hockey in this book. I spoke to Sean Avery at the end of last week. Talk about trash-talkers!”

The Arena book cover

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As always, I welcome your suggestions, notes, and feedback on other books and authors to feature here. You can email me at goliver845@gmail.com and you can follow me on Twitter @gregmep. For info on my own books, see OliverBooks.ca