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What can you say about the year 2020, besides good riddance? Global pandemic, social and political unrest, environmental disasters. The stay-at-home orders made us all re-evaluate things, what was important, who was in your bubble. We learned who the real heroes were, the front-line workers who kept society rolling.
And, when you needed a break from it all, very little compares to the joy of curling up with a book. The ebooks that publishers sent in lieu of physical copies offered me a little respite even it meant still more screen time.
This column itself was a break, a chance do so something different than my usual stresses over my pro wrestling website SlamWrestling.net (which lost its Postmedia home and struck out on its own), the Billy Van biography, Who’s The Man? Billy Van!, I just self-published, and the memoir coming out in April 2021 from John Arezzi, detailing his days in country music, minor-league baseball and pro wrestling.
A few memories stick out:
- Jerry Hack was a hustler from the get-go with his memoir, Memoir of a Hockey Nobody: They said I couldn’t make the NHL, so I went out and proved them right!, and I took joy in seeing him succeed, and helpfully promoting other authors and even my books.
- Eric Walters, who has done more than 100 books for kids and young adults, talked to me on The Night Sports Stopped, with all the leagues shutting down to protest racial injustices. We had a great long talk about his Hockey Night in Kenya book, but a lot of other things too. After hanging up, I sent a note to Brian McFarlane to say that I finally had talked to someone that had written more books than he had; to paraphrase his response, “Mine were longer.”
- To escape reality, my son and I went camping for two days in July, and he ended up reading all the way through the book I brought, Joe Cvetich’s Our Game, and therefore, when we got home, I made him do the Zoom call to help with the questions. Appropriately, Joe is an English teacher.
- Speaking French with Manon Rheaume, or trying at least, which got a laugh.
As has been tradition, I turn over the look back into 2020 hockey books to Todd Denault, who has been plugging away on his own historical hockey project, which is difficult to do when the libraries and archives are closed to visitors. Where I interviewed them for this column, I’ve included a link to that piece as well.
TODD DENAULT’S 21 TO READ
In what is now an annual tradition, for the fourth year in a row Greg has asked me to submit a list of hockey books that have been published over the last year that stuck with me.
By my count there were “at least” 30 different hockey titles published since last year’s column (not including paperback editions and reprinted “updates” of previously released titles). Now to be truthful I haven’t gotten around to reading all of them, which is why this list has been trimmed to 20 different books, with one repeat from last year’s list that has now been published in an English-language edition. That doesn’t necessarily make these the 21 best hockey books of the year; it just means that I’ve read them.
So without further ado …
Don Pillar & Aubrey Ferguson: The Golden Years – Beehive Golden Corn Syrup – Hockey Picture Promotion 1934-1968
Weighing in at three pounds, The Golden Years is 300 pages long, hardcover, glossy, brilliantly researched and written and with over 1,400 images. In short, it is not only the best historical title of the year but also the most beautiful. A true labour of love for the two authors this is the “definitive” history of the most successful consumer promotion in Canadian history and the source of many hockey fans’ passion for the game. [Sweetly illustrated book celebrates Bee Hive photos, advertising]
Phillippe Cantin: Serge Savard: Forever Canadien
The publication of Savard’s long-awaited autobiography last year in a French-language edition only created much angst amongst English-language readers. Now, a year later, and after selling 30,000 copies in Quebec last year, the English-language edition has finally arrived and it is worth the wait. A legendary career on the ice, and a highly-successful career in the front office and in the corporate world well told. [Serge Savard triumphs again]
Bruce Berglund: The Fastest Game in the World: Hockey and the Globalization of Sports
It’s a global history of a global sport, drawing upon research conducted around the world in a variety of languages. From the Canadian prairies to Swiss mountain resorts, Soviet housing blocks to American suburbs, Berglund takes readers on an international tour, seamlessly weaving in hockey’s local, national, and international trends and how the game intertwines with politics, economics, and culture.
Mike Wilson with Lance Hornby: The Ultimate Road Trip: All 89 Games with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ultimate Leafs Fan
From October 2018 to April 2019, Mike Wilson, a retired Bay Street trader, traveled to 31 NHL rinks to watch all 89 Toronto Maple Leafs game during that 2018-19 season. In order to do that, Mike took every conceivable mode of transport, stayed in team hotels and on the couches of family and friends, then went into the cheap seats, private suites, the streets, sports bars, hotel lobbies, and many other unique locations where Leafs Nation gets together, to gather together stories both hilarious and heart-wrenching. Along the way media personalities, former players, NHL celebrities, and fellow fans gave Wilson their thoughts on what fuels the Leafs passion. Part hockey book, part travel book … this book is really about the love affair between a team and its fans.
Chris Creamer & Todd Radom: Fabric of the Game - The Stories Behind the NHL’s Names, Logos, and Uniforms
An in-depth look into the origins of how each NHL team was named, received their logo and design, with interviews by those responsible. A visually stunning book, you’ll learn why every hockey team to ever play in the National Hockey League looks the way it does.
Sami Jo Small: The Role I Played: Canada’s Greatest Olympic Hockey Team
The Role I Played is a memoir of Sami Jo Small’s ten years with Canada’s National Women’s Hockey Team. Beginning with her experience as a rookie at the first-ever women’s Olympic hockey tournament in Nagano in 1998 and culminating with Canada’s third straight Olympic gold medal in Vancouver in 2010, the veteran goaltender gives the reader behind-the-scenes insight into one of the most successful teams in sports history. [Sami Jo Small puts it all on the line, from triumph and tears, in moving memoir]
James Duthie: Beauties - Hockey’s Greatest Untold Stories
A collection of 47 of the best stories that players tell each other as relayed by TSN’s venerable hockey host. Featuring some of hockey’s biggest names this fun read relives the highs, lows and hilarious moments, both on and off the ice from superstars, journeymen, coaches, referees, broadcasters, agents, and hockey moms and dads.
Al Strachan: Hockey’s Hot Stove: The Untold Stories of the Original Insiders
For more than 20 years, hockey fans throughout Canada tuned in during the second intermission on Saturday nights to watch one of the most popular segments in the game’s long broadcasting history. They’d hear news from around the league, the latest rumours and gossip, and—of course—some of the most controversial opinions of the day. And no one stirred more controversy than panelist Al Strachan, who now takes readers behind the scenes of his time on the panel as well as his rather abrupt exit. [Inside info abounds in Al Strachan's world, and new Hot Stove book]
Rick Vaive with Scott Morrison: Catch 22: My Battles, in Hockey and Life
One of the most “honest” books of the year, the former Maple Leafs captain and the first player in franchise history to score 50 goals in a single season, tells the story of the turmoil in Toronto’s Ballard years (and later with Don Cherry’s Mississauga Ice Dogs), while also chronicling, often in painful detail, his own struggles and battles, both on and off the ice. [Vaive candid and honest in Catch 22]
Mike Emrick with Kevin Allen: Off Mike: How a Kid from Basketball-Crazy Indiana Became America’s NHL Voice
Undoubtedly the “voice” of hockey to a generation of American fans, the recently-retired Emrick tells the story of his four-decade broadcasting career in this candid memoir. Taking the reader behind the scenes, Emrick not only details his time at the mike, but also talks about the special relationships that he’s formed along the way.
Ken Reid: One to Remember: Stories from 39 Members of the NHL’s One Goal
In addition to his nightly duties on Sportsnet Central, Reid once again finds the time to produce another new book this year. This time Reid takes a closer look at those who scored one career NHL goal, by interviewing and profiling 39 men who did just that: bulging the twine in the best hockey league in the world … but only once. From minor league call-ups to season-long mainstays and even a Hall of Famer, Reid asks the burning question … what does that one goal mean to the person who scored it? [Ken Reid and his singular goal]
André Lacroix: After the Second Snowfall: My Life On and Off the Ice
Considered by many to be the greatest player in the short history of the WHA, and the league’s all-time leading scorer, André Lacroix never received the accolades that were showered upon his NHL contemporaries. Even though he did make his presence known as one of the original members of the Philadelphia Flyers, he was largely ignored by the NHL. A straightforward account, that provides a rare behind the scenes look at Quebec Junior Hockey in the 1960s, the early days of the Philadelphia Flyers, and of the World Hockey Association, this book has a lot going for it. Highly recommended. [Memoir another accomplishment for overlooked Andre Lacroix]
Rick Westhead: Finding Murph: How Joe Murphy Went from Winning a Championship to Living Homeless in the Bush
In recent years, Joe Murphy’s downward spiral has sadly shone a spotlight on some of the darker aspects of the game that we all love. It wasn’t always that way. In 1986, Joe Murphy became the first college-educated hockey player selected first overall in the NHL entry draft. He won a Stanley Cup in Edmonton four years later. But since then, his life has taken a tragic turn, largely due to the untreated brain injuries he suffered as a player. Westhead, who first brought this story to prominence on TSN, now chronicles this sad tale in book form.
Brian Burke with Stephen Brunt: Burke’s Law: A Life in Hockey
The biggest seller of the season, the bombastic Burke surprisingly doesn’t hold much back in his memoir. Burke has lived quite the life in hockey. He has been a player, an agent, a league executive, a scout, a Stanley Cup-winning GM, an Olympic GM, held executive positions in Hartford, Vancouver, Calgary, and most memorably in Toronto, and now is an in-demand media analyst. He has worked with Pat Quinn, Gary Bettman, and an array of future Hall of Fame players, all of whom are described in Burke’s unique, often controversial and always blunt manner.
Harnarayan Singh with Michael Hingston: One Game at a Time: My Journey from Small-Town Alberta to Hockey’s Biggest Stage
This is of the most unique and inspiring books of the season. Growing up in small-town Alberta, Harnarayan was like many other kids and dreamed about a life within the sanctum of the game they idolized. There was only one small difference—he didn’t look like any of the other kids. And when he sat down on Saturday nights to tune in to Hockey Night in Canada with the rest of the nation, he couldn’t ignore the fact that the broadcasters or analysts didn’t look like him either. Undeterred, Harnarayan worked his way from calling imaginary hockey games with his plastic toy microphone as a child, to funding secret flights from Calgary to Toronto every weekend in the early days of Hockey Night in Punjabi, to making history as the first Sikh to broadcast an NHL game in English. A story of defying the odds all the while doggedly pursuing one’s dream.
Bob McKenzie & Jim Lang: Everyday Hockey Heroes, Volume II: More Inspiring Stories About Our Great Game
In the sequel to their 2018 book, McKenzie and Lang offer up a new collection a new collection of hockey stories about the everyday heroes from across the game—hockey players, coaches, and refs, as well as those behind the bench or in the stands—who are defying the odds and championing the next generation of hockey, on and off the ice. [Sharing stories at core of McKenzie's Everyday Hockey Heroes]
Nick Kypreos with Perry Lefko: Undrafted: Hockey, Family, and What It Takes to Be a Pro
Last year, the always prolific Lefko collaborated with Eddie Olcyck on his autobiography. This year it’s Kypreos’ turn as the former Sportsnet “insider” takes the reader through his youth, NHL career (helping the New York Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup, as well as getting a chance to play for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs), and his subsequent rise as one of television’s top hockey analysts. [Undrafted provided Kypreos a 'real clear look in the mirror']
Mike Leonetti & Paul Patskou: 100 Things Maple Leafs Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
Six years after first publishing this book comes this revised edition. Brought up to date and with many new entries this “almost” feels like an new book, containing a variety of lists, including the five best sports bars to watch a Leaf game, this book is a must have for the diehard fan of the blue and white. [Clancy's back and Patskou's Leafs update]
Willie O’Ree with Michael McKinley: Willie: The Game-Changing Story of the NHL’s First Black Player
Perhaps the most important book of the year from the man who “broke” hockey’s colour barrier. But that game on January 18, 1958, merely is the beginning of this gripping story, as O’Ree soon learned that he could never be just a hockey player. He would always be a black player, with all that entails. There were ugly name-calling and stick-swinging incidents, and nights when his team had to be escorted to their bus by the police. But O’Ree soldiered on and when he retired from professional hockey in 1979, he had played hundreds of games, and scored hundreds of goals, his boyhood dreams more than accomplished. In 2018, O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder, in recognition not only of that legacy, but of the way he has built on it in the decades since. A must read.
Paul Logothetis: Toe Blake: Winning Is Everything
A long overdue biography of one of hockey’s greatest coaches, winner of eight Stanley Cups, and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, as a player, Logothetis presents the first ever detailed look at Blake’s unique life and stellar hockey career. At the same time it is a revealing portrait of a man driven by fear and an obsessive desire for victory, who despite personal tragedy, always put winning above all else. [Finally, a Toe Blake biography]
Denis Richard with Léandre Normand: Henri Richard: La Legende Aux 11 Coupes Stanley
A long-awaited biography of one of hockey’s most decorated players, written by his son … as for the accomplishments … an astounding 11 Stanley Cups, two Stanley Cup winning goals, a Bill Masterton Trophy, most games ever played in a Montreal Canadiens uniform, his number 16 retired in 1975, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979, and named one of the NHL’s Top 100-ever players in 2017 … well it speaks for itself … all that’s missing is an English-language edition.
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