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The thing that was stands out when you read the novel, Making the Cut, is the level of detail. It is obvious that the author knows the ins and outs of the game, on and off the ice, and behind the bench and in the office.
Hockey lifer Bradley J. Burton is the man behind the young adult book, but he’s not exactly long in the tooth either, at age 34. But he’s been around, playing at the AAA, Junior B, Junior C and Senior AA levels, and had tryouts both for the OHL and for a couple of minor pro teams in the U.S. Burton has coached at a high level too, at the Bantam AA and Junior C levels, and run his own development camp; now he is coaching his own sons.
The idea for Making the Cut, which Burton sees as the “Revolution Hockey Series,” first came to him in 2005, then it floundered until 2009 when he found some time to devote to it ... until 2018, when it stalled. It wasn’t until the early days of the COVD-19 pandemic, where he realized it was time to finish the book.
The backcover bumpf sets up the story:
The Revolution Junior A Hockey Club is set to commence their first year of existence—and it’s time to select the team. All of the hard work put into preparing for this moment will finally be realized. With a lot of local talent to choose from—and some returning players from Major Junior hockey—the team will find out how they match up against the rest, as they prepare for battle in the Labour Day Classic Tournament.
Among the 40+ training camp attendees are top prospects DJ Roberts and his best friend, Brad Martinsen, who come to camp after leading the local AAA Minor Midget hockey team to the Ontario Championships. Both players were highly sought-after in the Major Junior priority draft, but with both chasing the possibility of a scholarship in the United States, they relish the idea of playing for the new hometown team. With promising careers in front of them, will they show that they have what it takes to play at the next level?
All of Burton’s hockey lessons come together for Making the Cut.
“As a teenage hockey player, you can get caught up in the moment and lose track of the bigger picture,” began Burton. “If you want to go on and play at a really high level of hockey, if you get caught up in the moment, I think you could really, really hurt yourself if you create or burn bridges or have bad relationships within hockey. I mean, any aspect of your life that that’s the case.”
There are tools for coaching and management too, and Burton gets to revisit scenarios that he doesn’t think he handled especially well at the time.
“What a great tool that I could use here with, if somebody was to pick up my book,” Burton said. Coaches do their work in their office, talking with the others on staff, and on the ice in practices. Burton said it’s natural to reconsider decisions. “There’s numerous examples that I can pull from that I did not handle a situation the way I should have handled it.”
And times have changed since he played too. One of the storylines involves a player being hit, suffering a concussion, and its aftereffects.
“I vividly remember a time where I must have been in Grade 9 or 10, high school tryouts, and I hit a rut in the ice and crashed into the boards and blacked out. I remember everybody surrounding me when I came to,” recalled Burton, who didn’t play that day. In the car, he told his father what happened, and just got a 'Huh.'”
“Definitely the protocol and the mandates have changed. And it’s obviously for the best,” he said. The sidelined player’s approach to his recovery is what it should be—patience. “He can only control what he can control.”
With the book as a fictionalized template of sorts to things that can happen on and off the ice, Burton made it age appropriate. He was a big fan of Roy MacGregor’s Screech Owl series, and now finds himself reading the Ice Chips series, written by the daughter-father team of Kerry and Roy MacGregor, to his own sons (and another child about to arrive).
“I wanted it to be more of a real, a real true story that you that you can come across with with anybody that was going through maybe what the characters are going through,” he explained. “You could put yourself in the shoes of the main character, the characters in the book and really feel like this is true experience.”
The language, the banter, the coaching instructions, all sound legit, but cleaned up.
“It was a conscious effort to really make it clean,” he said. “With some of the in-game detail, I think you still have to have that intensity come across in some aspect with obviously a game you’re gonna have people getting upset with one another, you’re gonna try to physically engage with other teams’ top players, and you might have somebody that’s going to step up and try to protect them. So I try to really try to really bring that into into the story, but almost tap dance around a lot of the stuff that would realistically be said on the ice between two individuals.”
That goes for the texting between the two protagonists too. He and his editor at Tellwell.ca (a company that helps self-published authors get their books finished) debated what to do. Teenage texting (and a lot of adults too) involves all kinds of abbreviations, acronyms and emojis, with a dearth of punctuation. They elected to make it proper English. “I didn’t want to come across as like it was a sloppy product,” said Burton.
Down the road, Burton hopes to continue working on the sequels to Making the Cut. But life is complicated. A carpenter by trade, Burton has been the primary parent at home during the pandemic. “I definitely have an idea of where I want to go with this, with the progression of that team,” he said. “It’s just finding that frame of mind and time and everything like that to really dive into it.”
Brad and Family
ROBSON MEASURES UP
Back in late 2018, when I spoke with Dan Robson about his great biography on Johnny Bower, he previewed Measuring Up, which comes out this May, and now has a cover. Penguin Books is publishing it. “It’s the story of my attempt to learn how to use my father’s tools in the year after his death,” Robson shared on Facebook in January 2021. “It’s about how we frame our lives in relation to the blueprints we’re given. It’s taken me several years to write, because it’s the toughest thing I’ve written. I’m grateful to Penguin for the chance.” Given the quality of Robson’s biographies on Pat Quinn and Bower, it’ll likely be pretty darn good too.
BRING ON BOUCHARD
Montreal-based author and TV personality Pat Laprade announced his first hockey book would be forthcoming. It’s about Montreal Canadiens great Emile “Butch” Bouchard. Laprade, who has a number of professional wrestling books under his belt, noted that he needed a change. “Ever since writing books, I promised myself one thing: that I should one day write a book about hockey. Well that day has finally come,” he posted to Facebook.
In an informal chat with this writer, Laprade noted that he had the cooperation of Bouchard’s family, including access to a previously-begun biography.
The book will be published in French by Libre Expression and is expected to be released in the fall of 2022.
A SERIES CALLS IT QUITS
The 2020 edition of The Best American Sports Writing, edited by Jackie MacMullan, will also be the last in the series. It’s the 30th edition, and replaced the Best Sports Stories series, which began in 1945. There’s a nice point where all the contributors over the years are listed. The one hockey piece in the 2020 edition comes from The New Yorker, and is written by Nick Paumgarten. It’s titled “The Symptoms” and is about how a concussion in beer-league hockey sends him for a loop.
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