THE HOLIDAY SEASON MEANS HOCKEY BOOKS
Looking for some last minute gift ideas to keep the family happy? Nothing says holiday season like a good hockey book, and once again this year, there is a bumper crop to choose from. We’ve selected a dozen of the best for you to wrap up and give to Uncle Harry, or Aunt Emily, or that older brother you never know what to buy for. You’re welcome. (note: all prices are subject to change).
What happens when a Pulitzer Prize writer takes on hockey, in particular one of the slowly vanishing positions in hockey, that of the enforcer? You end up with one of the sports books of the year, that’s what happens. Branch expands upon his three-part series to provide us with a vital, refreshingly blunt yet tender look at the short life of Boogaard. It is a ringing damnation of the cattle call that youth sports often is, yet at the same time does not dismiss Boogaard as just another piece of meat. The best hockey book title of the year may be the best sports book of the year.
Puck Struck – Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada’s Hockey Obsession by Stephen Smith – Greystone Books – ISBN 978-1-77164-048-0 432 pages $34.95
The opening chapter alone is worth the price of admission, as it very succinctly lays out the whys and wherefores for the Canadian disease known as Hockey. Other countries embrace the game, and other countries are just as good at playing it, but only in the Great White North has the game become The Game. Smith clearly shares this affliction, but also can remove himself far enough from the fray to take a sober look at the good, bad, and the ugly in the daily embracing of Canada’s true past time. Highly recommended.
Changing the Game – A History of NHL Expansion by Stephen LaRoche – ECW Press – ISBN 978-1-77041-079-4 417 pages $19.95
So many good hockey books this season, yet this may be my personal favourite. A topic that I can go on and on about…NHL expansion. LaRoche, who has an impressive background working in the sports card industry, follows the logical progression and effectively encapsulates the ever changing moods of the National Hockey League. I immediately flipped to the Great Expansion of 1967, and then to the wacky 90’s, but LaRoche covers everything, and talks to the people who were there. The Hamilton Tigers, the Montreal Maroons, the Brooklyn Americans, the Minnesota North Stars, the Kansas City Scouts up to the Atlanta Thrashers. I could go on, but we’d all be better served by you picking up a copy of this must have book.
No other hockey book this holiday season will be more fun to read that this one. A pack of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards come to life! With hockey card bubble gum paper on the inside, and a waxy pack-like cover on the front, all that’s this is missing is that unmistakable smell of gum, and Reid more than makes up for that with a fun and informative romp through the history of cardboard hockey. I once racked my brains trying to come up with an idea for a hockey book. Hey, how about talking to ex-NHL’ers about their hockey cards? Reid has beaten me to the punch, and has done it with flair. Even if you never collected hockey cards (shame on you), try not to smile when Reid talks to the likes of Bill Armstrong about his only NHL card, or Dennis Maruk about those awful airbrushed uniforms.
The Crazy Game – How I Survived in the Crease and Beyond by Clint Malarchuk with Dan Robson – Harper Collins – ISBN 246 pages $
A very good NHL goaltender who has survived two very close brushes with death. A pretty good starting point for a book, and Malarchuk delivers in a Ball Four manner, naming names and refusing to downplay the rougher, and more unsavory chapters of a life that is worth your time getting to know. It’s not all serious talk, as Malarchuk dishes out the tales of life in the big leagues. Who knew the Moose, the REAL Moose (Andre Dupont) was that much of a character? You’ll read this one until it’s done.
Talk about niche products, this slim yet intense volume lands right in my wheelhouse. Growing up in Alberta during the first part of the 1970’s, we had moved to Edmonton in time for the unveiling of the Oilers and the World Hockey Association. I lived that 10 point night. Alright, not in person, nor on television, but on the radio, and in the Edmonton Journal the next day. Jim Harrison, the former Bruin and Leaf, reached that magical plateau before Darryl Sittler did. Okay, an inferior league, but still quite the accomplishment. Apparently it had an even bigger impact on David Ward, who tracks down his long-forgotten hockey hero, not only to reminisce about glory days, but also to deal with the long term scars the game left on Harrison, and how the Alan Eagleson damage that impacted so many players cost Harrison much more than money. Highly recommended.
The Goaltenders Union – Hockey’s Greatest Puckstoppers, Acrobats & Flakes by Greg Oliver & Richard Kamchen – ECW Press – ISBN 978-1-77041-149-4 313 pages $19.95
I’ll read anything about goaltenders, particularly the men who have donned the tools of ignorance in the National Hockey League. Oliver and Kamchen dive headfirst into the scrum around the crease, and emerge with an enjoyable book touching upon all aspects of guarding the net. Books such as these are best when they allow the men in the trenches to sit back, open a few cold ones, and tell some tall tales. And they are in here, old and new, familiar and revelatory tales.
Written in Blue & White – The Toronto Maple Leafs Contracts and Historical Documents from the Collection of Allan Stitt by Greg Oliver – ECW Press – ISBN 978-1-77041-215-6 192 pages $39.95
This is an impressive collection of Toronto Maple Leafs minutia. The perfect gift for Leafs’ fanatics (is there any other kind?), hockey historians, and budding lawyers. Stitt took the path less travelled, and collected hockey contracts, and letters, and other often neglected parts of hockey history, and that is to our benefit. Included are some contract facsimiles, including one for Teeder Kennedy. A simply gorgeous book.
Don Cherry – Straight Up and Personal by Don Cherry – Doubleday Canada – ISBN 978-0-385-68108-7 202 pages $29.95
It’s Grapes, so it’s gonna be good. And this one is. It’s no literary classic, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. Cherry is a bottomless reservoir of great hockey stories, and though he is hesitant to name names, a bit of research will fill in the blanks. Not that you have to; the tales are wonderful on their own. A great book to curl up with on Christmas Day. A big thumbs up.
The Big Bird has already penned a book (For the Defense) about his playing days, but a lot has happened since he hung up his skates. Coaching, Stanley Cups, etc. Hence this book, which combines the best of his playing days with his post-playing career. And that’s saying a lot. And any project involving Kevin Shea means it’s steeped in hockey history.
Bob McKenzie – Hockey Confidential by Bob McKenzie – Random House Canada – ISBN 978-1-44341-832-4 302 pages $32.99
McKenzie is as connected as one can get in the insular, old boys club that is the hockey world. He really does know where all the skeletons are buried. But you won’t get any of that here. Instead, it’s an engrossing look at Planet Puck, a series of essays from a variety of angles. The chapter on Fancy Stats should be required reading for all traditional hockey media types. Worth your time, though he’s got a better book inside him. Highly recommended is his previous effort, Hockey Dad.
Grant Fuhr – The Story of a Hockey Legend by Grant Fuhr with Bruce Dowbiggin – Random House Canada – ISBN 978-0-307-36281-0 210 pages $29.95
The brief dust cover author bio of Fuhr hails him as the first black superstar in the NHL, and that is the perfect starting point for this Hall-of-Fame career. The hockey world has not always been known for being amongst the leaders in progressive measures, though that is changing. Fuhr made his name backstopping the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers teams of the run-and-gun 1980’s, before moving from team to team towards the end of his career. Dowbiggin, who has made a career of positioning himself as the outrider of the hockey media (and with much success doing so) is the perfect writer to capture the thoughts and moods of Fuhr.
Duck with the Puck by Greg and Quinn Oliver – Illustrated by Annette Balesteri Self Published (CreateSpace) – ISBN-13:978-1499156362
And one more for good measure. Eight-year-old hockey fanatic Quinn has penned a short but sweet kid’s book about a hockey playing duck who can’t get enough of the grand game. A perfect present for the budding young hockey fan in your family.