By Stu Hackel
The holiday season is already upon us, which you no doubt noticed a couple of weeks ago. The question is: what do you buy a hockey fan during this sad December, this festival of darkness in NHL arenas with no peace on the CBA front and good will in short supply?
You can't buy tickets to games that are not being played. If you are of the mind that you're not going to pay a penny to the owners or players as long as there's a lockout (or even longer if you're part of the Just Drop It movement), you're not buying any NHL merch, either.
How about a good book?
Now, I understand that feelings are so raw out there that you might think it's wise to steer clear of a hockey-themed gift completely. A friend mentioned to me over the weekend that loving hockey was starting to feel a bit like being in an abusive relationship: You get treated badly, but you keep coming back anyway. Would buying a hockey book encourage that behavior?
I gotta tell you: As I looked through these books I'm about to describe -- and they are all large-format gift books, filled with photos and are highly recommended -- I actually remembered what it is that I've loved about the NHL for the last 50 years: The action, the color, the personalities, the history and tradition -- all without the emotional abuse a lockout can inflict. The only action we've seen lately is during press conferences, and the only color has been on the ties of the officials in bland business suits. The personalities aren't particularly pleasant (some are downright nasty), and the history and traditions the league seems to be creating now are things we'll want to forget, not celebrate.
These books are a very good antidote to all that.
Without Fear: The Greatest Goalies of All Time, by Kevin Allen and Bob Duff. (Triumph Books, 305 pages, $29.95 but $32.95 in Canada). I started my hockey life as a goalie and still play in net a few times a year (as I did just last week -- and not as well as I would have liked), so I love reading anything about the men who play the most difficult position in all of sports. Many goalie books have been published throughout the years, which indicates that there's always a market for them.
This one, among the most thought-provoking ever, is a revised, updated and expanded edition of the same book from 10 years ago, which then ranked the top 50 goalies. This one expands the list to 100, although 51-100 are not given anywhere near the same treatment as the first 50, but that's OK.
This is the kind of book that's great for debate. Just who is the greatest ever to play goaltender in the NHL? In 2002, Allen and Duff selected Patrick Roy; a decade later, it's Martin Brodeur, who ranked at No. 21 in the earlier edition, with Roy now sliding down to the second spot.
An interesting feature of the book is that the text groups the goalies not by their rankings, but by their character and the roles they played in hockey history. The top 50 are organized according to whether they are judged to be innovators, winners, perfectionists, tragic heroes and the under-appreciated.
And then there are the second 50.
It's hard to argue with any of the first 10 selections (Brodeur, Roy, Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante, Dominik Hasek, Bill Durnan, Ken Dryden, George Hainsworth and Georges Vezina),but, as with the earlier edition, I can't fathom how Gump Worsley (at 20) ranks behind Tony Esposito (at 16). I'd even put Gump ahead of Bernie Parent (at 11).
Yes, the Gumper was my first hockey hero, so I'm biased. But he also came up big in the biggest games, as his four Stanley Cup championships (to Bernie's two and Tony's none) reveals. He also had the longevity that Bernie unfortunately could never achieve. The first part of Gump's career was spent with a Rangers team that always struggled to make the playoffs (and often fell short), but as Jeff Klein and Karl-Erik Reif demonstrated in their groundbreaking statistical analyses, The Hockey Compendium, Worsley might have been the best goalie of that era despite the team in front of him. Allen and Duff put Gump on top of their under-appreciated list. I think they under-appreciate him as well.
You see, this book is great for debates. It's also great for any hockey fan.
The Hockey Hall of Fame Book of Jerseys, by Steve Milton. (Firefly Books, 192 pages, $35). There's just no hope for anyone who doesn't love hockey uniforms. Between the crests, the striping, the colors and the design, they have no equal in all of sports. For many, the romance of the game begins right there and this book collects 400 of the more interesting sweaters (and some of them are sweaters) in the Hall's vast collection. There are the famous (Rocket Richard's Canadiens captain's jersey; Brett Hull's when he was with the Blues) and the rare (Rod Langway's high school jersey, Harry Sinden's Whitby Dunlop World Championship sweater, and both uniforms from the Howie Morenz memorial game), with pictures on full pages and a number of accompanying essays about some of the players who wore them.
There are shirts from the 1920s (worn by Frank Nighbor of the original Ottawa Senators), the WHA (Harry Howell's New York Golden Blades and Terry Caffery's New England Whalers tops), overseas (Valeri Kharlamov's very thin CSKA Red Army shirt and John Coward's very thick Great Britain 1936 gold medal Olympic jersey), long-defunct NHL teams (New York Americans, St. Louis Eagles, Philadelphia Quakers), All-Star games in various leagues, and all sorts of junior, minor pro, international and women's clubs. All of them are truly magnificent.
It's a simple idea, well executed, and a joy to see.
Stanley Cup: 120 Years of Hockey Supremacy, by Eric Zweig. Firefly Books, 352 pages. $49.95. In my collection, I have a all sorts of Cup books, including Charles Coleman's still amazing 1967 three-volume Trail of the Stanley Cup (which is really about much more than the chalice) and number like Zweig's large-format, year-by-year chronicles of the playoffs. The oldest one I have is from 1975. It's by John Devaney and Burt Goldblatt and it uses some still images from old Stanley Cup films as illustrations. Of all those big format histories, this new one might be the best yet.
Not only does Zweig give the reader the annual highlights from the competition (the Cup was first won 120 years ago this coming March when the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association triumphed in its league championship), he traces the ever-changing formats, tells many historic tales and gets inside the game by re-purposing a number of great first-person accounts by the likes of Tiny Thompson, Toe Blake, Dick Duff, Dave Keon, Phil Esposito, Steve Shutt, and Ken Dryden from Hockey Digest's "The Game I'll Never Forget" series.
He selects the right photos to go with each season, and about the only thing I find mildly curious is that the book starts with the Kings and goes backward to Montreal AAA rather than march from the start on through history as most books do.
That doesn't detract from the finished product at all and you can't go wrong with this one.
The Winged Wheel: A Half-Century of The Detroit Red Wings in Photographs, by Rob Simpson (John Wiley & Sons, 240 pages, $34.95). Not only do the Red Wings have a firm hold on their city's sports scene -- they don't call it Hockeytown for nothing -- but over the last 20 years, they've probably become the most popular NHL team in the United States for a host of reasons, especially due to their innovative, intelligent play and their Cup-winning ways. This book celebrates all of that.
After special attention at the beginning of the book is paid to the franchise's arenas (The Olympia and the Joe), Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman, the Russian Five and Nick Lidstrom, Simpson then spends time with chapters on other noteworthy scorers, defensemen, goalies, grinders, coaches and such in the Wings' more recent history.
What is most impressive is how many of the photos in the book have been rarely seen. Simpson had access to the team's photo archive and made excellent use of it, as well as his other sources.
Other books have gone deeper into the Wings' past, from the club's origin in 1926. Had Simpson chosen to go back to the beginning, he would have had a markedly different volume, one with lots of stories about people many contemporary readers don't know, not to mention many more black and white photos. Old black and whites instantly impart the "feel" of a history book, but don't take that to mean this book misses its mark. For Wings fans, this is one they'll happily include on their bookshelves.
Team Canada 1972, by Andrew Podnieks. Fenn/McClelland & Stewart, 296 pages. $45. We briefly mentioned this book in September in this post on the Super Series. It is the official book of the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Summit Series (so official that Team Canada 72 has the copyright) and it's as much of an insiders' view as you can get, filled with interviews by Canada's team members, who provide their recollections of the historic first encounter between the stars of the NHL and the Soviet National team.
Alongside copious photos from the Hockey Hall of Fame archives -- and I've always loved those dramatic color shots from Moscow where netting and wire fence sat in place of glass atop the boards provided a brownish tinge to the background and the lighting in the Luzhniki Palace of Sports made everything apart from the photo's main subject seems just a little grainy and dim -- you can read the words of Canada's heroes as they recount the details of their famous comeback.
Podnieks does such a thorough job, that he also interviews players like John van Boxmeer and Billy Harris (players not even in the NHL at the time but who were invited to the team's August training camp at Maple Leaf Gardens because coach Harry Sinden needed additional bodies for scrimmages) and writes about the exhibition game against the Czechoslovakian national club that Team Canada played on the way home after defeating the Soviets in Game 8.
The official Team Canada portraits of each player take up full pages in the book and the whole package is an excellent memento of a memorable time.
COMMENTING GUIDELINES: We encourage engaging, diverse and meaningful commentary and hope you will join the discussion. We also encourage, but do not require, that you use your real name. Please keep comments on-topic and relevant to the original post. To foster healthy discussion, we will review all comments BEFORE they are posted. We expect a basic level of civility toward each other and the subjects of this blog. Disagreements are fine, but mutual respect is a must. Comments will not be approved if they contain profanity (including the use of abbreviations and punctuation marks instead of letters); any abusive language or personal attacks including insults, name-calling, threats, harassment, libel and slander; hateful, racist, sexist, religious or ethnically offensive language; or efforts to promote commercial products or solicitations of any kind, including links that drive traffic to your own website. Flagrant or repeat offenders run the risk of being banned from commenting.