books that hockey players read: jacques plante and jean-jacques marie’s biography of stalin in french

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Plante Life: The goaltender in an earlier (and pre-mask) incarnation, circa 1956-57. Cruising at the top is Chicago’s (best guess) Zellio Toppazzini. The Montreal defenceman? Could be Wally Clune.

Jacques Plante played three seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 1970s, toward the end of his eventful career. His wife Jacqueline and their two boys stayed in Montreal during the season, so Plante was on his own mostly in his apartment. That’s where Trent Frayne found him, as later recounted in Maclean’s:

One day I visited him there when he was 42 years old and in his 17th NHL season. He sat on a couch with one leg on an ottoman. Strapped to his shoe was a 16-pound lead weight. He’d read three pages of a book, then pause to raise the leg three times, then three more pages, then three more raises. Then he switched the weight to the other foot. This day he was reading two books alternately: Jean-Jacques Marie’s biography of Stalin in French and Mary Barelli Callaghan’s biography of Jacqueline Kennedy in English.

Plante said lifting the leg was boring. To relieve the boredom he’d read. Or he’d knit tuques. “Feel,” he commanded, indicating his right thigh. It was like a piece of iron. “Pulled groin and hamstring muscles are the goaltender’s most common injuries, eh? This prevents them.”

(Image: Library and Archives Canada, e011161495-v8)

books that hockey players read: wayne gretzky and colleen howe

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Wayne Gretzky, who turns 56 today, was 14 in 1975. He was a star already on his skates, of course, leading scorer among bantams in his hometown of Brantford, Ontario, and ready for a new stage. In the fall of the year, he joined the Vaughan Nationals of the OHA Metro Junior B league — where he was soon suspended. Not for any on-ice indiscretion: minor-hockey rules decreed that he had to play for the team nearest his home. The Gretzkys went to court to challenge the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association on this, and they won the case, which got Gretzky back into action in time to win recognition as the league’s leading rookie.

It was around that time that this photo of a languidly studious Gretzky was taken. Hard to say exactly when it was, but I’m proposing late ’75 or early ’76 based on nothing more than the fact that the non-academic book young Wayne has at hand here was published in the fall of 1975. My entirely unanchored conjecture is that the book that’s on view here was among the once-and-future-99’s Christmas presents that year.

My Three Hockey Players was Colleen Howe’s account of her 48-year-old husband Gordie’s further hockey adventures in Texas, where he’d taken up with the WHA Aeros in order to play with sons Mark and Marty. “She covers the good and the bitter times,” the book’s own flap blurbage promises, “the long separations, the pressures …. She comments on the cruelty or ice hockey and what should be done about it.”

You can see why it would have been a book to hold Gretzky’s interest. Written with assists from Houston writers Mickey Heskowitz and Kathy Lewis, it’s not exactly a conventional hockey book, focussing in large part on the home life and business of being a superstar as much as the actually hockey-playing of it.

Not long after its fall release, Toronto Star columnist Jim Proudfoot commended My Three Hockey Players for the book’s “clear picture of a warm, strong family relationship, which alone makes it nearly unique in modern literature, and as a bonus it gives you a matchless glimpse of Gordie Howe, a man well worth knowing.”

Proudfoot was also taken by how “delightfully frank” Mrs. Howe was when it came to matters of “romance.” I believe he’s referring here to the chapter that’s focussed on “the hustling females” who plague hockey players while they travel the lonely roads of an NHL season.

“No woman,” Colleen Howe wrote — and I guess teenaged Wayne Gretzky might have read, taking a break from his chemistry assignment, in his basement retreat, under the watchful gaze of Bernie Parent and Chico Resch —

No woman ever made the error of making a pass at Gordie in my presence. But Gordie — and I don’t mean to set him apart — doesn’t have, and never did have, the lover-boy or rounder image. But I’m not naïve. During our marriage he has probably had a good look at someone else. For all I know, he may have had an affair or two. What I do know is how deeply Gordie cares about me. With this I feel secure.

Should I sound more morally indignant or alarmed about the threat that exists out there? I’m sorry. Mary Poppins doesn’t live here any more. This is the real world.

 

 

 

 

 

books that hockey players read: steve yzerman and gordie howe

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Let’s allow, for a moment, that young Stevie Y was actually wiling away some time in the Joe Louis branch of the Detroit Public Library when photographer Bruce Bennett. Why not? This was January of 1984, halfway through his rookie season with the Red Wings. He had a pretty good year, scoring 39 goals and 87 points. He was the first 18-year-year-old to appear in an NHL All-Star game, and he end the year as runner-up to Tom Barrasso in voting for the Calder Trophy.

I’d like to know what else features in the stacks at the Joe. A lot of Gordie Howe’s books, I’m guessing, along with all the books about Mr. Hockey, too. The one Yzerman has in hand is Stan Fischler’s 1967 biography. Howe turned 39 that year, and he was in his 20th year as a Red Wing. Assuming Yzerman made it to the last chapter, he would have read Fischler’s musings on the imminent end of Howe’s career. “It’s going to be a bad day around here when he quits,” Sid Abel is heard to mutter. “A very bad day.” Howe, of course, had another four Red Wing seasons in him, and seven more after that in Houston and Hartford.

As Steve Yzerman knows, Howe talks about his longevity in that final chapter. Balance is key. Management, he says, expects you to eat, sleep, live hockey. “To me,” Howe goes on, “that’s a good way to go crazy. I don’t believe in it. For one thing, you have to take care of the body. That is a hockey player’s equipment. You keep in shape and you watch your weight. You eat the things you know you should. Take the day of a game. I would love a steak but I have eggs instead. Why? Because I feel I play better with eggs.”

books that hockey players read: boom-boom and random harvest

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I have no idea what Boom-Boom Geoffrion thought of Random Harvest, but I can say this: none of the reviewers was too impressed. None that I’ve read. One of the nicest things that Charles Poore, writing for The New York Times, could summon up to say was that it was like an artichoke, layered.

James Hilton’s fourth novel was a big deal when it was published in 1941. Jonathan Franzen’s Purity big? That sort of thing, I’m thinking. Six years had passed since the English author had published his previous blockbusting book, Goodbye Mr. Chips, which in turn had followed on the heels of Lost Horizon, the book with which he made his name and gave the world (and the word) Shangri-La.

The new novel told the story of a soldier of the First World War, shell-shocked, with no memory of the rich, high-born man he used to be. Charles Poore warned that he was sticking by his rule of never to give away the ending of a book; what he was willing to say was (i) it wasn’t a plausible plot and (ii) he preferred the parts to the whole. It was, he was willing to declare in his end-of-January column, the most dilemma-strewn, plot-clotted story of the year.

In Toronto, the estimable William Arthur Deacon gave it a look for The Globe and Mail. He felt that Hilton had turned his back on — well, everything of significance, in favour of being a mere purveyor of entertainment. He advised the thoughtful reader to leave it alone. “After the inevitable movie, it will pass, slowly at first and then rapidly, into the void of eternal forgetfulness, because there is really nothing much to it.”

It was a bestseller, on both sides of the Atlantic. Deacon was right and also, wrong. A movie did follow, in 1942, starring Ronald Colman and Greer Garson. It made a lot of money, too, while failing to charm the critics.

As for the perpetual void, Boom-Boom Geoffrion obviously braved it long enough to pluck himself the copy with which he’s seen relaxing here. Based on this photo, which dates to the late 1950s, it may have been bedtime fare for two of his young children, too, daughter Linda and elder son Bob. Never mind the critics: the Geoffrions appear to have made it nearly all the way to the end.

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books that hockey players read: milt schmidt and black beauty

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Black Beauty isn’t a hockey novel, of course, but that doesn’t mean Anna Sewell’s 1877 horse-rights classic doesn’t offer lessons for hockey players to take to heart. There’s one, in fact, right there in the opening pages, wherein Black B. remembers the pretty meadow where he grew up, with the pond and the shade of trees, and six boistering older colts next door, and Black would run with them and kick and bite and rough-house, and then one day his mother, Duchess, took him aside and told him, listen, son, those are good colts, those colts, but they’re cart-horse colts with no manners, whereas you, you come from excellent stock, with a cup-winning grandfather and a well-respected father, and let me just say about your grandmother, she had the sweetest temper of any horse anywhere and, also, have you ever seen me kick or bite? No. So, she says, “I hope you will grow up gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with a good will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick even in play.”

Great advice, you have to agree, not to mention smart parenting. What I don’t know is whether this is a speech that made it from the original novel into the picture-book version that Boston’s Milt Schmidt has here, above. You’d hope so, if only in truncated form. Pictured at home in 1954, Schmidt and his wife, Marie, are seen with son Con and daughter Nancy. The Bruins captain was playing in the last of his distinguished 16 NHL seasons that year. He retired at Christmas that year, on the advice his aching 36-year-old knees, and was immediately appointed Bruins’ coach, taking over from Lynn Patrick, who was also the Boston GM.

Schmidt coached the team until 1966. He took over as GM in 1967. Later, he steered the Washington Capitals through their stumbling start in the league. Today, aged 97, Schmidt lives in Boston, the oldest living NHLer.

 

books that hockey players read: stan mikita and dr. spock

stan + spockH is for Hawk: Stan Mikita was leading the NHL in scoring in the winter of 1964 when his wife, Jill, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter named Meg. A week later he was on duty in the nursery, consulting (for a photographer’s benefit, at least) Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, originally published in 1946. “It’s important for fathers to talk about all of their feelings,” the good doctor writes on page 18 of the book’s ninth edition, born in 2012. “When they do, they often find that the negative emotions (fear, jealousy) shift aside, allowing the positive ones (excitement, connection) to come forward.”