books that hockey players read: wayne gretzky and colleen howe

gretz-howes

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.

 

 

 

 

 

broad street bully pulpit

Coach Fog: Four months after Fred Shero was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the Flyers unveiled a statue of their championship coach on March 15. Sculptor Chad Fisher’s 8-foot, 1,300-pound bronze work stands on the site of the old Spectrum. Bernie Parent, for one, was pleased. “This statue,” he said, “will be standing in the heart of Philadelphia as a reminder to all fans back then, all fans now, and all fans to come, that Fred Shero was truly the best coach one of the best human beings this city has and ever will see.” (Photo: Chad Fisher)

Coach Fog: Four months after Fred Shero was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the Flyers unveiled a statue of their championship coach on March 15. Sculptor Chad Fisher’s 8-foot, 1,300-pound bronze work stands on the site of the old Spectrum. Bernie Parent, for one, was pleased. “This statue,” he said, “will be standing in the heart of Philadelphia as a reminder to all fans back then, all fans now, and all fans to come, that Fred Shero was truly the best coach one of the best human beings this city has and ever will see.” (Photo: Chad Fisher, http://www.fishersculpture.com/)

After the Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup, the team’s first championship in 54 years, they fulfilled the words of their coach, Mike Keenan: “Win this, and you’ll walk together forever.”

• Lucas Aykroyd writes about Trevor Linden’s
appointment as Vancouver’s new president for
hockey operations, The New York Times, April 13, 2014.

Yes, true. On June 14, 1994, as the Rangers prepared to meet the Canucks in Game Seven, Mike Keenan gave what his captain would call one of the best speeches he’d ever heard. Rick Carpiniello recounts this in Messier: Steel In Ice (1999):

“Go out and win it for each other, and if you do, you will walk together for the rest of your lives,” Keenan told the Rangers.

“He seized the moment,” Messier said. “He took control of the situation. We needed it at the time. Mike came through when we needed him most. Everything he said hit home, to everybody. It was incredible. It got us back on track.”

But credit where credit’s due. Aykroyd, Carpiniello, and Messier fail to mention the man — a Rangers’ coach of another era — who not only said it first, 20 years earlier, but proved that it worked.

Everybody knows this, right? Before he got to the Rangers, when Fred Shero (a.k.a. The Fog) was coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, he used to leave his players messages on a blackboard in the dressing room, a koan here, an adage there, words to challenge and spur the spirit. Going into Game Six of the finals against Boston in May of 1976, the Flyers had the chance to wrap up the series and win their first Stanley Cup. Lose and they’d have to go back to Boston. Shero worked his chalk. Rick MacLeish scored. Bernie Parent shut, as they say, the door.

Miracle Flyers Take The Cup and

the City Goes Wild with Joy!

read the front of The Philadelphia Inquirer next morning.

Shero chalks

Shero chalks

A quick history of Shero’s chalk-talking would have to go back a few years. Shero himself steers clear of the blackboard and its uses in the book he wrote with Vijay Kothare, Shero: The Man Behind The System (1975). According to Jack Chevalier in The Broad Street Bullies (1974), it dates to the coach’s second season with the Flyers, 1972-73, when he wrote a note about team commitment before a big win. “Ever since, Shero has been hungrily searching for clever passages and slogans to circulate among the team or to give to a particular player.”

“Ahhhh,” said captain Bobby Clarke at the time. “I look at them and laugh. I can’t remember any, because there’s a new one every day. I wonder where he gets ’em.”

Shero:

“They used to laugh at first and dream up funny things to write beside my messages. But now they act like it’s something sacred. They’d never erase it.”

With Shero gone — he died in 1990 — the central repository of Shero’s blackboard wisdom resides in Rhoda Rappeport’s Fred Shero (1977).

“An oak tree is just a nut that held its ground,” he wrote one night.

And: “A barking dog is often more useful than a sleeping lion.”

“Four things come not back — the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life and neglected opportunities.”

“If he read this stuff to us, it wouldn’t work at all,” defenceman Barry Ashbee told Chevalier. “It’s corny, and some guys still laugh. But if you really look at the quotes, there’s a lot of life in there.”

Shero could sound a little bashful, talking about his sloganeering. “I just ran across a couple of good ones last year,” he said 1974, “and tried ’em out. Before that I guess I coached like everybody else. Now I find these things in books, magazines — everything I read.” Chevalier:

His sources range from the life story of Washington Redskins coach George Allen to an article entitled, ‘Ten Lost Years — A History of Canadians During The Depression.’

On his bulletin board is an Edgar Guest poem, ‘Team Work,’ neatly typed on Flyers stationery. Each player got a copy. He also passed out a fan’s poem, ‘It’s All A State of Mind.’ The first line: “If you think you’re beaten, you are.’ From an old Saturday Evening Post, Shero clipped a Cadillac advertisement with an editorial entitled ‘The Penalty of Leadership.’

Continue reading

this week: there aren’t enough adjectives in the vocabulary

Shadowy men, in a shadowy Garden: Bruins host Maroons at Boston's Garden, circa the mid-1930s. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Shadowy men, on shadowy ice: Bruins host Maroons at Boston’s Garden, circa the mid-1930s. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

“Happy holidays everybody!!!,” tweeted @AnzeKopitar this week, “#besttimeoftheyear”     

In Ottawa, Governor-General David Johnston told CTV’s Powerplay what he thought of his next-door neighbour’s book, which is to say Stephen J. Harper’s A Great Game: “I enjoyed it enormously.”

“God fortsättning!” offered the Rangers’ goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. “Hoppas ni haft en härlig jul och att ni får ett gott nytt år!”

New Jersey’s Jaromir Jagr scored his 13th goal of the season this week in a 5-4 win over Washington’s Capitals. It was the 694th of his career, too, which ties him with Mark Messier in seventh place on the list of all-time NHL goalscorers.

“He amazes me every night I come to the rink,” Devils’ coach Peter DeBoer said of Jagr, who’s 41. “I don’t have a lot more adjectives to describe him, but he’s a pleasure to work with.”

Don’t cry for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their injured, coach Randy Carlyle said this week, via James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail. According to Carlyle, 108 players are out of action at the moment, or fully 15 per cent. “There’s a lot of injuries taking place,” Carlyle said. “We’re not the only ones.”

“There aren’t enough adjectives in the vocabulary to keep describing Jaromir’s goals,” said a teammate, Rick Tocchet. That was in 1992, back when Jagr played for Pittsburgh.

howe, lindsay

Terribly Ted: Detroit’s Red Wings announced this week that Ted Lindsay and Gordie Howe will be participating in the team’s alumni game against Toronto on December 31 leading up to the Winter Classic game at Comerica Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo: @DetroitRedWings)

Evgeni Nabokov was the Islanders’ goalie yesterday when they lost to the Devils.  “It’s the same music all the time: Why don’t we win?” he said afterwards. Continue reading

this week: ya gotta step up to the thing

big bob

Hockey Night In Canada opened, this week, with a rousing rendition of Paul McCartney’s new song, “Save Us,” backing the usual montage of shooting and scoring and punching, and more punching, and some passing, and punching, building up to the big Nelson Mandela finish. Ron MacLean paid tribute to the late South African president’s geographical savvy with quotes involving the road to forgiveness and how, once you climb a hill, there’s always another hill to climb. In the rink in Ottawa, where the Leafs were visiting the Senators, a moment of silence in Mandela’s honour was broken by hardly any partisan bellowing.

That was Saturday night, just before all hell broke loose in Boston. Which is worth coming back to. First, though, in other news:

@Bernieparent tweeted a bulletin on Wednesday:

Your smile will give you a positive countenance that will make people feel comfortable around you.

… while Dave Bidini (@hockeyesque) called out his local librarian:

hey @torontolibrary ‘Keon and Me’: 16 copies, 76 holds. Stephen Harper? 177 copies. 13 holds. ‪#Moremelesshim

Meanwhile, in Moscow, R-Sport fretted about a crisis for the Russian hockey team playing host at the Sochi Olympics in February: with Ilya Bryzgalov going down this week with a concussion, all six Russian goaltenders playing in the NHL are now ailing. Sergei Bobrovsky’s lower body is stretched, strained, sprained, and/or smarting. Anton Khudobin’s ankle is his problem, while Evgeny Nabokov and Nikolai Khabibulin are troubled by groins. Sorry, that’s not quite right: what they’re saying is that they have “groin problems.” Semyon Varlamov has those, too; he also faces charges of third-degree assault for (allegedly) beating up his girlfriend.

R-Sport:

In Sochi, four-time world champion Russia is under great pressure to win gold following Vancouver 2010 failure, when the team was destroyed 7-3 by Canada in the quarterfinal.

“A Bobby Hull howitzer it wasn’t,” wrote The Calgary Sun’s Randy Sportak of a Mikael Backlund goal that won a game for the Flames over Phoenix.

“I didn’t get too much on the puck, so I didn’t think it would go in,” Backlund said while a teammate in the dressing room referred to his shot as a “muffin.”

Buffalo captain Steve Ott (born in Summerside, P.E.I.) had monetary policy on his mind this week, broadcasting his dismay about the new Canadian five-dollar bill, which replaces an illustration of hockey-playing kids with one showing the Canadarm at work in outer space. @otterN9NE:

A little disappointed in the new Canadian 5’s … Never knew we had a space program? #Nasa or #Hockey 

Hue and cry ensued on Twitter, as you’d guess, until @otterN9NE returned (sheepishly?) to his smartphone:

It was cool to watch Com Chris Hadfield drop a puck from space last year but I believe Hockey should have stayed on the 5. Maybe the 10?

At The Toronto Star, Damien Cox wondered whether Edmonton’s Taylor Hall wasn’t talking himself into the Team Canada conversation.

Talking to Sports Illustrated, Boston coach Claude Julien didn’t deny that as a boy, he’d worshipped the Montreal Canadiens. Times change, though. “Right now I don’t like them,” he said.

Prediction from former New Jersey defenceman Ken Daneyko, now a broadcaster for the Devils: the NHL will expand to Quebec and Seattle within “a couple years.”

The NHL paid Wayne Gretzky the $US8-million it owed him this week, parking instant speculation that he’ll be back soon in an active management role in, maybe, Washington or perhaps (possibly) Los Angeles, though of course how can you rule out Toronto?

As for the mess in Boston Saturday night, here’s how the NHL page on Yahoo! Sports told the tale next morning:

Brooks Orpik attacked by Shawn Thornton

Penguins’ defenseman was stretchered off the ice after being jumped from behind by Bruins’ winger

Ugliness erupts in Boston

Bruins win late, add insult to injury Continue reading

this week: king mackerel, amberjack, bonito, barracuda

 On A Cold Road: Writer and rocker Dave Bidini strips down for a fantastic cause, the just-released Bare It For Books 2014 Calendar. Bidini — he’s April — has himself just published Keon And Me: My Search For The Lost Soul of the Leafs (Viking). Other writers joining him to pass the time in near-nudity include Yann Martel, Miranda Hill, and Steven Heighton. Proceeds from the calendar go to PEN Canada. For more information, visit www.bareitforbooks.ca. (Photo: Shelagh Howard for Bare It For Books, www.shelaghhoward.com)


On A Cold Road: Writer and rocker Dave Bidini strips down for a fantastic cause, the just-released Bare It For Books 2014 Calendar. Bidini — he’s April — has himself just published the sly and incisive Keon And Me: My Search For The Lost Soul of the Leafs (Viking). Other writers joining him to pass the time in near-nudity include Yann Martel, Miranda Hill, and Steven Heighton. Proceeds from the calendar go to PEN Canada. For more information, visit http://www.bareitforbooks.ca. (Photo: Shelagh Howard for Bare It For Books, http://www.shelaghhoward.com)

Henrik Lundqvist, the goalie for the New York Rangers, had a minor issue this week, and missed practice. The New York Daily News said it was a “minor issue.”

Kelly Chase, the former fighter who now broadcasts games for the St. Louis Blues, made the case that not enough fighting is causing mayhem in this year’s NHL. In his words (@Chasenpucks39): “Hits from behind UP! Injuries UP! Stretchers on ice UP! Number of suspensions at this of the year UP! Fighting DOWN! Hmmm”

Vanity Fair revealed its list of most stylish NHLers this — actually it was last week. “Arguably the most down-to-earth and least tabloid-friendly players, as a group, in professional sports, the men of the National Hockey League are usually lost under loose jerseys and protective masks during games,” gabbled the magazine. “Off the ice, their style may be noticeably more reserved than their football- or basketball-playing peers’, but they still know how to keep things cool, with looks that range from Power Broker to Nordic Gentleman.”

Henrik Lundqvist — “shows no fear of experimenting with color and pattern”— ranked at the top. Philadelphia’s Vincent Lecavalier ranked second (“tasteful use of open collars and V-neck shirts”) while Ottawa Senators Erik Karlsson (“defies the thuggish-defenseman cliché during his off hours in Ottawa with Euro-cut slim suits and button-downs that pop with color”) and Jason Spezza (“accessorizes his classically cut suits with polka-dot ties, candy-stripe shirts, and Don Draperian pocket squares”) rated seventh and ninth, respectively.

The goalie who stopped the pucks in 1980 that helped the USA’s “Miracle On Ice” team win Olympic gold was blogging this week for the Russian newspaper RIA Novosti. “As we get ever closer to the Olympic Games in Sochi in February,” wrote Jim Craig, “I want you to stop for a moment and think about your family.”

Sidney Crosby continued to lead the NHL in scoring this week and as he arrived in Toronto to play the Leafs, Damien Cox from The Toronto Star said that he was at the peak of his powers, now that all the concussion-related uncertainty that clouded the air just two-and-half years again has passed.

For his part, Crosby wanted to talk about Pittsburgh’s goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, who wasn’t one of those invited to Canada’s Olympic orientation camp in August. “He’s played really well,” Crosby said. “He’s definitely earned the right to be considered.”

Asked about the struggles of the New York Rangers, the team he used to coach, John Tortorella said, “I don’t work there anymore. I’m certainly not going to criticize. That’s not fair.”

Earlier in the week, the Rangers had waived their back-up goalie, the 16-year veteran Martin Biron, with an idea of sending him to minor-league Hartford. Biron: “This is not a fun feeling.” Continue reading

this week: shut up, have you ever played the game?

turkey season

Talking Turkey: Chicago’s Jimmy Thomson and Jean-Guy Gendron of the New York Rangers pose, cica 1958, for a seasonal photograph deserving of a cleverer rink-to-table caption than they may have actually ended up with.

“Happy Thanksgiving Canada!” tweeped Colorado’s Matt Duchene this week — today, actually. “Miss being up there this time of year.”

Scotty Bowman, who doesn’t tweet a lot, doesn’t call himself Scotty on Twitter: it’s Scott Bowman, @coachwsb. If his last message, from the NHL’s opening week, was a little cryptic, the gist of it was clear enough. “I support views of Steve Yzerman Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford on their opinions for Addressing most Fighting Issues Poll all Players.”

Whoooeeeh, Mikhail Grabovski of the Washington Capitals said last week, and I quote. Grabovski has been living with Alex Ovechkin this month, and driving with him to the rink. Dan Steinberg from The Washington Post was wondering about Ovechkin’s driving, and that’s what Grabovski said, whoosh. “Like in the game, you know? Always machine. I put seatbelt all the time.”

Steve Yzerman had called for game misconducts to be called on players who fought. “We’re stuck in the middle and need to decide what kind of sport do we want to be,” he’d said. “Either anything goes and we accept the consequences or take the next step and eliminate fighting.”

“He’s like the Pied Piper,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said of Teemu Selanne. Insofar as … like the rat-catcher who hasn’t been paid, he steals people’s children with music? No. Boudreau’s reading of the old German folktale is a different one. “Everywhere you go,” he was saying, “people love him.”

Keith Acton told John Tortorella to shut his fucking mouth. Acton (assistant coach in Edmonton) was mad about something Tortorella (Vancouver’s coach) had yelled in the heat of the Canucks win this week over the Oilers, so that’s what he yelled.

Told later that the CBC’s Glenn Healy thought Tortorella should calm down, the coach said, “I don’t care what CBC says, anybody has to say, quite honestly. They don’t know what’s happening.”

Ottawa coach Paul MacLean was peeved by the winning goal that Toronto’s Mason Raymond scored in the shoot-out this week against the Senators. He’d stopped, spun, scored; it was a good goal, officials deemed, because the puck remained in motion.

“I think it’s a very unfair play for the guy to come in and blow snow on the goaltender,” MacLean said. “To me, he came to a full stop, the puck went backwards and then forwards.

“But that’s me, I’m only a fisherman from Nova Scotia. So I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’.” Continue reading