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.

 

 

 

 

 

jacques plante’s new face-saver

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Mask + Man: Before he added his famous mask to his game equipment one night in 1959, Jacques Plante was protecting his face in practice. After having both cheekbones broken in training mishaps in 1954 and ’55, he first tried a welder’s mask donated by a fan. He later switched to the plexiglass apparatus he’s holding above, the creation of a St. Mary’s, Ontario, inventor by the name of Delbert Louch. “Louch’s New Head-Saver” had its shortcomings: it left a goaltender’s forehead vulnerable and tended, too, to fog over on the ice. Plante modified his, as shown above, by cutting out eye-holes. (Image: Library and Archives Canada)

You can guess, maybe, the species of shot that truly distressed Jacques Plante. “Oh brother, that damned slap shot!” he wrote, to the point, in 1971. “You have no idea what an effect the slap shot has had on goalies.” Heading into a game against Chicago, he said, knowing he was gong to facing Bobby Hull, his nerves would start their rattling two days before the teams hit the ice.

Plante was 41 by then, playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs — with another three seasons to go before he’d wrap up his 21-year professional career. He was wearing a mask by then, of course — had been for 11 years, ever since the night in 1959 when Andy Bathgate of the Rangers moved in on him in early minutes of a game in New York.

You know the story. It was this week, 57 years ago, November 1. It wasn’t a slapped shot that did the damage and launched a Heritage Minute. No, Bathgate’s effort was a malign backhand. He told Plante biographer Todd Denault that he’d done it on purpose, vengefully — Plante had tripped him into the boards, he was bleeding, and mad. “I gave him a shot right on his cheek,” he said.

The puck struck Plante to the left of his nose. Dave Anderson: “He toppled face down on the milk-white ice at the right side of the net.” Red Fisher, covering the game for The Montreal Star, would describe Bathgate rushing in and lifting Plante’s head.

Plante stayed down for 15 seconds. He got up with a towel fixed his face, skated off under escort by Maurice Richard and Dickie Moore. A pair of Garden policemen helped him to the medical room. Rangers’ doctor Dr. Kazuo Yanagisawa sewed in seven stitches. After 20 minutes, Plante was ready to return. There are varying versions of the conversation that took place between coach and goaltender before Plante rejoined the game. In his biography Behind The Mask, Raymond Plante (no relation) has Plante lying on the medical table, seeing Blake, saying I want to play with my mask on. Blake: We’ll see, we’ll see.

Dave Anderson wrote a Plante feature for The Saturday Evening Post in 1960. As he tells it, Blake is the one to mention the mask, tell Plante he can put it on. Good, Plante told him, because I wouldn’t go back without it.

Todd Denault’s biography is Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey (2010). He has a stricken Plante departing the medical room, heading back out to the ice (where — a superior detail — the New York fans sang “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow”), then on the Canadiens’ dressing room where he had it out with his coach. Continue reading

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Ted Green wasn’t much for the pre-season. “I never liked exhibition games,” the long-serving Boston defenceman wrote (with Al Hirshberg’s help) in a 1971 memoir, High Stick, “because of the chances of getting hurt before the regular season started.” As for shaping himself up for the long campaign ahead, he took care of that on his own time in the summer — late in August of 1968, for example, above, just ahead of his ninth year on the Bruins’ blueline.

“I kept myself in condition during the off-season at my home in St. Boniface, just outside Winnipeg, Manitoba,” he wrote. “The only reason I cared about training at all after I made the club was to get into skating shape, which never took more than a few weeks.

It was a year later, September 21, 1969 in Ottawa, that Green got into a grievous stick fight with Wayne Maki during an exhibition game with the St. Louis Blues. When it was over, Green went to hospital with a life-threatening compound skull fracture. After three brain surgeries and a year’s gruelling recovery, Green spent the summer of 1970 facing the law and his hockey future. Ottawa Police had charged both players with assault causing bodily harm, though after Maki was tried and acquitted, Green’s charge was reduced to common assault, of which he, too, was cleared.

Back in Boston, he went to work with a personal trainer, a Hungarian who’d trained Olympic boxers, and a new regime: “running on a treadmill, operating wall pulleys, riding a stationary bicycle, doing deep knee bends, push-ups, high kicks, chin-ups, arm stretching, tossing the medicine ball, forward and backward somersaults, 60-yard sprints, and working on a devilish contraption called the Swedish wall ladder.”

Training camp was in London, Ontario, that September. “I went,” Green wrote later, “not knowing if I could play hockey again or not.” He could: helmeted, now, he played another two seasons for the Bruins before jumping to the WHA, where he skated a further eight.

(Photo used with the permission of the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Winnipeg Tribune fonds, PC 18-3786-001neg)

andy bathgate writes: second wind is difficult to describe

Credit: Weekend Magazine / Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada / e002505654

Andy Bathgate in New York Ranger vestments, circa 1959. (Photo: Weekend Magazine / Louis Jaques / Library and Archives Canada / e002505654)

Andy Bathgate’s distinguished NHL career is being remembered today following his death yesterday in Brampton at the age of 83, Ontario. Worth your while are Richard Goldstein’s obituary in The New York Times and Lance Hornby’s appreciation from The Toronto Sun.

Otherwise, maybe we’ll pause to salute to Bathgate’s literary legacy. As Goldstein and Hornby both recall, he did publish a notorious 1960 article in True magazine calling out the league’s spearing artists — more to come on that. There was a book, too, in 1963, co-written with sportscaster Bob Wolff. There’s a bit of autobiography to Andy Bathgate’s Hockey Secrets, some scenes from his childhood in Winnipeg, but mostly it’s focussed on the how-tos, from tying your skates and making the most of your wristshot to avoiding the grim dangers of goal-celebrations, all in the interest of guiding the next generation of NHLers into the league. He wasn’t going to play forever. “In a few years,” he mused, “there’ll be new headliners on the ice. There will also be some other talented youngsters who will not savor big league glory and gold unless they learn the all-important extras along the way. This book is mainly for them. I want others to benefit by what it’s taken me years to learn, so they can be ready when those openings occur in the National Hockey League. And there’ll be openings, I can assure you. One of the vacated spots will be mine.”

Herewith, twelve select sentences from the body of the book, extracted live from their context if not their wisdom:

I did not learn my hockey from books.

You just can’t be successful in a sport like hockey or football if you worry about injury or looks.

A good stick man never changes grips.

Talking plays a most important part in passing.

If you want to see a master at it, watch Henri Richard.

The injuries that hurt the most are the foolish ones.

I find that staying condition is a pleasant, year-round job.

If things are quiet, I’ll start clowning round a bit or needle a teammate to get some chatter and kibitzing started.

Second wind is difficult to describe.

When you fire the puck properly in a power shot, you feel it right from the blade through your hands, your wrists, your arms.

I’m no longer sure within my heart whether I’ve had a special aptitude for this game or not.

The secret is toe control.

books that hockey players read: steve yzerman and gordie howe

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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