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.

 

 

 

 

 

bussboys

Embed from Getty Images

Above: Behn Wilson of the Chicago Blackhawks gives his stick a
smack during a game at New York’s Madison Square Garden in
January of 1988. (Photo: Bruce Bennett)

The first of the two goals that Alexander Ovechkin scored last night in Washington’s 7-1 romp over Ottawa was a momentous one, of course, the 500th of his career. The Washington Post has a useful review of how and when he’s scored all those goals, and where Ovechkin fits into NHL goalscoring history. As for the goal itself, here’s a quick look at how it’s being worded in the hours since it went in.

The Canadian Press:

The landmark score was vintage Ovechkin. Posted up just beyond the left hashes during a power play, he fielded a feed from Jason Chimera and then whizzed a shot past the head of goalie Andrew Hammond just under the crossbar for a 5-1 lead.

Des Bieler in The Washington Post:

Ovechkin got his goal in classic fashion, sending a wrister past goalie Andrew Hammond from his favorite spot at the left circle.

Alex Prewitt in Sports Illustrated:

The milestone goal had been roofed past goaltender Andrew Hammond, a slingshot from Ovechkin’s usual office on the power play.

If you watched the game from the start, or saw the highlights, later, you may have noted the quick kiss that Ovechkin bestowed on the right-curving blade of his Bauer Supreme Totalone MX3. For luck? For thanks? Could he have scored without it? Just because we don’t know any of the answers to those questions doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to commemorate a few other select hockey busses from years gone by. Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs well remember Don Cherry’s lips meeting Doug Gilmour’s cheek on Hockey Night in Canada circa 1993 (there was also a 2013 reprise, featuring Nazem Kadri), but the timely hockey kiss goes back further still:

Anatoli Tarasov, 1960

“Imagine me getting kissed by the Russian coach,” said Jack Riley, whose U.S. hockey teamed zoomed to the top of the Olympic hockey tournament by upsetting Canada 2-1.

Russian coach Anatoli Tarasov of the once-tied, second-place Soviets hugged and kissed Riley in the bedlam that followed the Americans’ stunning conquest of the high-powered Canadians Thursday in the Winter Games hockey tourney.

• Patrick McNulty, The Associated Press, Ellensburg Daily Record, February 26, 1960

Glenn Resch, 1975

Glenn Resch is edgy and he admits it.

“I’ll let the pressure take its course,” the friendly New York Islanders goaltender said Thursday night. “If I get sick, I get sick. My nerves are super-jumpy.”

Of course, it didn’t show Thursday night when Resch led New York to a 4-1 playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It didn’t show, either, when Resch kissed the goalpost behind him in the first period; he was wearing his painted facemask at the time.

Shots by Pittsburgh forwards hit the post twice in the period. “I literally kissed the post,” he recalled. “It’s my best friend. I get along with it just like my wife.”

• Frank Brown, The Associated Press, Lewiston Evening Journal, April 24, 1975

Brendan Shanahan, 1987

His composure and efficiency under pressure are dazzling for an 18-year-old rookie, but Brendan Shanahan of the Devils wants to do much more before he is satisfied with himself.

Since his arrival in New Jersey as the second overall choice in the draft last summer, Shanahan’s flamboyant looks, articulate speech and expressions of affection for teammates — he kissed Claude Loiselle, who assisted on Shanahan’s first goal — have captivated fans of the Devils.

“Some people like to keep their feelings inside,” Shanahan said before practice here today. “I just like to let them out, especially when I’m excited.”

“I kissed Claudie,” Shanahan said of Loiselle, who assisted on the goal that gave the Devils a 3-2 triumph over the Rangers a week ago. “I knew I was going to kiss the guy who assisted me. I don’t know if he noticed it.”

• Alex Yannis, The New York Times, November 17, 1987

Pat LaFontaine, 1990

After the 4-4 tie between the Islanders and the Devils at Nassau Coliseum today, the Islanders’ Pat LaFontaine, following an appropriate dictum, stepped from the locker room to the corridor — and kissed his sister.

There was only one problem. His chin was still dripping blood from a fresh, six-stitch gash caused by a speeding puck. “I dripped blood over her blouse,” LaFontaine said. “Sorry about that.”

• Joe Lapointe, The New York Times, January 29, 1990

Esa Tikkanen, 1994

How embarrassing was it for Washington? Consider the altercation between Keith Jones of the Capitals and Esa Tikkanen of the Rangers, two rough, tough, gritty players. Trying to inspire his team, Jones played a mean game, bumping, hacking and slashing whenever possible, taking three minor penalties.

After one confrontation, Tikkanen got close to Jones. He got in his face, boy, did he ever. And then Tikkanen, well, he, yes, he, uh, why he kissed him. That’s what he did. He kissed him right on the nose. And there is no penalty, minor or major, for that.

“He’s trying to be a tough guy, trying to stir the pot,” Tikkanen said of Jones. “We’ve got to turn around and skate away.” Shoot, nowadays, if you want to see a good fight, you’ve got to watch the National Basketball Association playoffs or maybe a major league baseball game.

• Joe Lapointe, The New York Times, May 6, 1994