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Orr: My Story, Bobby Orr. I’m moving this new entry to the top of the list, because it’s that good. Orr’s Cup-winning goal gets a single (but compound) sentence, because his story is about how he developed as a player, a gentleman, and a businessman. It’s frank, it’s funny and touching, and it’s a peek into an Original Six era that was one of the best encapsulations of a simpler era of sports.
Last Season, Roy MacGregor. One of only three fictional books in the two lists, and one of the few sports-related books that’s ever made me profoundly sad. Perhaps it’s “Bats” discovering his limitations as a man and player; perhaps it’s the surprise ending.
Ice Time, Jay Atkinson. A book for hockey dads by a hockey dad himself, who also happens to be an outstanding sports writer. Atkinson follows the trials, travails and training of the Methuen, Massachusetts high school team, but this book truly digs into what it means to be a good youth sports parent.
Boys of Winter, Wayne Coffey. Of all of the content scribbled about the Miracle on Ice, this is far and away my favorite collection of insights and stories. Coffey takes a look at each player, and how their lives were shaped before and after the famous 4-3 game in Lake Placid. I quote from the introduction frequently as our youth hockey season winds down, as Jim Craig’s few pages alone are worth the cover price.
Blades of Glory, John Rosengren. Sort of the foil to Ice Time, Rosengren follows big-time high school hockey in the first state of hockey (Minnesota). Another great look at a season from deep inside the locker room. Casual references to players from rival high schools read like a who’s who of young NHL players, with the New Jersey Devils’ own Zach Parise and Paul Martin making cameo appearances as themselves.
Home Team, Roy MacGregor. He’s so good he gets two slots. Non-fiction and closer to home (literally). Blend Last Season with Ice Time and you get this book, a look at fathers and sons in and around NHL draft events. Expectations, met, exceeded, undershot or crushed, and how hockey families sometimes are more about family than hockey.
They Don’t Play Hockey in Heaven, Ken Baker. You’ve probably never heard of Ken Baker, as he was a goalie for Colgate but never “made it”. I only discovered this book after reading Kathyrn Bertine’s All The Sundays Yet To Come (figure skating and anorexia in South America, but quite funny), as she and Baker were friendly at Colgate. As an adult league player, and someone who has met many guys who always wondered if they could have made it in the ECHL, this is a great read: Baker tells a story of fulfilling his dream of playing professional hockey well after he had hung up his skates, and the result has the poignancy of a Disney movie blended with the rough edges of “Slap Shot.”
The Game, Ken Dryden. Stanley Cup, Montreal Canadiens, Cornell University, and now big-time Canadian politician. Awesome read, and in a newly released reprint.
Beyond The Crease, Martin Brodeur (and Damien Cox). Not at all what I was expecting. Rather than the usual “I was taped to the goal by my older brother who fired pucks at me from a carbon-dioxide powered air gun” story of his life from 3 years old to 3 Stanley Cups, Brodeur’s book focuses on much more recent events, including his relationship to the Devils management and the league, how he sees the sport evolving, and what it was like to represent his country in the Olympics. His reflections on playing in Torino, and echoing his father’s footsteps on Italian Olympic ground, are alone worth the purchase price.
Breaking the Ice, Angela Ruggiero. So this one is about brother-baiting and boy-badgering, but it’s about the only book I can find that addresses women’s hockey.
The Hockey I Love, Vladislav Tretiak. Yes, the Russian goaltender, who was pulled from the Miracle on Ice game. The book ends in the late 70s, a few years before the Lake Placid Olympics, so you don’t get Tretiak’s views on the game for which he’s probably best known in the States. What you do find is a discourse on playing in some of the most famous international hockey series of the 70s.
Searching For Bobby Orr, Stephen Brunt. How do you define Bobby Orr? Great player? Career cut short by injuries? Definition of the Bruins franchise? Poster boy wonder for agent impropriety and conflicts of interest? Brunt explores every theme with the right mix of detail, interest and narrative; this isn’t an encyclopedia of Bobby Orr’s great moments as much as it is a montage of what made him great despite an encyclopedia of encumbrances.
Hockey Dad Chronicles, Ed Wenck. Summarizes what most of us with kids playing hockey go through every weekend morning during the school year, or hockey season, depending upon how you measure it. It’s less cynical than a Little League book, more truthful than something written as a movie script.
Home Ice, Jack Falla. I’ve now given this book as a gift to more people than I can count. Falla covered the Bruins in detail and hockey in general for the Mass media, but this book contains his short stories about his backyard rink. What comes out is a love of the game that pervades every angle of his life — why else would he incrementally engineer his boards, making them easier to install and tear down year after year? Falla bottles up the warmth and spirit of kids tearing around a frozen pond, on a personal scale, only wearing out when the daylight fades long before the energy and passion ebb.
Open Ice, Jack Falla. The sequel to both “Home Ice” and “Saved,” this one was published immediately before Falla’s way too early passing in 2008. While his first collection of essays captures the joys of a home rink, this one covers the entire spectrum of hockey; reading it I felt an old emotion rekindled or a joyful moment resurfaced, bringing my favorite moments to life again and again.
Saved, Jack Falla. Completing the hat trick of Falla’s work is a hockey novel. Hockey fiction is about as rare and tough as a flawless diamond; even “Slap Shot” was based mostly on the real-world adventures of Dave Hanson (see below). Falla makes a cameo appearance in this book (read both short story collections first to find the Hidden Jack). It has the same feel-good quality as his short stories, and is more credible than a Broadway musical.
The Seven AM Practice, Roy MacGregor. I adore MacGregor’s work, and you can pick this one up in fair used condition, very cheaply, from Amazon. It’s another collection of stories about how hockey tradition forms in the spaces between generations and family members.
Hobey Baker, American Legend, Emil Salvini. Published by the Hobey Baker Foundation, this is a cross between an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel and a history book (Baker is the basis for Amory in Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise”). It presents a fair and balanced view of one of the most spectacular athletes of the early 20th century. Salvini is also the guy behind Tales Of The New Jersey Shore.
Slap Shot Original, Dave Hanson. The back story to the movie “Slap Shot.” It’s frightening to see how much of the movie is only a minor caricature of real life, and Hanson’s writing stands up as a memoir. The movie is the “Dark Side of the Moon” equivalent of sports films, having legs that have run for more than 25 years, and Hanson’s book is like being in the locker room before, during and after the game that became a movie.
Zamboni, Eric Dregni. Everything you wanted to know about how ice is cut, how and why the Zamboni came to be, and how one family found a need and filled it.