Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
If you are unable to actually play hockey and nevertheless have a thirst for knowledge about the game and want to increase your expertise and insightful familiarity with the sport, then reading about the history, the players and the general strategy and nature of the single best game in the world is surely the next best thing. And so, I continue now with my personal recommendations for some excellent hockey reading.
The Best Game You Can Name (McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2005) was written by Dave Spadini, a guy near to my heart as a die-hard fan and long-time amateur player, who combines his own experiences playing the game with those professionals he talked with, including Frank Mahovlich, Yvan Cournoyer, Garry Unger, Tim Ecclestone, Bryan "Bugsy" Watson and coach John Brophy. And there is a brief interview with Blues goaltender Seth Martin, who recently passed away. Spadini covers pretty much all aspects of the game from great, game-winning goals to the dirtiest of fights, as well as the problematic personal nature of trades and physical problems that mount with the passage of time, especially head injuries that affect the mental ability to compete. And he bars no holds by observing the weird and desperate superstitions that abound, as well as the obsessions exhibited by the lowliest amateur to the most talented and skilled professional.
Although I have a number of biographies about well-known super-star players like Bobby Orr, Glenn Hall, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Phil Esposito, I am not especially enthralled with these life-stories, with the exception of Jacques Plante, the Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey (McClelland & Stewart, 2009) by Todd Denault, with a foreward by the recently deceased Jean Beliveau. As the author notes, "Pioneer. Innovator. Maverick. Legend. Icon. Jacques Plante was all these things and more." And so Denault recounts the life and times of the most decorated goaltender ever to play the game by talking with those that knew him the best, including Beliveau, Johnny Bower, Henri Richard, Scotty Bowman, Red Fisher, Dick Irvin, Dickie Moore and many more of his teammates and friends. This is without doubt the best biography I have ever read about a hockey player, who I believe is the first All Star, starting goaltender on heaven's team.
Although technically a coffee-table picture book, Note By Note is Jim Woodcock's expression of love and appreciation for the St. Louis Blues Hockey Club L.P. (Pinnacle Press 2002) and a classic, must-have keepsake for any and all Blues fans. This magnificent effort is chock-full of rare photos of the best known Blues players (Hull, Gretzky) to the least known (Wayne Rivers, Wayne Maki), as well as the owners (there is a great picture of the Salomons in prototype jerseys), management and other personalities in Blues history over the years 1967 to 2002. There is no other book quite like this one. And I have made it my mission in life to get as many people in the book to sign it, now counting a total of well over 150 autographs. Alas, I have not yet had the opportunity to get Wayne Gretzky to sign it. (I didn't have the book with me when I met the Great One.)
Not too many Blues fans know about Blue Fire: A Season Inside the St. Louis Blues by Dave Simons with a foreword by Bernie Federko (Sagamore Pub. Co., Inc., 1993). This is a brilliant account of the Blues 1991-92 season in which the Blues were a reflection of Murphy's Law, as "everything that could go wrong, did." From the loss of defenseman Scott Stevens to New Jersey due to an arbitrator's decision to the firing of head coach Brian Sutter, this season also included debilitating injuries, the ill-fated trade of Rod Brind'Amour, the Adam Oates debacle and the disastrous so-called bonding trip to Banff that split the team up more than brought it together. The Blues finished third behind both the Red Wings and Blackhawks and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Chicago. Nevertheless, Simon's masterful retelling of this woeful season is another must read for all Blues fans.
It is to be hoped that I saved the best for last in saying Ken Dryden's The Game (Macmillan of Canada, 1983) is a true masterpiece that best explains what it is like to be a professional hockey player. Subtitled "A Thoughtful and Provocative Look at a Life in Hockey", Dryden (HHoF 1983) combines over 25 years of experience and research to describe what it is really like in the locker room, on the road, the interactions of players, coaches and management and the game itself, telling it all as only an actual player could.
Dryden was the MVP (Conn Smythe Trophy) in the 1971 playoffs and won the Calder (best rookie) Trophy the following year. A five time Vezina Trophy winner, Dryden has his name six times on the Stanley Cup and was a first NHL All-Star five times. He was also a member of the Canadian Parliament from 2004-2011. A little known fact is that Dryden was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 1964 and subsequently traded to Montreal on the same day (with Alex Campbell) for Paul Reid and Guy Allen, a trade that Bruins' fans will always regret. Dryden played his entire NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens' organization. This is another must-read for those interested in learning or knowing more about our favorite sport.
If there were only one hockey book I could take to the proverbial desert island, it would just have to be a toss-up between The Game and Note By Note.