Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
I've always been a voracious reader, starting in memory with hundreds of comic books, mostly Superman and Batman from the DC line. My tastes are quite eclectic, ranging from non-fiction history books about General George Washington, General George Armstrong Custer or General George Patton to the fiction of Stephen King, Mickey Spillane and Michael Connelly, and especially science fiction from Arthur C. Clarke, Issac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. Of course, I also enjoying reading everything and anything concerning hockey, especially the Blues, and therefore will gladly share with you in no particular order my ten favorite hockey books in this and the next edition of Game Time.
The most recent publication is our own Jeremy Rutherford's 100 Things Blues Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. The title says it all, and Rutherford, the Blues' beat writer for the Post Dispatch, does not disappoint. Starting with the Monday Night Miracle, this highly readable and enjoyable anthology ends 100 chapters later with the tragic story of top prospect Scott Campbell, who's career was cut short due to injuries and chronic headaches. It is chock full of unforgettable moments and untold stories that will delight readers of all ages, a must-read for not only Blues' fans, but also for all those interested in hockey.
One of the most technical, yet readable, hockey books is Hockey For the Coach, the Player and the Fan, written by Fred Shero (HHoF 2013) and Andre Beaulieu in 1979 (Simon & Schuster). Shero, aka Freddy the Fog, coached the Philadelphia Flyers to a pair of Stanley Cup championships during the 1970s and the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals in his first year as coach in New York. Shero employed a unique style of coaching that led to several innovations, including hiring assistant coaches, setting up both offensive and defensive systems and having his players use strength training and study film. He was one of the first coaches to utilize a morning skate as well. This informative "bible of hockey strategy" is replete with illustrations, charts and diagrams that expertly explain how and why hockey should be played.
Another great read from an insider's perspective is Between the Lines, by NHL linesman Ray Scapinello and Boston media personality Rob Simpson (John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd, 2006-07). Scapinello retired in 2004 after 33 years in the NHL, officiating in 2,500 regular season games, 426 playoff games and 20 Stanley Cup Finals series. His life and times is reflected in the many stories he tells about being an NHL official, both on and off the ice, revealing what the game's personalties are really like and what they really say and do. Included are Scapinello's personal beliefs about how the game has changed and evolved in the four decades he worked as an official. The best chapters give his take on both the fighters and pranksters he was involved with or saw over his many years in the NHL.
One of the most controversial hockey books ever was Ross Bernstein's The Code, The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL, Triumph Books, 2006, with forwards by Marty McSorley and Tony Twist. Bernstein spent two years researching an interviewing a broad spectrum of players, getting them to talk freely and share their feelings about fighting and retaliation. Most importantly, Bernstein shows what really goes on when players fight. The three basic rules of fighting involve protection, intimidation and retaliation, yet it can easily get more complex. If, for example, David Backes gets into a slashing duel with and challenges Jonathan Toews to fight, Toews must answer the call ("show up") or else face the certain humiliation of being considered a coward, or worse, a dirty player. And if Toews refuses to fight (defend his actions in the slashing duel), he risks having the incident escalate to a higher level, involving his teammates. And that is where the "enforcers" have a role in the NHL: to keep the peace when possible by stepping in and defusing other confrontations. This is all part of the "intricate matrix" that makes up the Code, which Bernstein throughly and delightfully explains.
You'll thank me for this last entry of this edition of GT, Bob Plager's Tales from the Blues Bench, with Tom Wheatley (Sports Publishing L.L.C., 2003). As advertised, this is a rollicking "collection of the greatest St. Louis Blues tales ever told", and Plager names names and goes into specific details about the first 25 years of the Blues franchise. From the puzzling mind-games of the Blues young coach, Scotty Bowman, to the arrival of two Western Canadian kids, future captain Brian Sutter and future Hall of Famer Bernie Federko, Plager is a masterful story-teller as he recounts all the wild and wacky events that younger Blues fans may be unaware of and that older fans may have forgotten. Plager also includes many of the heart-breaking, sorrowful events that transpired over the years, including the tragic, premature deaths of Bobby Gassoff and of his beloved brother, Barclay, balanced with the zany, preposterous antics of his best friend and teammate, Noel Picard. Yes, "the tears and the cheers, the fun and frustration -- it's all here" in a memorable, fascinating look at the life and times of the True Blue Bob Plager.
Please join me for part two of my favorite hockey books, in which I add five more books for your reading pleasure in the next edition of Game Time on Tuesday, February 10.