I hope that everyone is enjoying their holidays and that Santa was extra good to you this year. The jolly old man in red was certainly kind to myself. I am in overload at the moment, as Santa has provided me with an abundance of hockey reading material, so I thought I would review what I have read thus far, giving my ever so meaningful opinion (sarcasm of course) with a thumbs up or down.
Thumbs Up: Welcome to Maple Leaf Gardens, by Graig Abel and Lance Hornby.
Written by fan/photographer Abel and writer Hornby, this one provides two different perspectives of the Gardens based on personal histories and experiences. It is not a bland timeline that simply recites the history of the building followed by an image or two, but instead offers a behind-the-scenes look into what became a second home for these two for close to 30 years. The stories are interesting (especially anything involving crazy ol’ Harold Ballard), and the focus is not simply on Leafs history in the Gardens, but instead about the ins and outs of the building itself, and all of the other events that took place at 60 Carlton St. such as wrestling, concerts, tennis, lacrosse, junior hockey, etc. What really makes this book a must though are the amazing images provided by Abel of all the above events that took place while he was a photographer at MLG, with my personal favourites being those of fans interacting with Ballard during games while he watched on from “the bunker.” The only knock against this book is that considering it’s more of a personal history beginning in the 1970s, the first 40 years of MLG events are unfortunately left out.
Thumbs Up…so far: A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs & the Rise of Professional Hockey, by Stephen Harper.
If you recall, last month I said Harper lost some credit in my eyes for his statement that the Toronto Blueshirts should have their 1914 Cup banner hanging in the ACC, even though they have no official connection to the Leafs. That credit continued to fall when in the intro of the book, Harper states that history has called the 1908 Toronto team that challenged for the Cup as the “first Maple Leafs,” though that’s a false fact. Never before have I ever read any history of hockey that refers to this Toronto team as the “first Maple Leafs,” so I am unsure where Harper has seen that false claim in the past. But as I approach the end of chapter three, I must say, well done Prime Minister, as this is quite the intriguing read so far. Not only has he done an excellent job in tracing how the game evolved, such as how the city of Montreal served as the evolutionary platform of the game, or how “Doc” Gibson was the father of professional hockey, but he applies how the history of the game coincided with social and cultural trends of the time. For instance, how “Muscular Christianity” and the desire to have young men who were athletic, yet be gentlemanly and good sports led to the rise of amateur sport in the early twentieth century. This is not simply a hockey history timeline book, but more of a linking of hockey to social, cultural, and national history.
Thumbs Even, but most likely eventually Up: The NHL: A Centennial History, by D’Arcy Jenish.
In a sense, Jenish’s book is sort of an unintentional sequel to Harper’s. Jenish begins where Harper ends, around the era of the creation of the NHL. Jenish, from what I’ve read so far, takes a different route than Harper, looking at evolution of the NHL through off-ice “behind the scene” stories and boardroom battles. From the in-fighting with Eddie Livingstone that led to the creation of the NHL in 1917, to the crimes of Alan Eagleson and dislike of Gary Bettman, I cannot wait to sink my teeth, or eyes I guess, into this one, as I absolutely love behind the scenes stories, with many in here said to be previously unknown, as Jenish has been given access to unpublished league files.
Thumbs Down: Bobby Orr: My Story, by Bobby Orr.
I have actually had this book for a few weeks, but recently tried to finish it a few days ago, but I cannot do it, it’s too boring. It seems crazy almost, how could a book by a legend be boring? Well, I’ll tell you how. Imagine you are having a conversation with your grandfather, and he brings up a really interesting point, and you want to here more about that point, but instead he skims over it and instead tells other anecdotes that you really do not care about. Stretch that into a couple hundred pages, and you have Orr’s book. I know he was putting it into his own words and trying to have the reader come away with something meaningful, but to have him skim over so many stories was really disappointing.
I hope everyone rings in the new year with good family and/or friends, and that 2014 ends up being a year filled with good health, good people, and of course, good hockey.