Stanley Cup in the Summer
The offseason is the perfect time for fans to reflect on the “fastest game on ice.”
Every sport has a number of books that can serve to deepen fans’ understanding of some of the subtleties of the game, educate them on certain aspects they had not previously considered, or simply to entertain.
Hockey is no exception as there are dozens of great books written by a number of talented writers.
Summer provides the opportunity to gain some new perspectives on the game that continues to entertain millions of people across the globe.
This list of 10 books, in no particular order, offers a tip of the helmet to history, fans of all ages and to the game in a global context.
They are books that diehard hockey fans should read before NHL training camps open in September. All of these books will change the way the reader views hockey.
Honorable mentions go to: Grapes: A Vintage View of Hockey; The Hammer: Confessions of a Hockey Enforcer; Birth of a Dynasty: The 1980 New York Islanders; and Open Net: A Professional Amateur in the World of Big-Time Hockey.
Ken Dryden’s The Game is one of the best sports book ever written.
The former Montreal Canadiens goaltender later became an accomplished author, lawyer, Toronto Maple Leafs executive and a Member of Parliament in Canada.
He’s one of the brightest players to ever play the game.
The book is much more than a personal memoir as it delves into the lives of professional hockey players with intelligent insights and a candour that is absent in most hockey books. There are some wonderful portraits of teammates–Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and head coach Scotty Bowman.
The book reflects on one of the more dominant teams in NHL history.
It allows readers to better understand Canada, the city of Montreal, the Canadiens and the game itself. It is equal parts honest and thought provoking.
Wayne Gretzky is not only the greatest hockey player that has ever played the game, but is easily the most important.
His move to the Los Angeles Kings in the summer of 1988 changed the face of the NHL game, and its reverberations continue to be felt today.
More American children have turned to the game since the late 1980s, and a player like superstar-in-waiting Seth Jones, would likely never have picked up a hockey stick without Gretzky’s immeasurable influence on U.S. hockey.
Stephen Brunt’s book, Gretzky’s Tears, explores the backdrop to Gretzky’s trade to the Los Angeles Kings from the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers were the best team in hockey and had just won their fourth Stanley Cup in five years. Brunt takes the reader through Peter Pocklington’s financial struggles, and how he orchestrated the most significant trade in hockey history.
Gretzky broke down emotionally at the press conference announcing the blockbuster deal.
His tears, and their legitimacy, have been greatly discussed in the 25 years since. This compelling book must be read by every serious hockey fan.
Former Red Wing Ted Lindsay
While there may be more poetic books focusing on the game, Net Worth might be the most important one.
To better understand contract negotiations, free agency and the root causes of NHL lockouts, this book is essential reading.
The book is meticulously researched and is a good primer for those who want to know about many of the giants of hockey from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. It’s a great study of the inner workings of sports unions and the genesis of the NHL Players Association.
Fans will better understand how the game evolved off the ice. It delves into the influence of key hockey players, agents and NHL executives over time.
Many will not like a lot of the underside that the author reveals, but they will have a much fuller understanding of the game in a historical context.
The Miracle on Ice has to rank as one of the top moments in Olympic Games history.
The Boys of Winter chronicles the improbable victories of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that captured the gold medal in Lake Placid, NY.
While these players were unheralded at the time, there was actually a lot of talent on the team. Several of them, among them Ken Morrow and Dave Christian, went on to have successful NHL careers.
The book explores the complex relationships between the players, their masterful coach, Herb Brooks, and how they came together as a team to defeat the Soviet Union and other hockey powerhouses on their road to gold.
While the author, Wayne Coffey, focuses on the team, he also provides interesting context about the Soviets, communism and the Lake Placid Olympics themselves.
It is a book that all hockey fans should read if they haven’t done so already.
Theo Fleury was the kind of player that opponents and opposing fans loved to hate.
While his book is certainly one of the most challenging to read emotionally, it likely provides some of the most meaningful passages about life in any hockey book.
Playing With Fire is an intense examination of professional hockey through the eyes of one of its fiercest competitors who just happened to be 5’6”.
Defying long odds, Fleury became one of the better players of his generation despite having survived a chaotic home life.
He was also sexually abused by his junior hockey coach; something he did not reveal until decades later. The subject matter is very difficult to read, but that is precisely why all hockey fans should read this book.
Ultimately, the book is a study of courage, spirit and the will to persevere under some of the most difficult life circumstances that a person can endure.
Peter Gzowski was one of Canada’s most beloved journalists before his death in 2002.
In The Game of Our Lives, he applied the full breadth of his interviewing skills and perceptiveness to capture the nascent Edmonton Oilers dynasty over the course of their second season in the NHL, 1980-81.
Some of the focus is on the sublime talents of a young Wayne Gretzky. The book is a chronicle of a single season, but Gzowski also explores many of the greats in NHL history including Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr as he examines the game that he obviously loved.
What the book will allow fans to do is to better understand the passion for the game that so many have. The book has a lyrical quality that invites a fan to read it with great care.
Given the resurgence of an elite Russian hockey league, the KHL, and the ongoing presence of NHL stars from Russia, The Red Machine: The Soviet Quest to Dominate Canada's Game remains important despite being over 20 years old.
While drier than many of the other books on the list, Lawrence Martin does a fine job of exploring the other superpower in hockey history, the Soviet Union.
The author explores not only the most important architects and players, but he explores the scientific approach that the Soviets took.
He ties the rise and subsequent fall of Soviet hockey to larger Cold War events that saw the effective end of communism in the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s.
While Russian players were once seen as programmed and robotic, the overwhelming majority are currently perceived as skilled and talented, just not as willing as others to adhere to the systems emphasized in the contemporary NHL game.
The book is a very good study of a different form of love for the game.
This book targets the parents of players, but it is a must read for all hockey fans and young players.
Selling the Dream questions the motivations of an increasing number of parents who view the game as a vehicle to fame and riches not only for their children but, in many cases, for themselves, too.
The authors, who have been around the game for years, question year-round training, expensive equipment and ridiculous expectations for children.
Campbell and Parcels certainly don’t hate the game; in fact, they love it.
What they question is the ongoing commodification of not only hockey, but also childhood.
Unscrupulous entrepreneurs often further fuel the unreasonable expectations of parents. These people know just what parents and young players want to hear.
This book exposes the unseemly side of a North American minor hockey system that needs to be addressed.
Advanced statistics can be a polarizing topic in hockey circles. Terms like Fenwick, Corsi and so forth can elicit dumbfounded stares, menacing glares, or a welcoming smile.
Hockeynomics by Darcy Norman is a great gateway to advanced statistics and their increasing importance in decision-making and assessments.
Critics don’t appreciate the game being boiled down to mere numbers while proponents can’t understand how people believe they can have an intelligent discussion about players or teams without analyzing advanced statistics.
While this book is not comprehensive, and fans that already study the minutiae in advanced statistics might be somewhat let down, it is a great introduction for hockey fans.
In the era dictated by salary cap, turning a blind eye to systems, metrics and statistics is done at every fan’s peril.
The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier is a parable about larger Canadian relations between French and English Canada.
More importantly it is an ode to the most storied and successful franchise in NHL hockey, the Montreal Canadiens.
It is a children’s book, but it offers a return to childhood for adult hockey fans. Carrier is a beautiful writer who parlays well his boyhood love for the Canadiens, and more specifically, the incomparable No. 9, Maurice Richard.
The young protagonist dreams of having a Montreal Canadiens sweater (yes, sweater not jersey) but in a cruel twist of fate, he receives a sweater from the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
This is one of the only books I would re-read over the summer and I recommend you read it aloud for full effect.
If you have limited time, and can read only one book this summer, read The Hockey Sweater.
You will not be disappointed.