Posts Tagged 'Ken Dryden'

How Come No Hockey Lit, Eh?*

*attributed to either Doug or Bob McKenzie

It would appear that literacy and hockey seem to be mutually exclusive terms. Any review of the literature devoted to what The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnick called “the only game in the world, ice hockey,” reveals a paucity of “real” books.

It’s been repeated for almost two decades that the only “real” book on the game is “The Game” by Ken Dryden. I did stumble across an excellent collection of short stories, “Hockey Sur Glace,” by Peter LaSalle. Both books appeared way back in 1989.

There’s a new anthology I’ve yet to read, but probably will read, titled “The Greatest Hockey Stories Ever Told.” But aside from the inclusion of Alec Wilkinson’s terrific New Yorker profile of Mike Richter, the collection seems short-handed in literary terms.

What’s got me doing this “how come” bit is; how come what could arguably be the smartest game in the world has no body of writing that reflects the absolute wonder of what goes on out on the ice? We’re talking about the only team sport in the world, other than polo, that goes faster than a man can run, a game that combines the savagery of football, the grace of ballet and the complexity of quantum mechanics. You’d think the shelves would be groaning with learned explications. Vast forests have been destroyed to flatter the vanity of people who like baseball, “a great game,” as Barry Melrose once put it, “for the people who can’t play hockey.” I’m told there are even some scholarly books about golf.

These musing have arisen from my current reading of Stephen Brunt’s  2007 “Searching For Bobby Orr,” a fan’s book, but a critical and well-written fan’s book, one that happens to contain some first-rate descriptions of the mechanics of how the game unfolds. Unfortunately, pages 176 – 181, a wonderful account of a 1970 Orr short-handed goal against the Red Wings, is probably the best illustration of why nobody wants to write about hockey, or for that matter read about it. As a hockey exceptionalist, I loved every word on those five pages of dense text on the Orr goal, but it took all of that writing to try to begin to do justice to a near-miraculous sequence of events that unfolded in less than ten seconds.

Based upon a praiseful footnote in Stephen Brunt’s Bobby Orr book, I will seek out and read the late Peter Gzowski’s, “The Game of Our Lives,” an account of the 1980-81 Edmonton Oilers season and an attempt “to describe and define the genius of Wayne Gretzky.

But the great hockey novel continues to wait. “Our Game,” as Mr. Gretzky calls it, deserves better. Where is the hockey knowledgeable literary genius who will do for hockey what Budd Schulberg did for boxing, what Hemingway did for bullfighting or Malamud for baseball. If such lesser athletic endeavors could generate enough grist for thousands and thousands of freshman English papers, then how come there’s not at least one endowed chair of Hockey Literature at one of the community colleges in Manitoba? How come, eh?   



At Last, A Failed Southern Strategy

In the sports section of a recent Sunday edition of the New York Times, a column noted the fading prospects for NHL hockey in non-traditional markets, that’s the American sunbelt of the south and southwest.

Despite three Stanley Cups won by expansion and relocated teams in the realm of the late Confederacy; Dallas, Carolina and Tampa Bay, the league’s “Southern Strategy” is beginning to look a bit like a lost gamble. Attendance in places like Nashville, Atlanta and Washington is down. TV ratings for hockey are below that of the cooking and home repair shows, and the Versus network, Comcast’s captive cable channel for national broadcasting of NHL hockey is still tough to find on most cable systems.

The business end of professional hockey in the U.S., unlike the always classy tone of the game itself, has a checkered past. Greed, megalomania, a player’s strike and lockout and some borderline criminality, (the fraud charges surrounding the Islanders almost change of ownership in the nineties) have helped burnish the NHL’s reputation as an essentially bush league operation.

When the team owners brought in Gary Bettman, with the grandiose hope of bringing the game up to popular parity with football, basketball and baseball, there were those among the hockey fan base who figured that the effort was doomed to failure. Gary Bettman was a big league businessman, a basketball guy with a proven track record. But he was not a hockey guy. Continue reading ‘At Last, A Failed Southern Strategy’