2017 Hockey Project:The Top 5 Hockey Books
By Sammi Silber
Since the National Hockey League’s humble beginnings in the early 1900s, ice hockey has been considered one of the most unique yet demanding sports in the world.
As it has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon, hockey has become something of a giant story, an epic saga with twists and turns. To tell those stories, many former players, as well as sports journalists and other writers, have put a pen to paper to showcase the sport and its storylines through words.
From Ken Dryden’s book about his dominant, legendary career with the Montreal Canadiens to the controversy behind fighting in the NHL, there is a huge variety of stories to tell, which makes for a variety of outstanding hockey books.
The Game by Ken Dryden
Ken Dryden’s autobiography is often regarded as the best hockey book ever written. Dryden claims that writing the book was “lived and researched over 25 years,” and it started off as stories scribbled down on stationery, newspapers, envelopes and any other paper he could find.
What makes The Game the best hockey book written is how it embodies the anatomy of a book. You find yourself stepping into Dryden’s shoes, and living life through his eyes. He also depicts his teammates in such a way that the book is filled with a plethora of interesting characters. Because of this, you are eager to flip from page to page.
Dryden also captures what it feels like to play in the NHL, and combines that with his story. He made the Canadiens roster and began his rise to fame as a call-up, where he defied all expectations and went above and beyond his potential.
Through reading this book, you not only get a sense of what Dryden was thinking during each save he made, but you get to relive the best years of the Montreal Canadiens as if you are a player in the locker room.
Overall, The Game is not just a memoir, nor is it just about hockey. It is about a lifestyle, and showcases players on and off the ice, as well as the emotions and obstacles they face playing in the National Hockey League. This book is a must-read for the die-hard hockey fan who sees the game as more than just a sport.
According to the Windsor Star, “The Game,” is “an incredible memoir, a poetic journey through the life of Les Canadiens” that “rises above being just a book about hockey.”
Mr. Hockey by Gordie Howe
Referred to by many, including NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, as the greatest player of all time, Gordie Howe penned his autobiography about two years before he passed away on June 10, 2016. The book received positive reviews, and is one of the top hockey books available on the market.
In his book, Howe shares his entire story, describing his life on and off the ice. He grew up during the Great Depression, and when World War II saw many players leaving for war, Howe took the opportunity to find a full-time job in the NHL. One of the first chapters follows his tryout with the New York Rangers, who criticized his physicality and later cut him from the roster.
Howe tells an interesting story in his own words, and the book at times comes off as fun, casual conversation, which makes it unique. Through his words, you can envision him developing over the years, and understand how he came to combine his defensive, aggressive edge with his ability to score goals.
Overall, the book follows the life of one of the greatest players to ever play in the NHL, while also showing what he was like off the ice, and explains why there can only be one “Mr. Hockey.” The best part of the book, however, is that even if you weren’t there during the Howe era of hockey, he paints a vivid picture that re-lives that time.
Breaking Away by Patrick O’Sullivan
Years after his NHL career came to an end, former NHL forward Patrick O’Sullivan took to the Player’s Tribune, an online publication that showcases sports features written by athletes, and penned a piece called “Black and Blue,” where he discussed his struggles with child abuse.
O’Sullivan, with the help of author Gare Joyce, later released his book, Breaking Away, to tell his full story. He recounts his abusive relationship with his father, a former hockey player who never made it beyond the minor leagues. His father beat and physically and mentally abused O’Sullivan growing up, all in what O’Sullivan believes was an effort to condition him into becoming a better hockey player.
After telling several stories from his childhood, O’Sullivan discusses his time in the NHL, and the brave story about how he escaped from his father, ultimately fought back against his abuse and defied all odds to follow his dreams. Later in the book, he searches for answers as to why he would have to face such abuse growing up.
According to O’Sullivan, his love of hockey drove his courage to step up and fight back against his father, and that he wrote the book to give a voice to those who are silenced.
“[Abuse] is a very real problem, and we need someone to stand up and talk about it,” O’Sullivan said. “Those kids facing abuse don’t have a voice. I’m standing up and I’m doing this because no one else is.”
The book is chilling at times, and recounts one of the bravest and disturbing stories of NHL players. O’Sullivan’s story will keep you turning each page, and the book itself will linger in your mind long after you finish it.
Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard by John Branch
In 2011, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the NHL’s position of fighting, especially after three NHL enforcers, who serve as the team’s designated “tough guys” and would fight when needed, were found dead within months of each other.
One of these enforcers was Derek Boogaard, who was among the top enforcers to ever suit up in the NHL. New York Times Pulitzer-winning reporter John Branch decided to investigate the narrative of the 6-foot-8, 265-pound Boogaard, who went through the wringer during his NHL career, through a series of articles titled Punched Out. It examined Boogaard’s downfall, and his eventual death, caused by a lethal mixture of drugs and alcohol.
After the article received positive reception, as well as a spike in popularity, Branch released Boy on Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard, a book that goes into deeper detail about Boogaard’s life and tells his full story. The book goes through the stages of Boogaard’s life, from growing up and rising through the ranks of junior hockey to falling victim to depression, which led to trouble with addiction to painkillers.
The book also examines Boogaard’s transformation from a high-scoring prospect into a fighter, as well as how he eventually developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disorder that is often caused by repetitive head trauma. CTE is what eventually led him to his depression, and caused a barrage of other symptoms as well, including irritation and other mental issues.
In telling Boogaard’s life story, the book also raises controversial questions when it comes to fighting and the role of the enforcer in the NHL. It also raises awareness about CTE and mental illness, as well as the aftermath of a rough-and-tumble NHL career.
“Nobody dreams of playing hockey so that they can hurt other people,” Branch wrote. “It just goes that way.”
The book received the ESPY award for literary sports writing, and is an engaging story that will leave readers with a fresh perspective on one of the ongoing hot-button issues in the NHL.
One of the top sporting events of the 20th Century was the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980. Despite the odds against them, Team USA, made up of a ragtag group of American-born college hockey players, defeated the Soviet Union at one of their top sports to take home the 1980 Olympic Gold Medal.
Wayne Coffey’s The Boys of Winter helps you live that tale out as if you were actually in the stands watching. He provides a commentary of the game that matches the intensity that spectators must have felt watching the match live. Through his play-by-play style of diction, Coffey’s words make you imagine that you are on the edge of your seat, watching the final 10 seconds of the game as you wait to see if the U.S. could pull off the upset.
In addition to retelling the story of the win, Coffey also combines the back stories of the players on the team, and takes you into their personal lives on and off the ice, examining the players then and now. This not only helps readers learn more, but creates an interesting set of characters that intertwine for a compelling story.
Overall, we get to learn more about the team that truly went beyond their potential and set out to prove something. It is one of the more motivational hockey books available, and accurately breaks down one of the most compelling moments in ice hockey history.