Saturday, November 30, 2013

A little hockey-days reading - from One Goal II to Journeyman and J.R.

It's the holiday season, so you might be looking for some fresh reading material, whether to give as a gift, or to keep you busy while traveling. Let's look at one of the best new hockey books on the market, and then I'll talk about a few of my favorite hockey autobiographies.

The Chicago Blackhawks have released One Goal II, the 2013 Stanley Cup championship coffee table book. Not surprisingly, this $49.99 tome is just as beautiful and lush to read as its 2010 predecessor. 

Even so, the book is slightly different from the original One Goal Achieved book. Instead of the fun inserts found in the 2010 book, the 2013 book opts for a couple features that most fans should find far more interesting: 
  • Inside the front cover, an embedded video screen (above right) includes two feature videos: the famous "17 seconds" Stanley-Cup winning play, plus five minutes of extra footage. 
  • The book includes the Blackhawks' 17 Seconds DVD (which retails for $14.99 on its own), which covers the team's 2013 championship run and the summer's Cup celebrations. The 17 Seconds documentary is a warm, funny look at the Stanley Cup season; the Blu-ray version ($19.99) is sold separately and includes footage from the team's White House visit, as well as a commentary feature with running discussion from team members Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. 
Filled with gorgeous hockey photography and lots of great writing, One Goal II is definitely a must-have for any Blackhawks fan. Even non-Blackhawks fans might enjoy the lighthearted and joyful approach that 17 Seconds takes for a documentary!

 * * * 

One of the best player autobiographies I read this year was Sean Pronger's Journeyman (subtitled: The Many Triumphs (And Even More Numerous Defeats) of a Guy Who's Seen Just About Everything in the Game of Hockey). 

It's easy to love and/or admire those players who seem to have been born with a silver hockey stick in their hands - the ones whose pure talent make them stars in the hockey galaxy. For example, Pronger's older brother, Chris, is a future Hall of Famer who had the "fast track" to the NHL. (Drafted in 1993, started with the NHL during the 1993-94 season, and never looked back.) While Chris Pronger elicits both love and hate among hockey fans - he's one of those guys you "hate to play against, but would love to have on your team" - the point is, he was born to be a hockey star. 

Sean Pronger, however, was not one of those players.

Pronger (@SeanPronger) had the kind of career that is known as a "journeyman" among hockey players: traded multiple times, constantly shuffled between the NHL and its affiliate leagues. 

Most hockey fans understand that players get paid less in leagues like the AHL and the ECHL, and that players may be called up or sent down at will by the parent NHL affiliate team. But a lot of hockey fans probably don't think about the lower league experience, aside from joking about how those players spend a lot of time on the bus.

Pronger lays these leagues brutally - and often hilariously - bare. He talks about what players are willing to sacrifice in terms of comfort when they're "living the hockey dream" but not really living on a very good salary. He discusses the bus trips, and the  player camaraderie; how coaches can punish those players who aren't playing their best; and what it feels like to go to one's first professional hockey camp. 

He also talks frankly about having a younger brother whose own career far eclipsed his own - but he clearly never seems bitter about it, and is obviously very proud of Chris's accomplishments. 

Pronger keeps his tongue firmly in cheek throughout, making the book a lot of fun and easy to read. Journeyman helps add a great deal of depth and perspective to the insights of a professional hockey player's career - and in the process, shows the depth of dedication that every pro hockey player has to aspire to in order to stay in the world of professional hockey.

* * * 
Jamie McLennan: The Best Seat in the House

Like Sean Pronger, goaltender Jamie McLennan (@jamiemclennan29) is a journeyman; he has played on a variety of teams across the NHL, AHL, and IHL - as well as across the pond in the KHL, British, and Japanese leagues. Hockey fans may recognize McLennan from his broadcast work on NHL Network and Canada's TSN. 

McLennan's book, The Best Seat In The House, seems less about himself and more about stories about teammates, but that's ok. His book is full of laugh-out-loud moments throughout, whether it's reading about the time he did battle with an AHL mascot, running over Roberto Luongo with a Zamboni, Jarome Iginla wearing his own jersey in public to see if he got recognized, or answering the question if players ever sneak food on to the bench.

He's got stories about coaches - let's just say that Darryl Sutter loves a certain 4-letter word - and he's got tales about the various goalies he's played behind, including some funny ones about Miikka Kiprusoff (yes, the famously-private Finn apparently has quite the sense of humor), and a cool story about Grant Fuhr. And yes, you read about how McLennan got the nickname "Noodles". 

The Best Seat in the House will give you perspective into the life of a backup goalie, and also have you chuckling along with the tales of some of the best-known players in the NHL.

* * * 

Although Bob McKenzie's Hockey Dad: True Confessions From A (Crazy?) Hockey Parent is a couple years old, the book continues to drive home the dedication and cost of raising kids to be pro (or even semi-pro) players.

McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) is best known to hockey fans as the "TSN Hockey Insider" - few hockey writers or broadcasters are more trusted or break more hockey news than he does. When he's not busy being one of Canada's top hockey reporters, he has raised two hockey-loving sons, and has even found time to be a hockey coach along the way.

His older son, Mike (@MikeMcKenzie11), played his way up through the various Canadian junior leagues, and eventually was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 (183rd overall). He played for the Florida Everblades (ECHL), Charlotte Checkers (AHL), and Houston Aeros (AHL). After three seasons, he retired and now is an assistant coach for the Kitchener Rangers (OHL). 

McKenzie's younger son, Shawn, also played his way up through the Canadian junior leagues, but suffered a concussion in a fight that ended any potential dreams of a hockey career. As McKenzie chronicles in his book, nearly six years after the fight, Shawn was still experiencing post-concussion headaches. Eventually, Shawn (@ShawnMcKenzieSN) followed in his father's footsteps, and became a sports reporter, currently working for Sportsnet in Ottawa.

Being extremely familiar with Canadian junior hockey, McKenzie discusses it at length in his book - not just the impact on his two sons and his family, but what it's like to be a coach in those leagues - and occasionally, what it's like to be at the receiving end of a a crazy hockey parent's rage. His book gives a unique insight into what may be one of the most demanding youth leagues in the world. 

McKenzie has announced that he is in the process of writing a second book, and it no doubt will be as thoroughly engrossing as his first.

For anybody interested in the "nuts and bolts" side of the hockey life, and putting them into career timeline perspective, I would recommend reading these three books in this order: Hockey Dad, Journeyman, and The Best Seat in the House

* * *

Then, once you've read those three, it's time to pick up Jeremy Roenick's autobiography, J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey

A fan favorite throughout his career, Roenick is famous for being one of the most colorful characters in hockey in the past 20 years. He was a popular player for the Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted him 8th overall in 1988. He was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes, and would go on to play for the Philadelphia Flyers, LA Kings, and San Jose Sharks. 

Roenick's book is filled with - shall we say, "salty" hockey language, so if you're looking for a PG read, this one isn't it. This is the story of a popular, talented player's career. Roenick understood from a young age that hockey is as much about entertainment as it is about playing the sport. 

He tells the story of an encounter with Gordie Howe when he was a kid attending a Hartford Whalers game. That moment of connection with his hockey hero influenced him throughout his career, underscoring the importance of staying connected with the fans.

But make no mistake: as well-liked as Roenick was in his career, he also had his share of controversial moments, both off and on the ice - and was well-known for it. He discusses his side of many of these events throughout the book, ranging from criticizing Sidney Crosby on page 1, to his infamous comment about SJS's Patrick Marleau being "gutless".

Roenick knows that not everybody likes - or is going to like - him, and he knows that's part of life - and hockey. In ways, his bluntness and lack of a filter can be refreshing in the midst of a pro sport that covers up injuries with vague terms like "upper" and "lower body", and which always puts its most polite, proper face to the camera. But if you can't put up with that kind of approach, then this book might not be for you - and you'd miss some very fun hockey stories.

* * * 

Disclosure: I am participating in the Verizon Fans Voices program
and have been provided with a wireless device (Droid Maxx) and six months
of service in exchange for my honest opinions about the product.

While One Goal II is not available via Kindle (for obvious reasons), and I read J.R. via hardcover book, I read the rest of these books via the Amazon Kindle app on my Droid Maxx phone. 

I own a regular Kindle, but I like reading books on my phone's Kindle app better. The Maxx's large, bright screen makes it much easier to read books and magazines - in color! - in comparison to my regular Kindle (grey/black). Most of the book pictures on this post (aside, obviously, from One Goal II) are screenshots directly from my Maxx.

Now that I've had use of this phone for about 2 months, I am hardly using my old Razr Maxx (which is a few generations back of this Droid Maxx).

It's smooth, it's fast, and it's even giving me far faster video streaming than my desktop's DSL, in combination with impressive all-day battery life. Definitely a great phone for hockey fans!

Two Verizon deals for you this Black Friday weekend: the DROID Maxx by Motorola just $199.99; and the HTC One for only $99.99. Sale ends Sun. night. New 2yr activation required for either. Visit 

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