November 22, 2014

2014 Hockey Book of the Year: Puckstruck by Stephen Smith

Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada's Hockey Obsession by Stephen Smith.
Buy The Book: - Chapters -

Usually when I write a book review I like to see what others around the internet are already saying about it. I like to get a feel for what the masses think, and what the critics think.

Funny thing is I can find very little reaction to Stephen Smith's first book, Puckstruck: Distracted, Delighted and Distressed by Canada's Hockey Obsession, and that is an absolute shame. Smith and Greystone Books have an instant classic here. It is such a good a book that I declare, without hesitation, that Puckstruck is the 2014 Hockey Book of the Year.

Smith chronicles his "wide-eyed and sometimes wincing wander through hockey's literature, language, and history. On this journey to discover what the game has to say about who we are as Canadians, he seeks to answer some essential riddles. Can hockey make you a better person? What exactly is the Swedes' problem? Where did the hook check go? Should those men really be permitted to keep punching each other in the head? If hockey is the best of us, is it also the worst? Is there hope?"

How can we not like a book about hockey books? Smith has read 100s of hockey books, collected tidbits from the best (I won't hold it against him that he seems to have never have read my three books - hey, no one else has either!) and put his findings together about our game, our country, and ourselves. It is compelling and thought-provoking and downright fantastic!

Don't believe me? Check out some of this incredible acclaim from some of hockey's best authors.

"This is a book after my heart: hockey and literature waltzing together to the music of the author's careful, artful prose. Funny, wistful, smart and unlike any hockey book I've read (although I clearly haven't read as many as Mr. Smith)." —Dave Bidini

"With a masterful lightness of touch, Stephen Smith takes us on a magical mystery tour of all the hockey books worth reading, revealing the Game's joys and darkness, its poetry and cruelty, its inescapable hold on our hearts.Puckstruck is a whirlwind read, as surprising and entertaining as the sport itself. Hockey fans will eat it up." —Roy MacSkimming, author of Gordie: A Hockey Legend and Cold War: the Amazing Canada-Soviet Hockey Series of 1972

"Puckstruck is irreverent, eclectic, irascible, witty, smart, and highly informed. It should be required reading for every 'hockey insider' analyst and bar-stool GM in ice country." —Roy MacGregor

Puckstruck is an excellent read. It is not your typical jock hockey book. It is exactly the type of hockey book we need more of.

All The Way: Jordin Tootoo with Stephen Brunt
Bench Bosses
Boy On Ice: The Life And Death of Derek Boogaard
Changing The Game: A History of NHL Expansion
Chris Chelios: Made In America
Conversations With A Rattlesnake by Theo Fleury
Defining Moments: Toronto Maple Leafs
50 Greatest Detroit Red Wings
Facing Wayne Gretzky
Fuhr: Grant Fuhr with Bruce Dowbiggin
Frozen In Time: History of Minnesota North Stars
The Great Defender by Larry Robinson with Kevin Shea
Hockey Card Stories
Hockey Confidential by Bob McKenzie
Hockey Hall of Fame Book of Trivia by Don Weekes
The Hockey Saint
Ice Storm: Rise And Fall of Vancouver Canucks
It's Our Game by Michael McKinley
The Last Hockey Game by Bruce McDougall
Mr. Hockey: My Story by Gordie Howe
NHL Treasures: Third Edition
Old Timey Hockey Tales
On The Origin Of Hockey
Save By Roy
Saved! by Clint Malarchuk
Straight Up And Personal by Don Cherry
The Ultimate Cookbook for Hockey Families
Warriors On The Ice

Kids Books:
The Boy In Number Four
Calvin the Cookie Maker
Duck With The Puck
Hero's Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream
Iginla Sparks The Flames
My Granny Loves Hockey
Super Scorers
Great Goalies
Dominant Defensemen

November 21, 2014

Bobby Orr Pizza

It's Friday night. Let's order some pizza:

Even better - it's half price weekend!

Ah, but Bobby Orr Pizzarias/Parlours are no longer. In fact, if you go to that Keele Street address now you will find a Mr. Sub!

Orr, or perhaps more accurately his crooked agent Alan Eagleson, sold his name to a couple of pizza guys out of Massachusetts who wanted franchises throughout the state and Ontario. However venture was short lived.

November 20, 2014

On Gordie Howe

Whenever the topic of hockey's greatest player comes up, most lists tend to have either Wayne Gretzky or Bobby Orr on top, with Gordie Howe third.

However both Gretzky and Orr will tell you, without any hesitation, that the greatest player to ever skate was in fact Gordie Howe.

"He always was and always will be the greatest," says Gretzky, who famously has idolized Gordie Howe since he was a young boy.

Orr agrees.

" In my mind he's the best ever. Nobody will ever touch him. There have been a lot of great players in the past, and there will be a lot of great players in the future, but none will be as good as Gordie Howe."

Here's what other hockey legends have to say about the man they call "Mr. Hockey," Gordie Howe.

Rocket Richard On Gordie Howe

"Many people have tried to start a feud between us, they say I don't like Howe. It's not true. He is a great hockey player. If I had to make any comment about the guy it would be that he doesn't seem to go all out every time he's out there. If he did, there's no telling what he might do to the record book."

- Maurice Richard

Phil Esposito on Gordie Howe

"It was my second game in the NHL and we were playing in the Olympia. I was sitting on the bench and Billy Reay, who was coach of the Blackhawks, said, 'Esposito, you go out there with (Bobby) Hull and let Hull take the face-off.' This is almost the third period. I'm out there and I'm scared. I'm looking around. There's Bobby Hull, Alex Delvecchio, Bill Gadsby, Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Pierre Pilote, Ted Lindsay and there's Gordie Howe. I can't believe it. I'm standing on the left wing next to Gordie, and Hull says to me, 'You got that old son-of-a-bitch?' Gordie just looks at me and smiles. The puck drops and I go in to get it and suddenly. . . WHAM! He gives me an elbow right beneath the nose in the upper lip. I still have the scar where I got six stitches.

- Phil Esposito

Jean Beliveau on Gordie Howe

"His strength and his ability and the desire to perform the best that he could in every game made Gordie very special. I always had a lot of respect for Gordie. He was not only an asset for the Wings, but an asset for the league and for this great game of hockey.

"People kind of forget that in his second year he had some kind of a skull fracture in a game against Toronto. After that, he kept everybody away from him. So, don't forget, it's very difficult when you have somebody on you all of the time. But, because of his great talent, his desire to win, and his physical strength made him certainly one of the great hockey players."

- Jean Beliveau

Bobby Orr on Gordie Howe

"My first game, Gordie wanted to let the young kid know that he was still around. I made a pass and skated around the net and watched my pretty pass and he knocked me down. I can't say I was surprised. I was just sitting there watching my pass. I had my head down and he drilled me. I didn't see him coming and it was a good lesson for me in this league. Later on I had asked him about the hit, and in typical Gordie-fashion he said, 'It's better to give than to receive.'

"I've never met anyone like him. In my mind he's the best ever. Nobody will ever touch him. There have been a lot of great players in the past, and there will be a lot of great players in the future, but none will be as good as Gordie Howe."

- Bobby Orr

Alex Delvecchio on Gordie Howe

"Playing with Gordie attributed a heck of a lot to my hockey career. He was always very helpful, coming up with pointers and what you're doing, maybe a little bit wrong. He was always helpful and that's always critical. He had everything, so I guess you would say he was sharing it with the rest of us to try and make us better.

"I can recall the guys telling me, 'Hey, get the puck to the big guy and he'll deliver the mail.' He was my favorite target on right wing. I always tried to set him up the best I could, because I knew he was going to get a goal or get us an opportunity to get us a goal."

- Alex Delvecchio 

Delvecchio played 1351 regular season games with Gordie Howe, and another 121 in the playoffs, making him Gordie's most common teammate. 

Delvecchio assisted on 210 of Gordie's goals, and Gordie on 183 of Delvecchio's. Both are bests for each player.

Steve Yzerman on Gordie Howe

"I was only 18 years old and just drafted by the Red Wings, and casually, I remember Gordie just walking down the hall at Joe Louis Arena. Obviously, I recognized him, every Canadian would recognize Gordie Howe. He was just down to earth and said, 'Hi, how are you doing?' For me, I was very nervous meeting him and somewhat intimidated because I knew who he was forever, so it was just a shock to see him in person. He's very humble and a very easy person to be around. You're intimidated by the name initially, but as soon as you meet him he makes you feel comfortable."

Guy Lafleur on Gordie Howe

"When I was a kid, Gordie was one of my idols. I had his book that my dad gave to me for Christmas when I was 12. The first time I played against Gordie, I was so impressed because I had followed his career as a kid. He was one of the top players in the NHL, so for me it was a pleasure of getting the chance to play against him.

The thing is, sometimes when I was beside him on the ice, he used to talk to me, and say 'Hey, you better watch out tonight,' and he would say it laughing. It was actually kind of funny."

- Guy Lafleur

Mark and Marty on Gordie Howe

"I don't know if it ever dawned on me that my dad was a famous hockey player. To me, he was my dad. People would ask, 'What does he do for work,' and I'd say, 'He really doesn't work. He plays hockey.' I didn't think of it as a job, he was just having fun playing hockey." - Marty Howe

"I've always looked at my dad as a kind, gentle person, and he has such a great charisma. He has a certain gift and people respond to him. He's very quiet and doesn't say much.

"I think a lot of it probably has to do with his upbringing. My dad was always taught to keep your eyes open, your ears open and your mouth shut and you'll learn a lot. He was taught to respect everybody and everything. He does have a certain charisma that not too many people that I've seen have. He has an actual way with people and to me, that's something that you're born with. He has a way of winning over people by just being who he is." - Mark Howe

November 19, 2014

Did Hartford Whalers Kill Gordie Howe Comeback With Gretzky's LA Kings?

We all know that in 1997 Gordie Howe, then nearly 70 years old, staged a one game comeback with the Detroit Vipers of the International Hockey League.

Howe only played one shift, but the idea was to let Howe play a professional game in six different decades - 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.

The idea to stage such a stunt started back in the early 1990s when Wayne Gretzky was about to break Howe's record for most points in NHL history. Howe, at Kings' owner Bruce McNall's expense, followed the team as Gretzky closed in on the record. Over a game of golf between the three, a running joke started about Gordie being in good enough shape to comeback and play a game in 1990.

Colleen Howe tells us more in their book "and . . . Howe!" from 1995.

"It was one of those things that, the more people talked about, the more it seemed possible. Bruce McNall was off the wall, running around saying to people, 'Just think, we might get Gordie out here to play with Wayne!'

"Actually, I think the idea caught Gordie's fancy. We got the impression they were serious about it, but we were naive as to how sincere they really were. I know Wayne was excited, he kept saying 'Gordie could play in his next decade.'

"I believe (Gordie) could have done it. He has never embarrassed himself and if he could have fun doing something, why shouldn't he do it? Doesn't he deserve it?

"Gordie  was under contract to the Hartford Whalers at the time, and they said basically, 'Hey, if Gordie Howe is going to play for anybody, he'll play for us.' So, things fell apart after that and McNall backed off the idea and it was never seriously discussed again. But, yes, it was seriously discussed and considered for a while."

Wow. Now back then teams held on to rights of players seemingly forever after they retired. Some of the players made available on waiver drafts or expansion drafts include big name players who had retired many years prior. So I don't think Howe was truly under contract to the Whalers at the time.

Regardless, if Howe and the Kings really wanted this to happen, it would have happened. One thing we know about Bruce McNall is he was a man who would go great lengths to make things happen. And the story would have been too bright for McNall and the for the NHL to ignore. They would have convinced Hartford to let it happen.

It's too bad it didn't, at least for one game. It would have been one of the greatest moments in hockey history.

Gordie Howe's Rivalry With Rocket Richard

Myth has it that in one of the many games between the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens back in the 1950s Gordie Howe jumped off of the bench illegally to stop Rocket Richard on a breakaway.

Gordie confirms this is more than a myth. It's completely true!

"Yes, I did it," he admitted in his 1995 book "and . . . Howe!" "It was up in Montreal, he came out of their end on a breakaway, so I went out and stopped him. I got a two minute penalty for too many men on the ice, but he didn't score. He didn't score on the power play either."

Many have speculated about the personal rivalry between hockey's two superstars of the 1950s. After all, their respective teams clashed as dynasties, battling for Stanley Cups. They were the faces of each dynasty, and the faces of the NHL. They battled for scoring titles and MVP status. 

Perhaps it was more built up by the fans and the media, but stories have always said Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe never liked each other. And, well, yeah, that's more or less true.

"Things have changed but, at the time, I hated the old (bleep)," Gordie wrote in his 1995 book "and . . . Howe!" "Of course, he hated me too. There were a few guys he hated worse than me, like Ted Lindsay and Stan Mikita. But that was then. Now, Rocket and I are pretty good friends."

Howe went on to talk more about the Rocket.

"Essentially he's such a proud man. He was a goal scorer. I was a goal scorer. I had to take him out, he had to take me out. That was our job from the blue line in. 

"Rocket was such a powerful man. He had one habit I perceived, however, he would come down and cut across the blue line because he liked to get to the center of the ice and shoot. Everything was quick wrist shots. So one time, as he came across the blue line, I really nailed him. We ended up in a fight.

"There was a flurry of people around. And for some reason Rocket ended up under my left knee. I waited, and when he looked up, I popped him. I whacked him a pretty good one. Then all hell broke loose."

Gordie Howe's Near 50 Goal Season

With 975 career professional goals, including 801 in the National Hockey League, there is not a lot that Gordie Howe failed to accomplish in his illustrious career.

But hitting the magical 50 goal mark in one season did elude him. You can be sure Montreal Canadiens fan, especially the Rocket Richard loyalists, were sure to let him know.

In his 32 major league seasons (26 in NHL, 6 more in WHA), Howe was an amazingly consistent scorer. He scored over 20 goals from 1949 through to 1978! Fourteen times Howe was in the top 5 in goal scoring!

Five times Howe led the league in goal scoring, including in 1952-53 season when he reached 49 goals. This was all in 70 game seasons, by the way.

Yet that 49 sticks out like a sore thumb, just aching for one more goal.

Myth has it that Howe did score a 50th goal. He shot the puck so hard it went right through the netting. Without the benefit of video replay back in those days, the referee missed it and played continued. Gordie Howe's 50th goal never counted.

In his 1995 book "and . . . Howe!" Gordie confirms this story is indeed a myth.

"I don't know where the tale got started. It was probably from some fan wishing I had gotten it," he said.

But he did go on to say there was another goal scored that season that should have been his but was awarded to Red Kelly instead. Howe deflected Kelly's point shot past the Boston goaltender but Bruins defenseman Hal Laycoe told the referee it deflected off of him. The ref awarded Kelly the goal. Howe knew he had scored it, but he said nothing as he knew Kelly was chasing his own goal scoring record - 20 goals by a defenseman.

Had the goal been called correctly Howe would have joined Rocket Richard as the second player to score 50 goals in one season.

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