One of the great gifts of life my parents gave me was the love of the public library.
My mom would take me down and we’d head straight to the juvenile section. With grand intentions she would look for appropriate texts for me. Choose Your Own Adventures. Beautifully illustrated books with talking dinosaurs or funny aliens or mischievous kids. Crackers magazines.
But never again would I go up the stairs in our old library to look at those kids books. Nearby was the young adult hockey collection. I’m not talking juvenile fiction. I’m talking real hockey books about real hockey players and real NHL teams!
My favorite was this oddly long-shaped book about Ken Dryden. Sadly, I don’t remember too many others. There were a couple of biographies, of Bobby Clarke and a very young Wayne Gretzky, that probably cemented my love of profiling players.
I must have taken out every single book available there over the next few weeks. I would absolutely devour everything I could. In the days before I even knew what a photocopier was, I filled dozens of pages of notes from these books so I could keep the information. At that stage I don’t think it even dawned on me that you could buy and keep such books.
And then I had another epiphany. If there were this many good hockey books in the kids’ section, there had to be far better hockey books over in the adult section.
I had never even been over to the adult side before. I snuck over with great trepidation, a great fear that I would be sent back by the old, long-haired librarian in the bland, shapeless dress. But once I bashfully got by the front desk and safely into this strange forbidden land, I began an earnest search for the adult hockey books.
It was a great adventure. I just walked around each and every shelf, hoping they actually existed. There was a lot of books to look through and all of them smelled bad. There were cookbooks and history books and books about something called Nazis. But where were my hockey books?!
The card catalog system was as unknown to me then as it would be to kids nowadays. There was no fancy computer searching back then, no way. And the Dewey Decimal Classification system might as well have been Greek to me. Heck, it still is, other than hockey books are in the 796 area code.
And then, finally, I found the holy grail. There they were, probably a couple of dozen hockey books. I remember clouds parting so that light could shine down on them, and angelic music playing victoriously. But I may be just making that up.
There was only one problem. All these wondrous hockey books were on the very top shelf. And I was like 6.
I had to venture all the way back to the juvenile section, sneaking past the dreary librarian’s desk with the same fear I had had before, and back to my Mom, who of course had figured out I was missing. She was quite relieved to find me, I think, but her relief turned an angry lecture about wandering off. Try as might, I could not even get a word in edge wise about my great discovery.
Finally my mom calmed down and I excitedly led her to my own personal utopia. Of course, being 6, I had to find it all over again. Heck, that 796 number would have come in handy then, wouldn’t it. Books about cars, books about money, oh there’s those Nazi books again. Finally, we successfully found the hockey books all over again.
With the diplomacy of most 6 year olds, I wanted every book. Short on time, my mom decided I could get one. She would decide which one, which was fine. After all, a few minutes earlier I did not think kids were even allowed over here, let alone could take one of these books home with them.
She made the perfect choice: The NHL Guide and Record Book.
It was full of every possible statistic I could think of. I never put that book down in the entire month we had that book. I’m certain I kicked and screamed the day we had to take it back. That’s why I spent all of my free time writing it all down, before I realized this was too time consuming. I needed something more efficient. So I invented memorization. Okay, I discovered it, with no grand epiphany either, but in my six year old mind, I invented it, damn it.
I memorized everything out of that thick book. I studied that book harder than any book in my academic career, that is for certain. Sure, I needed to renew it a few times. But what helped me out most was when my parents bought me the most up to date NHL Guide and Record Book for Christmas. Then I was able to read it every day. It was my scripture.
Before long I could tell you every player’s goal total in any given year, or his birthplace, or his draft position. I knew their height and weight, and how many Stanley Cups they won Heck, I even knew each the street name each team’s rink was on.
That day that I found the NHL Guide and Record Book in the library was one of the most important days in my life. For years, right through high school, I collected and studied every new edition on a nearly daily basis. That fateful day created my unquenchable thirst for hockey knowledge and cemented my love of hockey books. Heck, later on in life I even seriously considered becoming a librarian, and I bet even that stemmed back to that one day when I found the courage to wander over to the adult section of our old library in the search for hockey books.