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Posts Tagged ‘NHL’

A Review of Total Penguins

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 30, 2016

Total Penguins: The Definitive Encyclopedia of the Pittsburgh PenguinsTotal Penguins: The Definitive Encyclopedia of the Pittsburgh Penguins by Rick Buker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is without doubt the most comprehensive, well researched, exhaustive, thorough resource on any subject I have every encountered in my life, in this case, the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s most impressive. Admittedly, it’s for a niche market. It won’t appeal to that many people and I doubt it’s sold well. But if you’re a Penguins fan, like I am, it’s completely invaluable. I can’t imagine a more important book to add to your library and your knowledge of the team and its history.

The book is a literally hugely proportioned 720 page hardback with stories and a synopsis of each season, beginning with the first expansion season of 1967 through the book’s publication date of 2010. Fascinating stuff. I particularly appreciated learning about the early teams because even though my dad and I went to Penguins games at the Igloo in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, I was so young, I really don’t remember the players and didn’t start to pay attention to them until the early 1980s, by which time the team had been in existence for 15 years. So I missed out on a lot of the team’s early history and players. And with each team’s synopsis, there’s a team roster listing each player’s stats, including games played, goals, assists, points, for goalies, goals against average, etc.

The next section of the book is huge! It’s about 120 pages of player profiles for EVERY player who has ever worn a Penguins uniform, even if it was just for one game. That’s stunning research. That’s simply amazing. It’s got their stats and everything, just like on old time baseball cards you used to collect when you were a kid. It’s freaking awesome! There are simply hundreds of them! I really enjoyed this section, although it took a long time to get through. It was fascinating to see all of the players we’ve had over the years.

The next section was on the coaches and general managers. A little less exciting, yes, but still, we’ve had some good ones over the years and it was exciting to read about Bob Johnson, Herb Brooks (of US Olympic fame), Scotty Bowman (the all time winningest coach in NHL history), Craig Patrick, and other big names who worked for the Pens. And, yes, it was even interesting to read about all of the owners the Pens have had over the years, although it was depressing to see how many loser, broke owners we had until Mario Lemieux bought the team in the late 1990s and ultimately saved the team from bankruptcy, keeping the team in Pittsburgh, where it belonged.

The next section is on the Penguins Hall of Famers. Very fascinating. As of this book’s publication, 17 former Penguins had been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s safe to assume former Pen Jaromir Jagr will make it at some point in the near future and it’s also a safe bet that Sidney Crosby will likely make it down the road too. There are a couple of other current Pens who have the potential to make it if they keep playing to their level of competition. The articles on these players are really well written and quite fascinating and give you an inside look at some special players. Of course, some of the players here are, naturally, Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen, and Bryan Trottier (who played most of his career with the Islanders, truthfully). The next section is interesting, too, though, because it’s the Penguins Hall of Fame, I guess, for those who don’t make the NHL Hall of Fame. These are for those who make a significant career contribution to the club who the league didn’t think merited a lifetime achievement award of the big one. I didn’t know all of these players and it was interesting to read about them. Some include Syl Apps, one of Pittsburgh’s first stars in the early ’70s, Les Blinkley, our first goalie, Anthony Cagglano, our longtime locker room assistant, Jean Pronovost, another early ’70s star, Vincent Lascheid, our organist of 33 years, and Ulf Samuelsson, our “enforcer” on our great early Stanley Cup teams. Very cool.

The next section is a 90 page section called The Stanley Cup Playoffs. It has a synopsis of every playoff series and most games from every year in the Penguins’ existence. It’s beyond in depth! I mean, this goes above and beyond research, above and beyond dedication. This book was only $29. I think this book is easily worth $100. The author spent 17 years — SEVENTEEN YEARS! — putting this together! That’s half a lifetime for some people. That’s the ultimate in dedication. Surely that should be worth more than $29. Anyway, it was fascinating to read about all of our playoff games we’ve had and to relive some of those moments of glory and agony. It started with St. Louis, moved to Philly, then to the Islanders, then I believe the Caps and Rangers became our playoff nemesis’s for a very long time (still are). In our Stanley Cup wins in the early ’90s, we beat Minnesota and Chicago. In this past decade, we’ve had to go at it with the Caps again, the Rangers again, Detroit several times, playing them twice for the Stanley Cup, winning in 2009. Pretty interesting stuff.

The next section is called The Greatest Games and it is the best and worst games as picked by the author and also the games with the best fights, which I really enjoyed since I miss the old days of fighting in the NHL and am often annoyed that fighting in the NHL has largely been curtailed. I found it amazing to note that one year, back in the early ’90s, 11 Pens players had over 100 penalty minutes on the year. This year, our leader has 65. No one will end up with 100 or anywhere close to it. In the old days, it wasn’t uncommon for enforcers to wrack up 300-400 penalty minutes a year. Now, if a player gets even 150 in a year, he’s considered a mega-tough guy, maybe even dirty. What a joke! I’ve read what Gordie Howe and some of the older former hockey players have said about today’s game and while they admit today’s players are very talented, they think they’re babied and coddled and they’re scared to mix it up and the league has gotten scared to let their players get hurt, even though in the old days, players were charged with, get this, MURDER on ice (not that I’m encouraging that, but you get the picture), so that today’s players, while more talented than yesterday’s players, would probably get the shit beaten out of them thoroughly by yesterday’s players, literally. Who cares what the final score is? The oldies would probably still win. Good point, Gordie.

There is also a section on the arenas, which is somewhat interesting, but far less so than the other sections. There’s only so much you can do with that. There also another section on all acquisitions, sales, trades, and drafts, which is mind blowing, considering how many people you’re talking about over such a long period of time. It’s amazing how much research went into this book. There’s an additional section on other Pittsburgh hockey teams and I had no idea about this. There have been many, including an NHL team called the Pittsburgh Pirates back around 1925. But there were Pittsburgh hockey teams back in the late 1800s, believe it or not. Quite possibly the first semi-professional hockey teams in America with the first real hockey rinks. Teams came from all over North America (including Canada) to play the Pittsburgh teams. There was a minor league club called the Pittsburgh Hornets that played there from from 1936-1967 that went 770-705-174 and won three Calder Cups, including in their last year in existence. Apparently the fans there loved that team.

The last section is a very long 150+ page section on statistics, awards, and honors. It has about any statistic you could possibly think of, no matter how obscure. It’s unreal. The awards and honors are what you would expect, of course, but include minor ones as well, ones you’ve never heard of. But the stats just blow you away. The all time All-Star team Selections. The All-Star Game Selections. Individual and team playoff records. All-time playoff goaltending leaders. Shootout wins and losses. By game, date, winning goal, winning goalie, final score and more! Single game records in just about anything. It goes on and on. You could keep learning for months. It’s stunning.

So, this is an amazing book. My only complaint, and this is no fault of the author, is that since it was published in 2010, it’s a bit dated. It only has Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Letang, etc., stats through 2010. It’s 2016. I’d like to see where these players rank now in career standings! Back then Crosby was in the list of top ten scorers. Malkin was not. I know now Crosby is probably in the top five and Malkin is in the top ten easily. I also know that Fleury has surpassed Tom Barasso, my former favorite goalie, as the team’s all time winningest and winningest playoff goalie and I’d like to see that reflected in that stats. But until the publisher decides to come out with a new edition, that won’t happen. And frankly, I don’t see how the publisher could have made any money on this project. I’m sure they lost money. The book simply would have been too costly to make with too little revenue generated to recoup their expenses. So I don’t anticipate another edition any time soon, if ever, which disappoints me. So, that disclaimer said, this remains the greatest resource I have ever seen for anything. Obviously, it’s the greatest resource for anything related to the Pittsburgh Penguins, of course. Obviously, it’s a great hockey resource. There are tons of pictures and numerous stories of other teams, players, and coaches and their interactions with Penguins teams over the years, so even if you’re not the biggest Pens fan in the world, you still *might* find this interesting. Perhaps. But frankly, it’s for a niche market. To me, it was a gift from heaven. To me, this is just about the biggest five star book I can think of. To me, if you’re a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, there is no other book you should read before this one and I can’t recommend this book more strongly.

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A Review of The Game

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 29, 2016

The GameThe Game by Ken Dryden
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Boy, I don’t get it. I really don’t. I’m sure I’ll take some criticism for saying this, but I just don’t understand why Ken Dryden’s The Game is considered by most to be the best hockey book ever written and by Sports Illustrated to be one of the greatest sports books ever written. Hell, I hardly read anything about sports in it! Geez, it’s about Dryden’s family, law school, desire and efforts to pass his bar exams, his disillusionment and boredom with hockey and intense desire to retire after a measly eight seasons when truly great players like Jaromir Jagr play through age 44 and beyond, or the great Gordie Howe until age 52. Dryden is so uninspiring a player and so uninspiring and dull a person that I have no idea how he accomplished the few, puny things he accomplished in his pathetically few years in the league. Most of my favorite players have played 10, 12, 15, 18 years in the league. Eight years? And he’s considered one of the best ever? By whom? What the hell did he do that was so damn great??? I know he helped Montreal win five Stanley Cups in eight years. While impressive, that’s a team accomplishment and by his own admission, he was surrounded by all stars, superstars even, so I don’t know how much he contributed. He did win at least three Vezina Trophies for best goalie, which says something, but even then, he levels criticisms at himself in this book that make you wonder how the hell he won the damn things. He apparently split time with another goalie. He got lit up repeatedly by opposing players. Was he really a money player? Hard to tell from this book. I don’t know. I do know that he didn’t seem to have much of a passion for the game, something he basically admits from the beginning. Hardly cared at all for it. Oh sure, like every Canadian kid, he said he liked to play every day growing up, but unlike every other Canadian kid, he didn’t even grow up playing ICE hockey! He played TENNIS BALL hockey in his back yard! Excuse me, but WTF? Seriously? And this guy didn’t go into the juniors. Instead, he went to an American college, which was highly unusual at the time. Why? I don’t know why. And this is the reason. I didn’t even make it a full 100 pages into the book before I became so disgusted with this wimp of a man, this pathetic excuse for an athlete and a human being that I gave up on this autobiography and am left wondering why this has a 4.09 rating on Goodreads and why I have read all of these five star reviews. Who are these reviewers? Why are they so impressed with this book? I don’t get it. I mean, who plays eight years when they are allegedly at the top of their game and part of a dynasty. He writes that he could see the wheels coming off the Montreal dynasty his last year, so basically he bailed on the team rather than sail through rough waters. Like a real champ. What a winner. Would definitely want him in my foxhole. Like hell, I would! This book was boring, there are hardly anything at all about his games or specific games or anything very sports-specific (although there was insightful analysis of his old coach, Scotty Bowman, that was actually good), it was depressing, it was cold, it felt dead, and I hated it with a passion, perhaps as much as I’ve hated any bio I’ve ever read. I can’t tell you how putrid I think this book is and how unimpressed I am with Ken Dryden the man. Dryden, the player, was a few years before my time, so I can’t say anything about him in that respect. If you want to be impressed with a book’s good reputation, I suppose you could invest in this, but I sure wouldn’t waste my time. Most definitely not recommended under any circumstances!

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A Review of Orr: My Story

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 30, 2015

Orr: My StoryOrr: My Story by Bobby Orr
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Well, this book was a massively huge disappointment! For years, I had heard about how great Bobby Orr was, one of the greatest hockey players of all time. Some even said the greatest. He was a little before my time, so I never got to see him play and I know virtually nothing about him, other than he played for Boston and is in the Hall of Fame. So, I put this book on my Amazon Wish List and my wife got it for me for Christmas. Imagine my surprise when I opened it to find him writing that he wasn’t going to write about his career (basically) in terms of stats, honors, awards, anything. He says that’s all in the record books, that’s all in the history books, it’s all there. Well … yeah, that’s why I wanted to read this damn book, asshole! To learn about why you were apparently the best player of all time, the best defenseman of all time, the best scoring defenseman of all time, the youngest player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. I wanted to learn about the Hart Trophies, the Norris Trophies, the Stanley Cups. I wanted to know something about you and your career. Is that so bad? Is that so unusual? Shouldn’t you be the damn source for this?

But noooooooo! Not Orr. He doesn’t like to talk about individual honors. He could care less about them. Says they’re really team honors and even more than that, a reflection on everyone who’s ever influenced that person, such as their pee wee coaches, etc. Yep. Okay.

In this book, he devotes an entire chapter to his parents and his upbringing about the time he was eight years old in a small town in Ontario, Canada. There’s really nothing special about them. They didn’t really do anything special for him. They didn’t even attend many of his games. Frankly, I don’t know how they influenced him at all. I have no idea why he even wrote this useless chapter.

Other chapters are about his pee wee playing years with his buddies in elementary school, about what a poor student he was (seems most good hockey players were for some reason), about how he essentially dropped out of school at age 14 to play hockey, about how he signed his first hockey contract at age 14 with the help of his parents, about how he played in the juniors for four years and then made the Bruins at age 18. He writes next to nothing about his rookie year, except to describe his first goal, the team had the worst record in hockey, and oh yeah, he won the rookie of the year award. No big deal, right? Nothing else. It’s like it never happened. He writes more about his roommates.

The next chapters are about continuing seasons and how the Bruins improve. He has injuries, but the Bruins finally win the Stanley Cup. At least he mentions that. During this time, he must have been doing something somewhere to merit inclusion in the Hall of Fame at age 31 since his career was so incredibly short, but nowhere does he mention how many points he scored or what awards he won or anything relevant at all. Nothing. Why the bloody hell read this shithole excuse for a hockey autobiography? Well, I’m not finishing it. I’m halfway through and I’ve had enough. If I wanted to read about his views on parenting, I’d have Googled that and looked for a book on that topic. Instead, I wanted a book on the HOCKEY PLAYER Bobby Orr, you know, someone who played hockey, apparently quite well. It doesn’t exist in this book. What a damn waste. I’m embarrassed and ashamed that my poor wife wasted her money on this pile of crap. I hope I can get a decent amount for it at the used bookstore when I sell it to them. This is without a doubt, the WORST sports biography I have EVER read! Most definitely not recommended, ever.

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A Review of Patrick Roy: Winning. Nothing Else.

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 4, 2015

Patrick Roy: Winning, Nothing ElsePatrick Roy: Winning, Nothing Else by Michel Roy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some who consider Patrick Roy to be the best goaltender in the history of the NHL. I’m not one of them. But I do think he’s one of the best, and perhaps the best if you go by some statistics. For instance, Roy played in more games than any other goalie in history. He won more playoff games than any other goalie in history, not even close. He won four Stanley Cups and three Vezina Trophies. All really good statistics. But he played from 1984 to 2003, 19 years. And while he was named to 11 All Star teams (why not 15, 16, or 17?), he was named First Team All Star only four times and Second Team All Star only twice. I think that’s pretty telling. And even though three Vezina Trophies for best goalie in the league is pretty impressive, are you telling me that the best goalie in HISTORY could only win three in NINETEEN years and he’s still the greatest ever? No, I don’t believe it. Even though this book sings his praises and, apparently, so do many other people, evidently not enough of his peers and NHL management thought highly enough of him to honor him while he played so that says a lot to me. And even though both Montreal and Colorado retired his jersey after he played for both teams and even though he made the Hall of Fame, I consider him to be merely one of the greatest goalies ever, although I hesitate to say who’s the best. Perhaps I would put him up with Billy Smith and Ken Dryden, among others. Grant Fuhr, to a far lesser degree. Some of the older goalies from previous eras, too, no doubt.

The main problem with this book is it’s written by his father, who is a Quebec government official, not a sports writer or journalist, and certainly not objective. And to make matters more irritating, the first part of the book seems more intent upon describing the author’s own life and career rather than Patrick’s boyhood and beginnings. It’s rather hubristic. Eventually, though, Michel Roy settles down and starts telling Patrick’s story and it’s startling grim to start out with. His entire minor league career is ugly. He plays on horrible junior hockey teams, just wretched. And one thing I never understood is, while he was apparently decent, the few times his father listed his junior numbers, they weren’t that good, which his father attributed to his teammates’ ineptitude rather than his son’s, and so I never understood why Patrick went on to become considered the top junior goalie in the league at some point. His numbers sure didn’t reflect that and he sure never led his teams to winning seasons. Weird. Usually winners hoist their teams on their backs and lead their teams to winning seasons. Not Roy.

Finally, he got invited to Montreal’s camp. He barely spoke English and had to play mostly in non-Quebec cities for the first time. It was difficult. He didn’t last and was sent back down, but the following year was back. His (real) rookie year in 1985-86 was good, but not great. But when Montreal made the playoffs, something happened and he caught fire and never stopped. He led the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup win and was named MVP of the series, which was pretty awesome for a rookie. And so it began.

He had a series of difficulties with coaches in Montreal. During his first few seasons, for some reason, he was forced to share goaltending duties with another goalie, which was pretty humiliating, considering he was much better. There was a possible reason. In the juniors, he had hooked up with this young, new untraditional goalie coach who had helped him develop a new “butterfly” technique of goaltending, which the NHL had rarely seen and detested. His style was frowned upon and he was actually punished by numerous coaches for using his own style no matter how effective it was. It wasn’t until he had established himself with a new coach in Montreal, and with this goalie coach, that his career took off and he started winning lots of games and he started getting career lows in goals against averages.

His second year was a down year, but then he came back and established himself. His general manager was always messing with the team though, trading good players to get new players, messing with the chemistry. It was tough to repeat as Stanley Cup champions with that going on. Nonetheless, Roy won Vezina Trophies in 1989, 1990, and 1992. And he led Montreal to another Stanley Cup victory in 1993. However, the team and even some fans began to get somewhat disenchanted with Roy by then, for reasons I never entirely understood. He was making too much money and was standing up to a new asshole coach. Big deal. So they did the unthinkable and traded him to Colorado in 1995, their old Quebec Nordiques nemesis recently moved to the Rockies. Roy would have to start all over again.

By this time, Roy was married and had a couple of kids. One of my complaints about this book is his father mentions the fact that Patrick meets a pretty woman and starts seeing her. Later, surprise, they get married! Later, they apparently reproduce. The only time we actually see her at all is when they have a massive public fight on their front lawn in Colorado, which I thought was going to end their marriage, but which evidently did not. In fact, Michel Roy didn’t delve very much into Patrick’s inner being and psyche very much at all, other than to assert that he wanted to play and win more than anything and anyone else at all. Over and over again, he beats that into your head. It gets pretty repetitive.

Whatever the case, Roy adapts to Colorado pretty quickly. His coach is his old agent in Quebec. He leads the team to a Stanley Cup win his first season there and becomes a huge celebrity in that state, according to his father, bigger than any other athlete in the history of Denver or Colorado, including John Elway, which I personally find ridiculous and impossible to believe. Utterly impossible. Roy kept putting up good numbers and Colorado eventually traded for aging superstar Raymond Bourque, who would likely be a Hall of Famer but had never won a Stanley Cup. The team decided to dedicate themselves to winning one for him, for some reason, and Roy made it his obsession. And they did in Bourque’s last year, 2001, when Roy won his third Conn Smythe award for playoff MVP while winning his fourth Stanley Cup. He then retired in 2003. After his retirement, he got involved in coaching junior hockey in Quebec and is now the coach of the Colorado Avalanche, his old team.

This isn’t a bad book. At times, it’s fairly interesting. But I’ve read many better sports bios, as I’ve read a lot of them, and I’ve read better hockey bios. As I mentioned, I don’t think it helped that Patrick’s father wrote this. He really should have had an unrelated professional write this. It would have been more objective and written better with more and better information about the man himself, I’m guessing. Still, if you’re a fan of Roy, you’ll probably like it. If you’re a fan of Montreal or Colorado, you’ll probably like it. Even if you’re simply a hockey fan, it’s possible you’ll probably like it to some degree, like me. Otherwise, I’d probably avoid it. Cautiously recommended, but obviously only for hockey fans. No point in reading it otherwise.

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A Review of Mr. Hockey

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 27, 2015

Mr. Hockey: My StoryMr. Hockey: My Story by Gordie Howe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a really good autobiography of one of the greatest hockey players of all time. Perhaps the best. He played in an era that preceded me, so I never got to see him play, but I’ve seen video and I’ve obviously read about him and he was pretty impressive. I knew he played a long time, until he was quite old, but I learned a whole lot more about him in this book.

Gordie Howe was a Saskatoon boy who grew up loving and playing hockey. And he was good. This was in the era when the NHL just had six teams, an era that lasted for a long time, so jobs were scarce at the NHL level. Still, he dreamed of playing in the NHL. Like many hockey players, he wasn’t the best student. He wanted to be out on the ice all the time. He was so good that the New York Rangers offered him a contract when he was just 15! And he turned them down. He was very shy and the thought of moving to New York, where he wouldn’t know anyone, turned him off. The next year, at 16, Detroit offered him a contract. He asked if he’d know anyone in camp. Apparently a number of Saskatoon boys would be going to their training camp and that sealed the deal for him. He quit high school (one of his biggest regrets, he writes) and became a professional hockey player. He spent two years, but only the second playing, in the minors and was finally brought up to Detroit around 1948. His original contract was for something like $2500. Back then, there was no player’s union and players weren’t allowed to discuss their contracts with each other. The owners said they made no money and couldn’t afford to pay the players much and the players believed them. It was a crock of shit. For years, Howe made next to nothing, even when Detroit told him he’d be the highest paid Red Wing and one of the highest paid players in the league. In the late 60s, when he found out a scrub was making substantially more than him, as well as many other teammates, he felt really betrayed. And demanded a big raise. Which he immediately got. And then he realized he could have demanded four times that much and gotten it.

Howe became a scoring machine. He won six Art Ross trophies for NHL scoring leaders and six Hart awards for NHL MVP. He helped the Red Wings win four Stanley Cups. And this is the thing that really impressed me — he was in the top five in NHL scoring for 20 consecutive years!!! That’s completely unheard of. Sidney Crosby has been in the top five in consecutive years, I believe, twice. Other players, once, twice, four times. How? Twenty consecutive seasons. That’s unreal. Of course, there are a lot of people who think Howe was a dirty player and he addresses his hard nosed style of play in the book and admits to it, but largely writes that he became violent largely in retaliation. In any event, he became the NHL’s all time scoring leader and also accumulated 2,000 career penalty minutes. His scoring title lasted until Wayne Gretzy came along and took it.

One thing I didn’t know was Howe played long enough — and longer — to play on the same team with two of his grown sons! How incredible is that? They played together for years. And although I knew this, it’s incredible to think that he played in five decades — the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties, when he was in his fifties. Isn’t that astonishing?

He writes a lot about his wife, whom he dearly loved. She became his business manager and was quite good at looking out for him. Unfortunately, she died in 2009 and he’s been alone and missing her since. He’s now in his late 80s and, as his children write in the final chapter, is getting dementia, which is very unfortunate. At least he retained enough of his memory to write this book. What a great player. He played professional hockey for 32 years. That’s got to be some kind of record that will never be broken. Is this the best autobiography I’ve ever read? No. But it’s a quick and interesting read and well worth the time. Recommended.

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A Review of Grant Fuhr

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 26, 2015

Grant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey LegendGrant Fuhr: The Story of a Hockey Legend by Grant Fuhr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty good sports biography. Not the best I’ve read, but pretty good.

Grant Fuhr is a legend. One of the best goalies to ever play the game of hockey and a Hall of Famer. And the first black goalie to ever play and the first elite black player and I believe the first black Hall of Famer. He played most of his career for the Edmonton Oilers, before moving on to five other teams toward the end of his 17 year career. He set a number of records along the way and won five Stanley Cups. With Edmonton’s emphasis on offense, with Wayne Gretzy, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and others, he was usually the only line of defense for the Oilers, but teams rarely beat him. He was athletically gifted and could move very quickly. Had great reflexes. His personal stats will never be among the best, because when he played it was an offensive league, not the defensive league it is now. There were over eight goals scored per game, as opposed to the six per game scored now. Things have tightened up. But if he played now, I’m certain his stats would be among the best.

Fuhr was adopted by white parents in Alberta, Canada as a baby. Later, they adopted his sister. When he was five, they told him he was adopted. He didn’t care. They were his parents. He loved them. He went to school and played hockey and baseball. All of the kids in the neighborhood did. It was a small town outside of Edmonton. He decided at a young age he wanted to play goalie in the NHL. His parents did everything to support his dreams. He didn’t really notice color and no one else in the community seemed to either. There were two other black children in the school and some Native Americans. But everyone played and everyone was equal. Except Grant wasn’t. He was exceptional. He started playing in local leagues, often for two at a time. And as a result, his grades suffered. He would skip class to go out on the ice to play hockey. At 17, a scout saw him and told his boss at a minor league Victoria team to sign him, that he was going to be great. So he did and Grant dropped out of school to go pro. And he set the world on fire! He was amazing. He owned the league. He learned to play golf in the off season and that became a lifelong passion. The next season, he came back and had an even better year. The NHL draft came up, this was 1981 I believe, and Grant knew he was going to get drafted, but by whom? He thought it would be by Toronto or the Rangers. Surprisingly, the Edmonton Oilers took him with the eighth pick, even though they already had a star goalie in Andy Moog.

Grant came to his first camp, with his $45,000 contract in hand, thinking he’d play a little and be sent back to the minors, so he was shocked when the team kept him on the roster. And then he got to play in the fourth game of the season and did fairly well. And he kept playing. He split time with Moog, but at one point he had something like a 13 game no-loss streak going. He ended the year with a good record and good stats and as a finalist for the Venzina trophy, given to the best goalie in the league. (He only won that award once.) His second year, for whatever reason, was rockier. People began to question if drafting him was a wise decision. He began to have doubts about himself. But his third year, he came back and dominated. And for the rest of the decade, he owned the NHL. He helped the team to five Stanley Cups and people attributed much of his success to his laid back nature. He felt no fear. He was confident. He enjoyed the competition. But he suffered some injuries, mostly to his shoulder. But in one playoff game in the late ’80s, a goon dived on his leg, tearing his ACL and other tendons, requiring extensive surgery and his coach was livid.

At this point, I’ve got to be honest. There had been rumors for some time that some of the Oilers were using drugs. Fuhr had always denied he did. How could he perform at such a high level if he did? But it came out that he had used coke, at a minimum, for a number of years and his reputation took a major hit. The NHL decided to make an example out of him and suspended him for a full season, even though he had quit using drugs two years prior to this point. He took his punishment quietly and with many apologies to everyone.

In the late ’80s, when Gretzy got traded to the LA Kings, everyone in the world was in shock. How could that happen? Fuhr, by that time, was making more realistic money, but Edmonton didn’t have the money to pay their superstars, so he saw the writing on the wall. He got traded. It was a huge shock to the system. And so began his short term journeys. Finally, around 2000, he retired when his knees could no longer take it. And the Hall of Fame beckoned in 2003. A fitting end to a great career.

Normally this would be a five star book. But there’s one thing that really bugged me about this book. It’s the set up of the book. It’s allegedly by Grant, with Bruce Dowbiggin, but Dowbiggin is obviously the real writer and interviews Grant at various intervals for short quotes about various things. So Grant didn’t write this. Also, the book is supposed to be a bio. But when I got it, I was surprised to see it is divided by chapter into 10 prominent games and those were to be discussed. I wasn’t really thrilled with that, but I went with it. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that each chapter spent about one paragraph on the chapter’s game and the rest of the chapter building a standard bio, beginning with Grant’s birth and moving chronologically forward chapter by chapter. It’s kind of false advertising. Don’t get me wrong. I was glad to have the standard bio instead of just 10 games. But why divide the book into 10 chapters of 10 games if you’re just going to write a standard bio? It’s stupid. Aside from those complaints, it’s a good book and if you’re a hockey fan, you’ll want to read it. Recommended.

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A Review of Don’t Call Me Goon

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 18, 2015

Don't Call Me Goon: Hockey's Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers, and Bad BoysDon’t Call Me Goon: Hockey’s Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers, and Bad Boys by Greg Oliver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is about hockey enforcers and their fights. It goes back to the early years of the early twentieth century and highlights many, many players. Let me tell you, for those of you who think fighting is still prevalent in today’s hockey game, it isn’t. They actually brought people up on murder charges back then! Hockey would break out at fights. It was crazy!

The authors cover early fighters such as Joe Hall, Red Horner, and Sprague Cleghorn before moving on to heavyweights from the original six era. It was fascinating to read about. Things really got bad, though, during the expansion era, circa 1967. When the Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, and other teams came into existence, doors opened for players who previously couldn’t get on with the original six teams. A lot of these were fighters. And so Philly’s Broadstreet Bullies were born, and they terrorized the NHL throughout the ‘70s. I was disappointed the authors didn’t cover someone I consider to be perhaps the most famous enforcer of all time, Dave “The Hammer” Schulz, nor did they cover Bob “The Battleship” Kelly, other than just brief mentions. Still, the fights were tremendous. And tremendous to read about.

The authors then go into pairings of fighters, such as the infamous Bob Probert and Joey Concur, as well as Tiger Williams and Dan Maloney, among others. They then go on to highlight fighters who could score and defend too. They try to cover issues like concussions, but I don’t think they go quite far enough with that. It’s a growing concern and one that shouldn’t be swept under the rug.

It was interesting to read the former enforcer’s take on the current state of the game. They think it’s been ruined by a newish interference rule that has resulted in cheap shots and gone a long way to eliminating the role of enforcer. They think enforcers policed the game and the refs shouldn’t be the ones having to do it themselves and aren’t in a position to do it right either. They think today’s game is watered down with pansy players skating around doing whatever they want. As noted big time enforcer Tiger Williams said in the book, “Some snot-nosed little [punk] that isn’t going to break a nail is going to score 50 goals and he’s never driven to the net in his life. He’s never stood in front of the net with Moose Dupont giving him 89 cross-checks in the back of his head,…. To have today’s play’s players score 400 goals in a no-punch pond hockey league is garbage. Getting in another guy’s face is part of the character of the game.” Well said, Tiger, well said.

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Penguins Blew It!

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 14, 2014

So my Pittsburgh Penguins cemented their monumental meltdown last night by losing to the New York Rangers 2-1, thereby losing the series 4-3. A week ago, they were up 3-1 and poised to go on to the conference finals once again, but they just lost it and scored only three goals in their final three games. New York really outplayed them and out energized them the whole way and it’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing to see this happen — again. The Pens had a marvelous regular season and finished with a great record, like they have every year since at least 2008 when they went to the Stanley Cup, winning it in 2009. However, since then, they’ve blown it in the playoffs, losing to lower seeded teams each of the past four years. This was also the second time in four years they’ve blown a 3-1 series lead. That’s totally inexcusable. The last two years, a primary culprit for playoff losses was our once sterling goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. But he had two shutouts in this series and had a decent playoffs, I think. The person I’m most pissed at is captain Sidney Crosby, widely considered to be the best player in the world and who will likely win the MVP of the league award. He’s always superb in the regular season, but got shut out by Boston in last year’s playoffs and scored only one goal in 13 playoff games this year. That indicates to me that he’s not a money player, that he can’t be counted on to be a clutch player at crunch time and that’s bitterly disappointing. The other former MVP on the team, Evgeni Malkin, had a decent playoffs with, I think, five goals, but he really wasn’t overly effective either when he needed to be. They both let the team down. Everyone says the coach is going to be fired. Here’s what I think needs to be done. The team has shown it’s got plenty of All Stars and lots of talent, but underachieves in the  playoffs every year. So tear the damn team apart and start over! Fire the coach and bring in someone who can get these guys to play their best when it counts. Here’s the big one — trade Crosby! That’s right, I said it. Do the unthinkable and give away the face of the franchise. Trade him for a top line goalie who will win us games like Boston’s Tuka Rask or the Ranger’s goalie, Lundquist. Trade him to the LA Kings for Jonathan Quick, who was America’s Olympics top goalie and he may be the best in the league. I’m sure the Kings would love to have a player like Crosby — who wouldn’t? He scores 100 points every year. Trade him and get Quick, a scoring center, and a number one draft pick. Then trade Fleury for another top line scorer and a good defenseman, maybe one who has a temper and is big enough to beat people up. Our top penalty man was Tanner Glass this year and he only had 83 penalty minutes. That’s embarrassing. Back in the 1970s, people got like 300 penalty minutes. That’s when men were men. Also, trade James Neal. He’s a former 40 goals scorer, an All Star, but he’s been worthless in the playoffs and just gets stupid penalties that hurt the team. He’s overrated. Trade him even up for another high scoring forward who can score in the playoffs when it counts. I’d also think about unloading Kris Letang. I know the Pens signed him to a five year, $56 million contract last year when he was a finalist for the Norris trophy, but his game really slipped this year and I think he lost us some games. Besides, we have at least four defensemen who are better than him defensively, which is what we need. There were many times during the playoffs when our defense wasn’t good enough. Bring in more high quality defenders, please. But I think the top priority has to be a Stanley Cup-caliber goalie. Get him, get proven playoff scorers, and take us back to the Cup. Please, Pens, do something. You’re going nowhere fast.

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A Review of Tales from the Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 1, 2014

Tales from the Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room: A Collection of the Greatest Penguins Stories Ever ToldTales from the Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room: A Collection of the Greatest Penguins Stories Ever Told by Joe Starkey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a longtime Pittsburgh Penguins fan, this was an awesome book to read! And I think it would be interesting for any hockey fan. However, if you’re not into hockey, this might not be the book for you.

The book starts out with the founding of the Penguins in 1967. Among the names considered for the team were the Shamrocks, Hornets, and Eskimos. However, the wife of one of the original investors chose “Penguins” and that’s what they became.

The first chapter is on the early years, namely 1967-1974. The first game was a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. Their first rivalry was with the St. Louis Blues, although it soon became heated with the Philadelphia Flyers, a rivalry that continues to this day. The original hockey arena was called The Igloo, and I remember going there as a kid in the ’70s. It was a fun place to watch hockey.

The next chapter covers 1975-1983. The 1983-84 team was the worst ever, getting only 38 points on the season while using 48 players. The team declared bankruptcy in 1975. The book doesn’t say how they got out of it though. It describes a game that was played the night before Pittsburgh’s fourth Super Bowl win. It was against Edmonton and it erupted into a bench-clearing brawl. Eight players were ejected and the Pens were given 144 penalty minutes. That’s pretty cool. The 1970s Penguins may not have been all that good, but they could fight. The chapter also goes on to mention how the team’s colors were changed from sky blue to Pittsburgh black and gold in 1980, much to Boston’s displeasure. The chapter closes with a description of how the team might have flopped to get the worst record so they could draft superstar Mario Lemieux in 1984.

Mario was an instant hit and he scored a goal in his first game, on his first shift, with his first shot against Boston. And on to an incredible career. The chapter mentions how the Pens had gone 0-39-3 — 15 YEARS — without a win in Philly, only to finally get one in 1989. That’s crazy! Around the same time, Pittsburgh acquired awesome goaltender Tom Barrasso, who would go on to help the team win two Stanley Cups. I still remember him in goal. He was great. Meanwhile, going into 1990, Mario had scored a point or more in 46 straight games before a bad back injury forced him out of the lineup. That was disappointing. Another great Penguin was also acquired in the late ’80s — defenseman Paul Coffey. He would finish his career as one of the great scorers in the league. The pieces finally came together in 1990 when Pittsburgh drafted Jaromir Jagr, who would go on to also become on of the greatest scorers in league history. He and Lemieux made a formidable combination.

The next chapter covers the great Stanley Cup wins in 1991 and 1992 and several great subsequent seasons. The 1992-93 Pens had four 100 point scorers, which is amazing. This year, only Pen Sidney Crosby scored 100 points in the league. Four on one team in the same year. Amazing. Finally, in 1997, Mario retired due to terrible back problems and Hodgkins Disease. The 66 jersey was immediately retired. He was also elected to the Hall of Fame.

The following chapter covers 1997-2004, which were pretty lean years for the Pens. In fact, they went into bankruptcy once again and were only saved when Mario stepped in to buy the team. The next chapter is all about Sidney Crosby’s 2005 rookie year as the new savior of the franchise. He lived with Lemieux his rookie year. He scored his first goal in his first home game against Boston.

After the chapter on Crosby comes a chapter called “The Rising,” covering 2006-2008, when the Pens were putting the pieces together for another Stanley Cup run. They got Evgeni Malkin from Russia and he sure could score. Like Lemieux and Jagr before them, Crosby and Malkin would go on to become the most feared scoring pair in the NHL. Of course, Pittsburgh played Detroit for the Stanley Cup in 2008, losing in six games. However, the next year, both teams went at it again, with Pittsburgh winning its third Stanley Cup in seven games. I remember that series well. Nail biting, to say the least.

The final chapter covers 2010-2013, and it’s as good as the other chapters. Now it’s 2014 and the Pens are in the playoffs again and I really hope this year we can bring home a fourth Stanley Cup. Crosby and Malkin are no longer the kids they were in the previous ones and this team can’t last forever. It’s time for another.

This was a fun and quick book to read. My only complaint is the contents of the chapters aren’t linear, so that you get something that happened one year followed by something that happened four years before. It can be confusing at times. Still, excellent book and I strongly recommend it.

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Evgeni Malkin’s hat trick clinches series for Penguins

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 29, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets – Recap – April 28, 2014 – ESPN.

It was a tough series, but we prevailed in six games. Malkin was on fire last night and even though Columbus mounted a furious third period comeback, we held on to win. Next up will be the winner of the Flyers/Rangers series. Go Pens!

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