What is it like to say that you have played one — only one — game in the National Hockey League? Is it with a feeling of accomplishment, knowing that you have reached hockey’s highest level, albeit for just a few moments? Or is it with a sense of regret — a longing to have done better? In his new book, “One Night Only: Conversations with the NHL’s One-Game Wonders,” author Ken Reid asks what it is like to be in this exclusive, yet somewhat infamous, club.
Reid, a Sportsnet anchor who wrote the excellent “Hockey Card Stories” in 2014, spoke with 40 different men who suited up for a single NHL game. The former players discuss how and when they got “the call,” what they remember about their only NHL appearance, and why there was never a second game for them.
You might expect a book like this to be filled with sad tales of regret and “what ifs”, but “One Night Only” is far from that. Sure, all the players wish their taste in the NHL was more than just a bite, and many fell victim to depth charts, indifferent coaches or injuries. But the book also discusses what many of these men did after they retired; how the drive to get them to the NHL, even if for just one game, also helped them succeed in life after hockey.
Each player is the subject of his own short chapter, roughly five to eight pages long. Every story is interesting in its own way, from the enforcer who tried to fight, but was reprimanded by his coach for doing so, to the goalie who left the NHL out of fear of being drafted for the Vietnam War, to the defenseman whose NHL career was quashed by the 2005 lockout. The book ends with chapter about Don Cherry, hockey’s most recognized one-game wonder, who skated in one playoff game for the Boston Bruins in 1955. Every chapter has a photo of the player in question, helping to give a face to someone that would be unrecognizable to most.
Excerpt that epitomizes “One Night Only”: As play resumed, Bob Ring found himself in a surreal world. He was on the ice at the Gardens playing for the Bruins. He was now the guy that just a couple of years ago he had paid to watch. “I can remember it was like an outer-body experience. You’re looking out into the stands and you’re seeing your old high school buddies that you used to sit with the year before. They’re watching the game and you’re sort of saying, ‘This is weird.'”
What I like about “One Night Only”: The book is a quick, fun read; easy to pick up and put down at your leisure, as the chapters are short. Although 40 different players are profiled, the book never gets repetitive. Like snowflakes, no two “first NHL games” are alike.
What I do not like about “One Night Only”: When I think of something, I will let you know.
“One Night Only” does an admirable job of spotlighting one-game wonders. Cover to cover, I enjoyed this book. ■