Bill Keenan is not yet a household name for hockey fans, but that might soon change. He played Division 1 college hockey at Harvard, but injuries limited him to just six games. After that, Keenan headed overseas to play minor league hockey in Belgium, Germany and Sweden.
He retired in 2012 and soon started writing his autobiography entitled “Odd Man Rush: A Harvard Kid’s Hockey Odyssey from Central Park to Somewhere in Sweden–with Stops Along the Way” (reviewed here). It is a fun, humorous tale of a young man trying to make a comeback in a foreign land. Others have apparently found Keenan’s tale entertaining, too. “Odd Man Rush” is currently ranked 23rd overall in the Hockey Biographies category on Amazon.com.
Keenan is back in college, studying business, and is a contributor to Stan Fischler’s newsletter, “The Fischler Report.” I recently spoke with Keenan about writing his book, the highs and lows of his career, playing against a 10-year old Sidney Crosby and why he decided to retire. And if you haven’t read “Odd Man Rush” yet, don’t worry — this interview contains no spoilers.
Sal Barry: I thoroughly enjoyed “Odd Man Rush” and did not want it to end.
Bill Keenan: That’s probably the biggest compliment I could imagine. I know that feeling, certainly not with my own book, but with some of the books that I like a lot.
SB: I didn’t know who Bill Keenan was before I got a copy of your book. Why would someone want to read “Odd Man Rush?”
No player is more collectible than Wayne Gretzky. Period. Sure, some may argue that Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe were better players. But when you consider both the sheer amount of memorabilia items made bearing his image and the droves of people who collect them, no one tops Gretzky. “The Wayne Gretzky Collector’s Handbook,” published in 2016, painstakingly documents over 7,500 items with The Great One’s likeness, including trading cards, lunch boxes, posters, magazines and so much more.
A funny thing happened while I was reading minor-league hockey player Bill Keenan’s autobiography “Odd Man Rush: A Harvard Kid’s Hockey Odyssey from Central Park to Somewhere in Sweden–with Stops Along the Way.” Originally, I did not have too much interest in reading the book, other than to write a review about it. But as I got closer to finishing it, I found myself slowing down and wishing that the book wouldn’t end. That’s sounds crazy, but “Odd Man Rush” is a fun story about a kid who dreams of playing professional hockey, even if he has to go to the ends of the earth to do it.
Athletes are immortal to us. They are bigger, faster and stronger. They accomplish amazing feats of physicality that we can only dream of. So when an athlete passes away during the midst of their career, it usually comes as a shock. How could this person die? They’re so much better, at least on the surface, than everyone else? “From Triumph to Tragedy in the NHL” is a book by first-time author Brad J. Lombardo that profiles six NHL players who died during their careers: Bill Masterton, Terry Sawchuk, Tim Horton, Pelle Lindbergh, John Kordic and Steve Chiasson.
From 1951 to 1964, Parkhurst hockey cards captured the imagination of a generation of hockey fans. A nickel would get them a piece of gum and some trading cards of their favorite NHL players. For most, this was the only way they could see the players that they read about in the newspapers or heard about on the radio, since TV wasn’t mainstream yet.
Before 1951, hockey card releases were sporadic, if nonexistent. In fact, no hockey cards were released from 1941-42 to 1950-51. The 1951-52 Parkhurst set is considered the first modern-era set of hockey trading cards. Parkhurst cards became highly prized by card collectors decades later, and are still sought-after today. “The Parkies Hockey Card Story,” while an incomplete work, is a valuable resource for hockey card enthusiasts who want to know more about these vintage collectibles.
When I first opened my copy of “Golden Oldies: Stories of Hockey’s Heroes” and glanced at the table of contents, I was a bit confused. I wasn’t sure why author Brian McFarlane selected such an oddly diverse group of subjects for his new book. McFarlane, who has written over 80 books, is hockey’s foremost historian and a former Hockey Night in Canada host. So it seems silly for me to question his choice of subjects.
Then again, most anthology books are tied around a particular era or subject. It’s hard to find a common theme between Sprague Cleghorn, Clint Malarchuk, Eddie Shack, Bob Johnson and the 18 others featured in the book.
After two chapters, the connection became clear. All of these former players and coaches have great stories to tell.
You might enjoy the play of high-scoring forwards or hard-hitting defenseman more than that of puckstoppers, but “The Goaltenders” Union” is a must-read book for any hockey fan. It will get you up to speed on many of the game’s goalkeepers — not just the stars, but numerous rank-and-file netminders that have manned the pipes over the past 100 years.
Hear the name “Hull” and you instantly think either “Bobby” or “Brett,” depending on your age. “The Third Best Hull,” is about Dennis Hull — Bobby’s younger brother and Brett’s uncle. He might be the third-best hockey player named Hull, but Dennis is a first-rate author who knows how to tell a good story.
In the opening pages of “Black Ice,” a 12-year old Valmore James is teaching himself to ice skate after-hours in a darkened hockey arena. Meanwhile, his pet dog is making a game of emerging from the shadows, knocking James to the ice, and running away. James believes that if he could learn to skate while dodging a charging Doberman, he would be able to avoid getting hit when playing hockey.
But during his career, it was other hockey players who would try to avoid getting hit by James. In his autobiography, “Black Ice: The Val James Story,” we follow James, as he makes the unlikely journey as a young man, transplanted from Florida to New York, who learns how to play hockey as a teenager and becomes the first African American to skate in the NHL. We also learn about the endless racially-charged hatred that he had to endure because of the color of his skin. Continue reading “Book Review: Black Ice: The Val James Story”
So many stories about minor league hockey are of sad-sack franchises — the teams that can’t pay their players on time, have little support from the community, and end up folding or relocating in a few years. This is not one of those stories, because the Columbus Chill were not one of those teams. “Chill Factor: How a Minor-League Hockey Team Changed a City Forever” recounts the history of the Columbus Chill, one of the most successful minor-pro teams in hockey.
Just how successful was this team? The franchise got to go out on their own terms, turn a tidy profit and help build the city of Columbus into a serious contender for — and eventual winner of — an NHL franchise. Like any good story, there were setbacks along the way, but for once, the little guy comes out on top.