Gilles Gratton was one of pro hockey’s most colorful characters. He had a short, tumultuous career in the NHL and WHA in the 1970s, and is better known for his awesome goalie mask and strange behavior than for stopping pucks. He had enough talent to land six-figure contracts and play for Canada internationally. Sometimes, Gratton was said to be an even better goalie than Ken Dryden — when he felt like playing. But Gratton had almost no desire to play pro hockey. Now, almost 40 years after he retired from the game, Gratton decided to write a tell-all of his, ahem, interesting career.
Twenty-five years ago, in October 1992, The Mighty Ducks flew into movie theaters and changed hockey forever. The film hatched two sequels and had an NHL team named after it, all in a five-year span. Terms from The Mighty Ducks like the “Flying V” and the “Triple Deke” became part of hockey’s cultural lexicon. A few years before all of that happened, though, it was just an idea, flapping around the mind of an unemployed screenwriter.
It is the late 1980s. Steven Brill started working on his script for a hockey movie. He combined his memories of playing hockey as a child, his renewed interest in the game after Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, and his love for the film The Bad News Bears.
Steven Brill, writer (and movie cameo as ‘Frank Huddy’): I played peewee hockey as a little kid, on one of the worst teams ever, and it was just a horrible experience to be horrible at a game that I didn’t know how to play. We had a mean coach, but I loved being part of a team. It was something that always stuck with me. My passion for hockey and memories of my youth made me always want to revisit the sport.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.
We all knows what happens to a first-round draft pick who goes on to an exceptional career in the NHL. They rack up accolades and are talked about even long after their playing days have ended. But what about the players who don’t make it? What are their careers or lives like after the shot at NHL stardom is long past? “Tales of a First-Round Nothing: My Life as an NHL Footnote,” written by Terry Ryan in 2014, is a hilarious autobiography of a highly-touted prospect who didn’t pan out. But just because Ryan only played in eight NHL games is no reason to ignore his 228-page memoir. In fact, that’s all the more reason to read it.
August 9, 1988 was arguably the single most important day in hockey history. On that day, the biggest trade in professional sports took place when the Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings. Here, the best player in his sport was traded at the height of his career. Gretzky’s trade changed hockey forever. “Kings Ransom,” an ESPN documentary directed by Peter Berg, recounts that fateful day and the events that led up to it.
Unfortunately, “Kings Ransom,” released in 2009, is not the documentary that I hoped for. It tries so hard to be dramatic and doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said.
“I know what you’re thinking,” my friend told me when he loaned me this book, “the title is depressing. But the book isn’t.” Well, that’s mostly true.
“They Don’t Play Hockey in Heaven: A Dream, a Team, and My Comeback Season” is the story of Ken Baker, a former NCAA goalie and NHL prospect whose pro hockey aspirations were cut short by an undiagnosed brain tumor. Baker quits hockey and settles into a career as a journalist, interviewing celebrities for publications like People and US Weekly. But the effects of his tumor worsen, making Baker suicidal. Soon after, his brain tumor is discovered; most of it is removed, the rest is rendered benign by medication. He gets married and is about to settle into the “happily ever after.” That is, until Baker has what he refers to as “The Dream.”
“The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL” is a book that I wanted to read for a long time. Recently, I found it at a used book store and snapped it up. Now, I wish I had read this book back in 2006 when it first came out. “The Code” explains the culture of fighting in hockey, including the hidden subtexts that I never knew about.
“Father Bauer and the Great Experiment: The Genesis of Canadian Olympic Hockey” chronicles the life of Catholic priest David Bauer, who forever changed Canada’s international ice hockey program. Bauer, the younger brother of former Boston Bruins star Bobby Bauer, was himself a star player in junior hockey. But the younger Bauer decided against turning pro, and instead became a priest and then a hockey coach soon after. His decision wouldn’t just change his life, but the landscape of Canada’s Olympic Team for 30 years.
Most hockey fans undoubtedly remember the 2012 movie Goon, which starred Sean William Scott as a bar bouncer who makes it onto a minor league hockey team because of his fighting prowess. That movie — which now has a sequel called Goon: Last of the Enforcers — is very loosely based on this book “Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey,” which came out a decade earlier and is currently out of print. Despite the dissimilarities between the movie and the book, “Goon” is a book worth tracking down.
Documentary shows that hockey can bridge religious and gender gaps
Thin Ice takes place as far away from organized hockey as you can imagine. In the northern region of India, just south of the Himalaya mountains, a young woman named Dolkar loves to play ice hockey. She dreams of competing in India’s annual National Ice Hockey Tournament, which is only open to males. But she will not be deterred.
Slap Shot came out 40 years ago and has endured as the greatest hockey movie of all time. However, there was never a set of Slap Shot cards to collect.
But as you probably know, some of the characters in the film were actually hockey players and did have cards made. Even better, some of the more recent cards are autographed and aren’t too difficult to track down, meaning that you can build a pretty impressive Slap Shot-themed collection.
If you are so inclined to “foil up” your collection a bit, here’s a list of cards to look for.