“Sudden Death” history article for The Hockey News

Twitter_Sudden_DeathHello Puck Junk readers. Sorry that I have not posted too much to this site lately. Truth be told, I’ve been doing some more writing for The Hockey News, and they just published what very well be my magnum opus: The Making of Sudden Death: An Oral History.

For those who don’t know — or vaguely remember — “Sudden Death” was an action film released in 1995, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. The film took place at the old Pittsburgh Civic Arena, and was set during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks.

“Sudden Death” featured a lot of Penguins personalities, such as Luc Robitaille, Jay Caufield, Mike Lange and Paul Steigerwald, and I spoke with many of them. I also talked with the director, writer and producer. You can read the article online here. Please take a look and let me know what you think. 

Interview: Mark Gessner of IFC’s hockey comedy “Benders”

Mark Gessner of IFC's comedy "Benders" [Photo by Patrick Harbron]
Mark Gessner of IFC’s comedy “Benders” [Photo by Patrick Harbron]

Mark Gessner has scored his dream role. A lifelong hockey fan, the New York-based actor plays Dickie Litski, a hard-drinking hockey player, on the new IFC comedy series “Benders.” Or more specifically, he plays a really bad hockey player on a really bad beer league hockey team. Ironic, considering that Gessner, 35, has played hockey since his childhood. “Benders,” produced by Dennis Leary, follows four friends who are obsessed with two things: playing hockey and getting drunk at the bar afterward.

Gessner was both an actor and a hockey player during his high school days. He has appeared on “Orange is the New Black,” “Veep,” “The Blacklist” and “Law and Order: SVU,” among other shows. Gessner recently talked with us about his role on “Benders,” playing high school hockey and the rigors of making rec league hockey look bad.

benders_posterSal Barry: I’ve really enjoyed “Benders” so far. I play beer league hockey, and the jokes really hit home.

Mark Gessner: Nice. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

SB: How would you describe “Benders” to someone who has not yet seen the show?

MG: Basically, “Benders” is about four guys who have totally different jobs and are from totally different walks of life — but the one thing they can all agree on is that they love playing for their horrendous men’s league hockey team. It’s where they all intersect and where they all get along, and their friendship extends off the ice, as you often find in real hockey settings. It’s one of those sports where you become tight-knit playing it.

My costar, Andrew Schultz (Paul on “Benders”), came up with this analogy: it’s like “Entourage,” but as if they never left Queens, and then crossed that with a show like “The League,” where there’s a shared interest in a sport.

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Book Review: The Parkies Hockey Card Story

The Parkies Hockey Card Story - book cover

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.

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Book Review: Golden Oldies

Golden Oldies (cover)

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.

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Book Review: The Goaltenders’ Union

goaltenders_union_coverYou 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.

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Book Review: The Third Best Hull

cover_third_best_hullHear 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.

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Book Review: Black Ice: The Val James Story

black_ice_coverIn 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”

1963-64 Cleveland Barons Team Photo

1963-64_cleveland_barons
The 1963-64 Cleveland Barons Hockey Team. Click to view larger.

If you gaze at a minor league team photo long enough, you won’t see a sailboat, but you will probably find a few guys who went on to play in the NHL. It’s like watching a Burger King commercial from ten years ago starring your favorite television actor before they were famous. Only in this case, it’s a hockey player who was riding buses to far-flung midsize American towns, such as Cleveland.

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Book Review: Chill Factor

chill_factor_coverSo 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.

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Book Review: Got ‘Em, Got ‘Em, Need ‘Em

cover_got_emCompiling a list of the top 100 sports trading cards is a harder job than it sounds. Sure, you have the obvious choices, like the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, the 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan, the 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky and — for those with really deep pockets — the T206 Honus Wagner.

But what comes next? In “Got ‘Em, Got ‘Em, Need ‘Em,” co-authors Stephen Laroche and Jon Waldman take on the unenviable task of listing the top 100 cards of all time. The duo does not focus solely on high-value cards. Instead, they select cards that have transcended the boundaries of their sport or that have made a historical impact on card collecting. It is a fascinating book that every collector should read.

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