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.
Bill Keenan grew up in New York City, watching the Rangers and dreaming of one day playing in the NHL alongside his hero, Adam Graves. And while Keenan is not related to former Rangers coach Mike Keenan, as a child he once fibbed to some hockey camp classmates about being Iron Mike’s nephew. Keenan was about as hockey-obsessed as a youth as one could get; he even pretended that he was a Canadian named Guy, and even tried to freeze his living room floor.
The book’s opening chapters humorously take us through Keenan’s youth hockey days, from the six-year old who was incensed when his coach told him that winning was not important, to the elite-level teen playing with and against the likes of Jonathan Quick and Sidney Crosby.
In what could have been the highlight of his hockey career — or even a springboard to the NHL — Keenan played Division 1 NCAA hockey for Harvard University. Unfortunately, spot duty his freshmen year, followed by back injuries the next three, limited Keenan to just six games at Harvard.
Unfulfilled with his hockey career, Keenan headed overseas to play in various low-level minor leagues — leagues you probably haven’t heard of and teams you definitely haven’t heard of. That in itself makes for a great story; the proverbial stranger in a strange land, but navigating the craziness of minor league hockey.
And yet, “Odd Man Rush” works great as a coming-of-age story, too. Keena’s passion for hockey during his teens and early twenties was perhaps matched only by his awkwardness around girls. It is story of a young man trying to find himself, grow up a little, fit in and still follow his dream; we can all relate to at least one, if not many, of those aspects.
Hockey fans will no doubt enjoy the hockey action in “Odd Man Rush.” Even non-hockey fans can appreciate this book, as Keenan wisely put enough footnotes throughout to explain any colloquialisms that non-fans might not get.
Keenan recounts his experiences with a high level of detail and a generous dose of humor, making “Odd Man Rush” a joy to read. He might have been a minor-league hockey player, but he is nothing short of a major-league storyteller.
Excerpt that epitomizes “Odd Man Rush”: (After injuries derail his collegiate career, Keenan finally plays a professional hockey game — albeit an exhibition match — for a team in Belgium.)
When we enter the zone, Chris slows up, forcing the defenseman to make a decision as to which one of us he wants to cover. Clearly recognizing that I’m not much of a threat to score, the d-man chooses to block Chris’s shot lane. The moment I see this happen, I haul ass to the far post of the net with my stick down. Chris sends a hard pass in my direction, which deflects off the defenseman’s stick, sails through his legs, bounces off of my ankle, clangs off the post and trickles over the goal line — just like we planned.
I raise my hands and my stick high in the air nearly taking out the referee. Chris and our two defensemen skate towards me, huge smiles plastered on their mugs. “F—in’ greasy, buddy,” Chris saqys, rubbing the palm of his glove in my face as we embrace. I could literally kiss my teammate after a goal. Even Chris. But I don’t, because it would probably be misconstrued. Plus, I might catch one of them mid-spit.
Ask any hockey player to describe a big goal he scored, and he’ll tell you more or less the same thing. Well, guys might use different words depending on brainpower, native language and their tooth count, but the short pause and smile that consumes their faces will be the same.
Skating to center ice, I can’t help but notice the bewildered looks on the faces of the opposing players who stares translate roughly into, What the hell is wrong with this guy? He just scored an absolute garbage goal in a preseason exhibition game.
If they only knew how long it had been.
What I like about “Odd Man Rush”: Keenan’s writing is very descriptive, vividly painting the details of his experiences, and rife with humor. Even the sadder parts of the story have laugh-out-loud moments, keeping Keenan’s tale from ever being glum.
What I do not like about “Odd Man Rush”: When I think of something, I will let you know. True, reading the story of a European minor league player might not sound all that enticing when compared to books by more famous hockey players. But as I stated before, almost anyone can relate to Keenan’s story on some level.
“Odd Man Rush” is a lot of fun. Read it. You won’t be disappointed. ■