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.
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.
“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.
Espo, Orr and 48 more
Author Fluto Shinzawa had the difficult task of taking the Boston Bruins’ 92-year history and boiling it down into his book “The Big 50: Boston Bruins: The Men and Moments that Made the Boston Bruins.” (Though it is too bad that someone couldn’t boil down the book’s title to less than 14 words.) As the title abundantly suggests, the book reads like a highlight reel of the Bruins’ best players and defining moments. But Shinzawa doesn’t just focus on the high points; some of the team’s darker moments are spotlighted.
Scott’s “storybook ending” gets a book
All-Star. Author. MVP. Enforcer. John Scott may be the only one who can claim to be all of the above. In his new autobiography, “A Guy Like Me: Fighting to Make the Cut,” Scott takes us through his journey on how he went from a fourth-line enforcer to All-Star MVP. Anyone who wanted a tell-all about last year’s drama surrounding Scott’s controversial inclusion in the NHL All-Star Game will get that here — and more.
The hockey rink has come a long way, from its humble beginnings as a frozen pond encircled by snow banks, to “old barns” like Maple Leaf Gardens, to the mall-like sports entertainment complexes of today. How this happened over the past 150 years is explained in “Architecture on Ice: A History of the Hockey Arena.” Author Howard Schubert examines the cultural factors that contributed to the evolution of the hockey rink. This is no coffee table book; this is the history book you wished for in high school.
“Bleeding Blue: Giving My All for the Game” is an appropriate title for Wendel Clark’s new autobiography. Sure, there have been better goal scorers or more skilled players in the Maple Leafs’ history. But arguably, no Leaf has bled, endured, or suffered more than Clark, whose careeer was defined by his physical play and willingness to fight, and marred by constant injuries. Yet, as Clark explains, he wouldn’t change a thing.