I love to read. And there are few things I love to read more about than hockey. With the Christmas rush over and the long nights of January ahead, now is the time of year when people tend to curl up with books of an evening as they listen to the wind howl outside and count the time until bracing themselves for the next trip to the rink. But the wonder of books is that in the summer, too, when the offseason is dragging and the only ice you can find is in your drink, there’s still a way to get yourself a hockey fix…still a way to find out more about this great game of ours and its culture, educate yourself a little or just pass the time reading about the best sport in the world.
So, with the New Year’s Resolutions still fresh, here’s a bunch of hockey books Chasing Dragons thinks every hockey fan should resolve to read (or read again) in 2014…some of the greatest examples of the written word ever (at least when that word is about hockey) and a few left-field examples, too. Wherever you are in the world, this list contains hockey books that I think should be on every fan’s bookshelf (or, nowadays, on their Kindle), along with Chasing Dragons’ thoughts. Dig in.
1. The Game/Home Game (Ken Dryden)
Two legendary hockey books, written by one of the greatest to ever play the game-these two give a perspective on hockey as “Canada’s game” that few, if any, can ever match. “The Game” is the story of one season in the life of Dryden, a Hall Of Famer and hockey legend, written by the man himself, while “Home Game” the sequel, is a love letter to the sport and its place in Canadian life, written by one of the most thoughtful, eloquent writers (who also happens to be one of the greatest players) hockey has ever seen. These are two of the closest things you can get to a “sacred” hockey book. If you’re a hockey fan and you haven’t read at least one of them…why not?
2. Zamboni Rodeo (Jason Cohen)
A year (the 97/98 season, in fact) in the life of the WPHL’s Austin (Texas) Ice Bats, written by a journalist who spends the season embedded with the team, travelling back and forth across the American south as they enjoy the highs and lows of minor-league hockey. There are many “season-with” books, but few are as good as this one-the drama and personalities of the Ice Bats are brought to life wonderfully by Cohen.
3. Home Ice/Open Ice (Jack Falla)
These two books are truly glorious. They’re the hockey literature equivalent of a warm hot chocolate made by your other half-created with love, warming, and guaranteed to make you feel better about life. “Home Ice” is partly the story of Jack Falla’s own backyard rink, and partly the story of backyard rinks all across North America-how they’re made, what they mean, and the people who use them. “Open Ice”, the follow-up, is a love-letter to the game of hockey (and skating) in eight parts, as Falla writes about great players and his life covering hockey. The chapters on skating the Rideau Canal, Georges Vezina and Hobey Baker are three of the most wonderful pieces of writing ever created about any sport-period. Thoughtful, lyrical and beautiful, these two books will enrich your hockey soul.
4. They Don’t Play Hockey In Heaven (Ken Baker)
I’ve put this one next to Jack Falla because, simply put, it’s one of the few books that equals it both for emotional impact and quality of writing. Ken Baker, a journalist who was a successful college hockey player, decides that he wants to at least chase his dream of playing a pro hockey game-and so he gets himself a tryout with the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors. What follows is a tale of hard work, heartache, and ultimately triumph, all expressed in Baker’s lyrical prose. I won’t spoil the ending but if you don’t have a tear in your eye at the end of it, your soul is harder than mine.
5. Boys Of Winter (Wayne Coffey)
The whole story of the US 1980 Olympic team, its players, and the “Miracle on Ice” victory against the USSR, told through a minute-by-minute recreation of the “Miracle” itself. I went through this in one sitting. You may well do so too. Don’t start it late at night, because you may not get much sleep before the next day.
6. A Game Of Three Halves (Liam Sluyter)
Throwing in a curveball here…this is the story of the (now sadly-departed) Manchester Storm, one of the biggest teams of the modern British hockey era. It tells the story of the birth of the team, and just how crazy British hockey was in the late 90’s and the Superleague era. An essential read for British hockey fans, and perhaps a glimpse into another hockey world for those of you in North America. (It may be tricky to find nowadays, but it’s worth the search)
7. Tropic of Hockey (Dave Bidini)
Another love-letter to the sport of hockey, this sees Dave Bidini, famous musician and hockey fan, travel to some of the far-flung corners of the world in search of the sport he (and we) love. From China to Dubai to Eastern Europe, this is a glimpse of hockey off the beaten track, and proof that, wherever you are in the world, people love the game with just as much fury and passion as anywhere else. The section on Hungary and Romania is wonderful in itself, but combined with the other two it’s a truly superb read.
8. Away Games (Laura Sullivan)
Part travellogue, part hockey reportage, Laura Sullivan follows NHLers all over Europe and elsewhere as they disperse to continue playing the game during the NHL lockout. Finland, Sweden and Eastern Europe get mentions (as you’d expect) but so do Switzerland, Germany, Holland and (yup) even the UK gets a bit to itself as she spends a little time with Wade Belak in Britain. At 168 pages it’s a book you can rip through in an evening or a day or two at the beach, and it’s an education both on European hockey and how NHL stars spend their time away from the bright lights of the big league.
9. King Of Russia (Dave King)
Interested in Russian hockey? This book’s for you. King (now the Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach) tells the story of his season in the Russian Super League coaching Metallurg Magnitogorsk (including a young Yevgeni Malkin), and it’s a story of team officials carrying bags full of money everywhere, hunting for fresh fruit, silent Russians, culture clash and a league and country that’s still not quite sure of how to adapt to the modern game. A superb insight into how hockey’s played and managed the Russian way, it’ll broaden your hockey mind for sure.
That (for now) should be more than enough reading to keep you going. Even if you only read one of these, you’ll find yourself getting new perspectives on both hockey and (sometimes) life itself.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab a copy, or fire up the Kindle.
You’ll be glad you did-I guarantee it.