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Tuesday, 4 November 2008

TBC: Open Ice

Teebz's Book Club is proud to present another wonderful piece of literature today on Hockey Blog In Canada. It's always interesting when one gets the opportunity to read a book that comes from someone outside the game of hockey, and today's book is exactly that. TBC is proud to review Open Ice, written by the late Jack Falla and published by Wiley. Open Ice is a collection of essays written by veteran sports writer Jack Falla, and really examines the relationship of hockey and life, specifically in how hockey plays a major role throughout Mr. Falla's life. The essays show exactly how the history of the game sticks with a man throughout his life, and how the game shaped him in terms of his life.

First, let's take a look at Mr. Falla. Jack Falla is the author of five books, including Open Ice, and worked for Sports Illustrated in the 1980s covering hockey. Mr. Falla was most recently teaching sports journalism at Boston University. Unfortunately, Mr. Falla passed away on September 14, 2008 due to heart failure. The hockey world, along with this author, have lost a great master of the hockey literary world.

Open Ice explores Mr. Falla's career within hockey, and his love affair with the game. He speaks of watching Maurice Richard's funeral in Montreal despite his passion for the Boston Bruins. The Massachusetts native explores skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, playing net as a child and the lessons learned from tending the net, and delves into some amazing history as he searches for information on the legendary Hobey Baker.

However, it's not the destination that catches you in Mr. Falla's writing. Instead, the journey gives you much greater insight into his passion for the game of hockey. Mr. Falla's skill in painting a picture with words cannot be overlooked, especially when it comes to describing hockey players who played a prominent role in his life: Maurice Richard, Jean Béliveau, Alex Delvecchio, and Georges Vezina. Ironically, the men that he most admired were the men who he routinely hated as a child - something not lost on Mr. Falla. His descriptions of these men, particularly Mr. Béliveau, make you see the men so vividly without them ever appearing. And it's in this mastery of the language that Mr. Falla has found a fan in me.

His description of the Original Six arenas are without comparison. Mr. Falla describes each one down to the minutest of details, adding character to brick-and-mortar building. It was this chapter I most enjoyed as he brought back the lives of the Montreal Forum, Maple Leaf Gardens, Boston Garden, Olympia Stadium, Chicago Stadium, and the old Madison Square Garden. His descriptions of each arena include some impressive historical pieces along with the eloquent rendering of the "old barns".

Honestly, I was thoroughly impressed with Mr. Falla's writing. If I could emulate his ability, I would. It would be a great disservice to Mr. Falla for me to even put myself on the same level of comparison, though, so I won't even try. While calling it Shakespeare might be a stretch, Mr. Falla's work in Open Ice is definitely a split-the-defence, deke-out-the-goalie goal - a thing of beauty.

On a related note, this might be the only thing I ever agree with John Buccigross on: Jack Falla was one of the greatest writers on hockey of all-time. As Mr. Buccigross wrote, "This is a huge loss for us in the hockey community, a huge loss", and I whole-heartedly agree. Mr. Falla will never be replaced when it comes to his hockey knowledge and acumen. He is literally on the same level for his love of the game as guys like Gretzky, Lemieux, Richard, and Howe.

Overall, Open Ice was very enjoyable to read. I enjoyed learning about Mr. Falla's experiences, his family, and the way that hockey shaped his life. His stories were humourous, genuine, and a pleasure to hear, and this made the book very easy to read. Also, I was impressed with the amount of history in the book, particularly the chapter on Hobey Baker. That chapter alone makes the book worth the price of admission.

This book is suitable for anyone who has any sort of interest in hockey. I'd guess that, with the history in the book, it might be better suited for a grandparent or parent, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I'm not out of my twenties yet. This is an excellent book for all ages, and has far too many great stories to be ignored. I am extremely proud and happy to award the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval posthumously to Open Ice and Mr. Falla. May you rest in peace for all eternity, Mr. Falla, and thank you for your wonderful book.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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