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Sunday, 14 December 2008

TBC: The Road To Hockeytown

Dynasties are hard to come by in the NHL nowadays. With free agency making it nearly impossible to keep a team's nucleus together, building and maintaining a core of talented players is virtually unheard of. When it comes to dynasties in the NHL, though, no one knows better than Jim Devellano as to how to build one. And it was an absolute pleasure for Teebz's Book Club to review the book about Mr. Devellano's humble start in hockey that allowed him to become part of the New York Islanders dynasty followed by the immense success that the Detroit Red Wings have enjoyed. The Road to Hockeytown: Jimmy Devellano's Forty Years in the NHL, written by Mr. Devellano and Roger Lajoie and published by Wiley, chronicles Mr. Devellano's start in hockey to his work with the Red Wings today, along with all the stories and anecdotes that forty years of hockey offers.

Jimmy Devellano is not a literary genius, but he does weave a good story. He served as a scout in the St. Louis Blues organization, assistant general manager to Bill Torrey in the New York Islanders organization, and general manager and senior vice-president of the Detroit Red Wings in his forty years in the NHL thus far. His work in hockey has earned him fourteen championship rings - three Stanley Cup rings with the Islanders, four with the Red Wings, three Calder Cup rings from AHL franchises, two Adams Cup rings from CHL teams, one Riley Cup ring from an ECHL team, and an American League Championship ring with MLB's Detroit Tigers. Experience? Mr. Devellano has boatloads of it.

Roger Lajoie runs Triumph Sports Communications as his work. He hosts a radio show on The Fan 590 radio station in Toronto, and appears occasionally on Rogers' Sportsnet's broadcasts of the OHL's Oshawa Generals and Mississauga St. Michael's Majors games. Working as a correspondent for Reuters has allowed Mr. Lajoie to cover all the major sporting events across North America: the Stanley Cup Final and the NHL, the World Series and MLB, the NBA Final, and the Final Four Basketball Championship and the NCAA. Mr. Lajoie is an accomplished reporter, and does an excellent job in this book.

The story starts on January 18, 1943 when little "Jimmy D" was born in Toronto to two first-generation Canadians in Jean and Jim Devellano. Mr. Devellano speaks of his lack of high ability in sports as a child which drove him into other positions with sports clubs, particularly in hockey where he found work as a coach with various teams in Toronto. Mr. Devellano left school before graduating, something he explains very clearly in the book and does not condone.

Kids, if you're reading this, stay in school.

He talks of his writing to Lester Patrick, GM of the expansion St. Louis Blues, for a position with the Blues. His first job in the NHL was an unpaid scouting role for the Blues, and Mr. Devellano talks candidly about the excitement of the opportunity despite him not being paid.

Mr. Devellano talks very openly about him being fired from his scouting position with the Blues, and how the closing of that door opened other doors. From there, he landed a scouting job with the New York Islanders, holding more responsibility than before with the newly-founded Islanders franchise. Mr. Devellano talks of the struggles that the Islanders went through in their formative years before becoming a powerhouse in the NHL, winning four straight Stanley Cups, and the thrill that winning that first Stanley Cup brings to a person.

Mr. Devellano spend the majority of the book speaking about his time with the Detoit Red Wings, which started in 1982 with a meeting with Mike and Marian Ilitch. He talks openly and candidly about his relationship with the Ilitches, and how he came to be the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, followed by his appointment to senior vice-president. The heartbreak of the early years in Detroit, followed by the perennial success, is described in detail by Mr. Devellano, and you get a good look at the front office side of the coin during those years.

What struck me as the highlight of the book was the discussion of some of the internal problems that faced the teams, specifically the Detroit Red Wings. From the substance abuse problems that faced members of the Red Wings to hirings and firings, Mr. Devellano speaks candidly about what he did during these times. He speaks openly of the power struggle between himself and Brad Park, the career-ending injuries suffered by Vladimir Konstantinov and Sergei Mnatsakanov, the struggles to bring Petr Klima and Konstantinov over from Communist countries, and the alcohol abuse problems of Bob Probert, Joe Kocur, and Klima. Reading about these stories from Mr. Devellano's point-of-view gives a completely different perspective than what some had told, and it's intriguing to hear someone so close to the issues speak about them so openly.

For anyone who is interested in hearing the trial and tribulations of an accomplished hockey man, I highly recommend The Road to Hockeytown: Jimmy Devellano's Forty Years in the NHL. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to get into the management side of hockey in this writer's opinion, and would be a great addition for anyone who enjoys hockey history. Mr. Devellano's forty years in hockey really is an amazing trip through history, and it deserves a read if you're a hockey fan, a Red Wings fan, an Islanders fan, or a hockey historian. The Road to Hockeytown: Jimmy Devellano's Forty Years in the NHL comes highly recommended, and definitely receives the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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