Saturday 8 October 2011

TBC: Hockey's Greatest Tragedies

HBIC is continuing its look at some of hockey's losses over the years. A couple of weeks ago, Teebz's Book Club presented the story of Dan Snyder in A Season of Loss, the story of the former Atlanta Thrasher who passed away after being involved in a single-car auto accident. In following this examination, Teebz's Book Club is proud to present Hockey's Greatest Tragedies, written by Timothy Peige and published by Arcturus Publishing Limited. To be honest, I had no clue that so many former NHL players passed away as early in their lives as they did. There are even tragedies suffered by NHL players that didn't result in their deaths, but scarred and affected them enough that they were not the same player or person afterwards. Hockey's Greatest Tragedies looks at all of these situations, and brings together a collection of stories about some of the most idolized men in the game of hockey that had their careers cut far too short.

While I couldn't find a lot of information on Timothy Feige, I'm going to assume he's a fairly accomplished writer. The dust jacket of the books reads, "Author Timothy Feige was born in Montreal within walking distance of the fabled Forum. A sportswriter and cultural historian, he has written for The Montreal Mirror, The Vancouver Sun, The Village Voice and numerous other publications. Feige has seen the Canadiens take the Stanley Cup twelve times. He is looking forward to the thirteenth win."

Hockey's Greatest Tragedies tells the stories of 29 former NHL players who suffered tragedies that led to the ends of their careers and, in some cases, their lives. The majority of the 29 men featured in this book are well-known to most hockey fans: Tim Horton, Bob Probert, Georges Vézina, Valeri Kharlamov, and Theoren Fleury to name just a few. Each of the stories speaks highly men, but reveals what brought their careers and lives to a screeching halt.

Surprisingly, I found myself reading this book quickly. I didn't think that I had such a morbid curiosity about others, but I think the hockey historian side of me really wanted to find out what happened to some of the names that hockey's rich history has produced. Names like Michel Brière, Hobey Baker, Howie Morenz, and Derek Sanderson all had flourishing hockey careers that were seemingly cut way too short. Reading about how these men ultimately ended up was shocking when you consider that they were sitting on top of the world during the height of their popularity.

Hockey's Greatest Tragedies is well-written, but there are a few spelling mistakes I found in the book. While it didn't take away from the stories, I found it a little bothersome that names of people important to the stories were sometimes misspelled. What the editors missed in spelling, though, was made up for in spades by the stories told by Feige about the players who had spun out of control. One such story was that of former Boston Bruin Derek Sanderson.

"Even as he fought to stay in the NHL, Sanderson was willing to speak about the struggle that was taking place off the ice. 'I didn't start drinking until I was 25 and then only to relax me because I can't stand flying,' he explained. It wasn't entirely true - years later, Sanderson would reveal that he had taken his first drink at the age of seven. Flying had only fuelled an existing problem. There had been hundreds of flights in his career, but the league wouldn't be calling on him to take any more."
While Sanderson's battle with alcohol and drugs is repeated in other stories by other players, some of the more horrible tragedies were suffered by players who were being taken advantage of by authority figures. Mike Danton, Sheldon Kennedy, Theoren Fleury, and Martin Kruze were all tormented and abused by people in positions of power, and the ends to their careers, and in one case his life, came far too early. These tragedies are not forgotten by Mr. Feige in Hockey's Greatest Tragedies, and he deserves commendation for including these four men in the book after what they suffered.

Hockey's Greatest Tragedies has 29 short stories about the men that hockey lost too early, and the 237-page work is a very solid look at what ultimately ended the careers of 29 exceptional hockey figures. Overlooking the spelling miscues, each story highlights the success that each player had before ultimately having his career cut short by some event. The book is a powerful reminder of how quickly fortunes can change, and Hockey's Greatest Tragedies deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval for its look at a difficult subject.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Peter Santellan said...

On the subject of Fleury, if you're still looking for the book Playing with Fire, I have an extra copy, since I managed to buy another copy while in Portland. Interested?

Teebz said...

Sure, Pete! I'd love one!

Can I send you some cash through PayPal or something?

Anonymous said...

The author missed Lou Fontinato who was a rugged defenseman who started his career with New York during the 1954-55 season. The following year, he led the NHL in penalty minutes, the highest total ever at that time.[2] He also led the league in that category in 1957-58 and 1961-62, the latter his first year with Montreal, after being traded for Hall-of-Fame great Doug Harvey at the tail-end of his career. Fontinato's career came to an abrupt and violent end in 1963 at the Montreal Forum when he missed a check on left-winger Vic Hadfield of the Rangers behind the Montreal net, slammed head first into the boards, and became paralyzed for a month. The incident was featured in a National Film Board documentary.