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Monday, 2 April 2012

TBC: Behind The Bench

Teebz's Book Club has had the privilege of reading a number of books that deal with all sorts of different people in the hockey world. Of course, the vast majority of books are written about players, but there have been books penned by officials and coaches as well that have made it on to Teebz's Book Club. Today will add another excellent book from the coaching perspective as Teebz's Book Club is proud to present Behind The Bench, written by Dick Irvin and published by McClelland & Stewart Incorporated in 1993. Mr. Irvin's work in hockey broadcasting is legendary, but he uses his book to give a voice to the many famous coaches of yesteryear in an interview setting. Some notable names who gave an interview include Emile Francis, Mike Keenan, Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, and Don Cherry. Needless to say, this book is a who's who when it comes to coaching in the NHL.

Born in 1932 in Calgary, Alberta, James Dickinson Irvin was almost guaranteed a life in hockey. His father, Dick Irvin, Sr., was a former player and coach in the NHL, including an incredible fifteen years as the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Mr. Irvin graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor of Commerce degree. He decided a career in broadcasting might be a good challenge, and eventually rose to become the Sports Director for station CFCF in Montreal. He was paired with Danny Gallivan on Hockey Night in Canada's Montreal broadcasts, working as the colour commentator. His work on Hockey Night in Canada spanned from 1966 to 1999, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988 as a broadcaster and was inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2004. Mr. Irvin is truly a Canadian broadcasting legend.

Behind The Bench is a little different that some of the other books that feature coaches. Rather than being an "X and O" book about coaching, Mr. Irvin gets insight from a number of former and current-to-1993 coaches on how they got started, why they like coaching, insight as to their methods when dealing with players and teams, and great stories about their times behind the bench.

From Glen Sather and Barry Melrose talking about how they didn't really coach Wayne Gretzky as much as just letting him play to Scotty Bowman talking about how he would never have been "buddy-buddy" with the members of the 1970s Canadiens while he was their coach, hearing the stories told by the men in this book was fascinating. And it's not just the legends who gave incredible insight about the job. Relatively new coaches, for the 1993 era, such as John Paddock, Bob Murdoch, Gary Green, and Brian Sutter told great tales of why they chose to move into the coaching field and how they relate with the players while being younger than some of the coaching legends.

One of the chapters in Behind The Bench that I really enjoyed reading was the interview conducted with the late Roger Neilson. As you may be aware, Mr. Neilson passed away on June 21, 2003 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 69. Mr. Neilson was an innovator in hockey, prompting many rule changes from the NHL. His best contribution to hockey was the use of video in preparation for games - a trait that earned him the moniker of "Captain Video". He is also known as the Maple Leafs coach who was to wear a bag on his head after being unofficially fired and re-hired by Harold Ballard within the span of a day. Mr. Neilson explains a little of this incident as he was informed he was to be fired on a Friday only to end up back behind the bench that night.
"That night I was still hanging around the dressing room and Harold Ballard came in. He always went there Friday evenings to have hi toenails cut by the trainer. He said to me, in his usual gruff way, 'What are you doing this weekend?' I told him I didn't have any plans, and he said, 'Don't go away. We may need you here.' That was his way of saying I was back in."
First of all, Ballard had his toenails clipped by the team's trainer?!? Secondly, it doesn't surprise me that Ballard let the firing hang over Neilson's head all day before reinstating him, but who treats a human being, let along the coach of a professional sports franchise, in that manner and gets away with it? Only Harold Ballard, I suppose.

This story, and many other fantastic tales from the hockey world are brought to light over the 330 pages of Behind The Bench. Dick Irvin's insightful thoughts before each new story or point really helps to set the tone of the story that one is about to read, and his knowledge of the coaches and the game really aids to help Behind The Bench move at a nice pace. Rather than explaining every little detail, Mr. Irvin treats the reader as a knowledgeable fan of the game already and, instead, lets the coaches fill in the blanks of the stories he prefaces.

I really enjoyed reading Behind The Bench, and I learned a lot about some of the most storied men to take their places behind the bench. While the book itself would be PG-rated in its material, an accomplished adolescent reader wouldn't find this book too difficult to get through. Being that I remember the vast majority of these coaches in their primes, I found that I could relate to the stories and situations very easily. Because of the way the book was written and the coaches featured in the book, Behind The Bench absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval! This is another book not to be missed!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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