Sunday, 29 September 2013

TBC: Rebel League

HBIC has been getting caught up in the reading department with everyone heading back to school. There are a pile of new books coming out from the various publishers, and there are a number of authors who really deserve your attention. As you're probably aware, I'm a major fan of hockey history and I enjoy researching small details that may have affected hockey in a big way. Today's book has a ton of historical info that will fill your hockey trivia needs. Teebz's Book Club is proud to have had the opportunity to read and review Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association, written by Ed Willes and published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd. The work done by Mr. Willes in this book is nothing short of fantastic as he interviewed many of the key individuals who helped the WHA get off the ground and become the rival to the NHL's monopoly. Through these interviews, we learn many things about the WHA and its operations with some information being seemingly unbelievable. In short, Mr. Willes' work in Rebel League is outstanding.

Mr. Willes was born in Ottawa in 1955, and lived across the country as he was growing up. While working towards his journalism degree at Carleton University, he walked away from his studies in his third year of the four-year course! He got his first newspaper job in 1982 in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and his career has taken him to Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Montreal, and Vancouver. His freelance work has appeared in the New York Times, and he boasts a single-digit handicap on the gold course. He has written a number of books on hockey, most notably he very first book on Teebz's Book Club, Gretzky to Lemieux. Mr. Willes currently lives and works in Vancouver.

I have to admit that my knowledge of the WHA before reading Rebel League was limited to what I had dug up on the internet and heard second-hand. I wasn't able to verify many crazy stories I heard because I simply didn't have the resources. I can now honestly say that I know a lot more about the NHL's rival than I did before thanks to Mr. Willes' fantastic work in chasing down characters and story-tellers in Rebel League.

The list of names that Mr. Willes interviews in Rebel League is impressive to say the least. The men who made the WHA famous include Wayne Gretzky, Jacques Demers, Paul Shmyr, Glen Sather, Nelson Skalbania, Peter Pocklington, Gordie Howe, Mark Howe, Marty Howe, Harry Neale, Dave Dryden, the Carlson brothers, and John Garrett. And those are just the regulars in the book! There are a pile of characters that Mr. Willes brings to life through his writing and the stories told by the men interviewed, and they make for a lot of chuckles as one reads through the book.

The chapter that I may have enjoyed the most was all about the Minnesota Fighting Saints who may have lived up to their name through their actions on the ice. It's hard to believe that a team may have rivaled the Broad Street Bullies in terms of intimidation, but the Saints came pretty close. The Saints employed a carousel of thugs that made a lot of teams wilt before they hit the ice. Included in this parade of goons were Gordie "Machine Gun" Gallant, Bill Goldthorpe (the basis for Slap Shot's Ogie Oglethorpe), Jack "The Big Bopper" Carlson, Steve Carlson, Jeff Carlson (the basis for Slap Shot's Hanson brothers), Ron Busniuk, Curt Brackenbury, and Paul Holmgren.

The stories told about these guys are simply amazing, but the legend of Bill Goldthorpe and his three-game WHA career is absolutely outstanding. Full credit to Mr. Willes for giving the world the story of Bill Goldthorpe because it is worth the price of the book alone. Mr. Willes writes,
On still another occasion, Goldthorpe was sent to serve a major for Walton, who'd been kicked out of the game for his part in a scrap with Aeros defenceman John Schella. Neale was peeved that Schella had gotten his star ejected and instructed Goldthrope that if the blueliner was on the ice when the penalty was up, he was to draw him into a fight. Five minutes later an enormous ruckus broke out, with Goldthorpe and Schella, who knew each other from Thunder Bay, swapping knuckles. At the end of the fight, referee Bill Friday gave Goldthorpe an extra two minutes.

"For what?" screamed Neale.

"Harry, he left his stick and gloves in the penalty box when he went after Schella," Friday said.
That was just another day at the office in the WHA, it seemed. It's amazing to think this league existed on the strength of about six solid franchises. Everywhere that the WHA seemed to land only resulted in another owner who bit off more than he could chew. The chapter on the merger negotiations with the NHL was especially fascinating when it was revealed there could have been as little as one team and as many as six teams that could have been absorbed by the NHL. In the end, though, just Edmonton, New England, Winnipeg, and Quebec made the cut. And we all know what has happened since.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading Rebel League. The chapters focus on specific teams and events, and things move in a chronological fashion. Mr. Willes' writing is more story-telling as he transcribes a lot of the interviews done with WHA stars. And where he writes about the WHA, his work is concise and complete. The stories in Rebel League are funny and thought-provoking, and they really show why the WHA was both popular with fans and hated by some players. If nothing else, the work done by Mr. Willes will either confirm or shoot down some of the myths and rumors about the WHA. Because of these reasons, there is no doubt that Rebel League receives the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

I know it's only September, but it might be a good time to talk about Christmas gifts andRebel League would be the perfect gift for your adult hockey fan. There is some PG-rated language in the book, but the instances of the expletives are few and far between on the book's 278 pages. Find Rebel League at your local bookstore, and give your hockey fan one of the best books Teebz's Book Club has ad the privilege of reading this year.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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