Wednesday, 3 December 2014

TBC: 99

It's been a while since I've posted a book review, but I've been picking up on the reading once again as the depths of winter take over in my neighborhood. Also, being that it's the holiday season, I'm always hopeful that a few of you will find a new hockey-themed book as a gift for you, and I'm happy to report that today's book should be one on your reading list. Teebz's Book Club is porud to review 99 - Gretzky: His Game, His Story, written by Al Strachan and published by Penguin-Random House Canada. Mr. Strachan's writing has never been disappointing, and he delivers once more in 99 as we get an intimate look into Wayne Gretzky's life from his days with the Oilers through to today.

Al Strachan is a former columnist with the Toronto Sun, the Globe & Mail, and the Montreal Gazette. Mr. Strachan was a former panelist on the Satellite Hotstove segment of the CBC's Hockey Night In Canada, and made regular appearances on The Score highlight channel on the Hardcore Hockey Talk show with Steve Kouleas and Steve Ludzik. He's an accomplished author with a number of excellent books written, and was awarded the distinguished Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award in 1993 for bringing honour to journalism and to hockey.

99 is more than just a retrospective on Wayne Gretzky's career. Mr. Strachan's friendship with Wayne Gretzky allows for this book to be a much deeper look into the career of Wayne Gretzky as Mr. Strachan gets Gretzky to open up about a number of events in his career to which we, the fans, may not be privy. It's a unique perspective from which to write this book, but it's one that sheds some light on Gretzky's career from the man who experienced the many events in this book.

I have read a couple of other reviews for 99, and it seems that those reviewers either aren't hockey fans or don't have much information about Mr. Gretzky. While it may not be a universal truth, it is pretty apparent that Mr. Gretzky is very careful about who lets into his inner circle. Those who have been accepted into that circle of trust know that Mr. Gretzky has incredible insight on the game of hockey, and that he'll share that wisdom if he trusts the journalist. Mr. Strachan has Mr. Gretzky's trust, and they have put together a great book thanks to their friendship.

The two men weave together Mr. Gretzky's career from his time with the Edmonton Oilers right through to his work done with the Phoenix Coyotes and the Canadian men's Olympic teams. Throughout each chapter, Mr. Strachan builds the scenario and injects thoughts from Wayne Gretzky as they look back on his career. The result is that the two men weave a great story with new insights on Mr. Gretzky's career from The Great One himself. For those that may not be aware of Mr. Gretzky's career, 99 offers a great historical look at his career through the eyes of two men who were there for every significant moment of his career.

What adds to the credibility of the events is Mr. Strachan's reaching out to others who were part of the moment. Players such as Paul Coffey, Mark Messier, and Kevin Lowe along with coaches and executives such as Bruce McNall, Glen Sather, and Mike Keenan all corroborate the events that Mr. Strachan highlights in the book and Wayne Gretzky adds his personal insight to, and it makes for an enjoyable read.

For example, when Wayne Gretzky became a free agent in 1996, there were a number of teams lining up to have Mr. Gretzky join their organization. It was always thought that Mr. Gretzky would like to move closer to home, and he confirmed that it almost happened.
Toronto was my first choice," he told me in 2009. "It was really where I wanted to go.

"We called Cliff and asked if he was interested. He said he was, but if I was looking for big money, it was not going to happen. The owner was trying to save money and pit it towards a new arena.

"So I said, 'Just put together a reasonable offer, and we'll see what we can do.' He came back witha deal for three million dollars a year with some money deferred. We said, "Okay, we like that.'"

"But Cliff came back and said he had taken it to the owner [Steve Stavro] an the owner nixed it."
While I could make a comment about the short-sightedness of a Maple Leafs owner, I won't in this case. However, it's hard to believe that anyone would turn down the opportunity to have hockey's greatest scorer join one's team. But Steve Stavro, in his infinite wisdom, did do that, and it allowed Mr. Gretzky to listen to other offers, eventually settling on a deal with the New York Rangers.

Overall, 99 was an excellent read, and it only took me an evening to get through as I was glued to the information. Mr. Strachan is an excellent writer and he does a fantastic job using his many years of covering Mr. Gretzky and his achievements to write a great book. Mr. Gretzky's insights into each of the events covered in the 310 pages validates the stories as well as providing excellent insight into his own thoughts on each of the events.

If you're a hockey fan, you may be aware of some of the achievements in Wayne Gretzky's life, but 99 taught me some new things about Wayne Gretzky's career. If you're unaware of Wayne Gretzky's career, this book might be a great way to learn about all he did in very short order. Either way, 99 was a great read, and it absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

You can find 99 - Gretzky: His Game, His Story at all major bookstores now, and it would make for a great holiday gift! Pick up your copy today for yourself or your hockey fan!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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