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Saturday, 25 June 2016

TBC: The Crazy Game

The summer of reading great hockey books continues on HBIC today. There are a lot of people who know of Clint Malarchuk mostly due to the graphic injury he suffered on the ice with the Buffalo Sabres. But how many people actually know Clint Malarchuk? I'd wager not many do, so having the opportunity to read his book has opened my eyes in a major way. Teebz's Book Club is proud to review The Crazy Game, written by Clint Malarchuk and Dan Robson and published by HarperCollins. The story told in The Crazy Game surrounds Malarchuk's hockey career that took him across North America, but it's a far deeper story about a man who nearly derailed his own career and life several times with his ongoing battle with mental illness. To say this story made me aware of the battle that those suffer with mental illnesses have to suffer is like calling Mount Everest "a little hill". I have a whole new respect for Clint Malarchuk after reading The Crazy Game.

Clint Malarchuk is remembered by most hockey fans who nearly died on the ice in Buffalo after Steve Tuttle's errant skate clipped his neck and sliced open his jugular vein. Malarchuk did a lot more in hockey than that one moment, though, as he played for the Quebec Nordiques, Washington Capitals, and the Sabres in the NHL, and the IHL's San Diego Gulls and Las Vegas Thunder later in his career. He moved into coaching, and has been a goaltending consultant for the Florida Panthers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Calgary Flames. His real passion has been horses as he's worked in several rodeos and runs an equine dentistry service as well! He and his wife, Joanie, live in Nevada on the Canuck Ranch that they own and operate!

Dan Robson is a writer for Sportsnet magazine, and he written pieces for The Canadian Press, Toronto Star, and the CBC. He has also written Quinn: The Life of a Hockey Legend about the late Pat Quinn. He is a regular contributor to the Sportsnet website, and was part of the production of Home and Really Far Away: The Boys from Whale Cove which was a finalist for Best Sports Program at the Canadian Screen Awards. Dan graduated from Carleton University with a Master's Degree in journalism, and currently lives in Toronto where he plies his trade.

The Crazy Game is probably one of the most open, raw books I have ever read. Clint Malarchuk holds nothing back in talking abut his life in this autobiographical examination, and he certainly pulls no punches when he talks of the battles he faced with his various incarnations of mental illness. It's a very stream-of-consciousness style of writing, but the raw emotion that Malarchuk shows and the impact on the reader can't be stressed enough.

From his broken home as a child when his father caved into his battle with alcoholism, Malarchuk speaks candidly about his own anxiety, obsessive-compulsion disorder, and how he wrestled with his demons through to his performances with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks. Once he was drafted by the Nordiques, he continued to battle with these diseases, but his jealousy and anger began to take over as his first marriage broke down. From there, he masked the internal problems with his jocular nature and drinking - a combination that led him further down the dark hole he was heading. The first half of The Crazy Game takes you on a roller coaster of the ups and downs in Malarchuk's hockey career.

It's the second-half of The Crazy Game that will take you to places that will shake you to your core. Malarchuk describes in vivid detail the oft-seen breakdowns that he suffered right through to his attempted suicide and his long trek back through rehab and medical help that now has him on the right track. Malarchuk fully admits that it's a day-to-day battle that goes through, having its ups and downs still, but he's surrounded himself with good doctors, his family, and his friends who all have solid grasp on what is happening in his head now. That's a very good thing in this writer's opinion.

One of the passages that hit me hardest in The Crazy Game was the following piece. I was emotional reading it after everything else I had read, and it really hit me hard because of everything that Malarchuk's already been through. He writes,
"This book wasn't easy to write. It took me back to a lot of places I never wanted to see again. I heard stories from people that I love about the things I did - the things I couldn't fully see - and realized how painful and terrible it was for them. Every damn page of this book hurt. Deep down, I really wanted to finish this, but I didn't realize that revisiting this turmoil was going to affect me the way it did. In the process of writing this book, my anxiety started to build again. As the words came together and I saw them on the page, the anxiety continued to grow - stronger and stronger until it consumed me like it had so many terrible times before. Over the coourse of three months, starting in October, as the contents of the book were reported and drafts were passed around, I started to lose control of my ability to deal with the anxiety, and the depression started to resurface."
These types of descriptions about the demons that Malarchuk faced are littered throughout the book, and it's what makes reading The Crazy Game such an emotional ride. You really empathize with his friends and family in terms of the turmoil they were in only to read about the guilt and anger Malarchuk has towards himself for messing everything up. The Crazy Game pulls you in a number of directions, and it's an intense read throughout the book.

For someone who has never had a lot of experience in understanding mental illness, The Crazy Game was an absolute eye-opener for me. I was glued to this book through the entire 247 pages. I grew up watching Malarchuk in Buffalo, and he always seemed to be that back-up goalie who found a way to win. I never knew he was dealing with a pile of demons who almost did him in later in his life. Having lost a good friend to suicide, it has given me new insight into what may have been happening in his life and I wish I could have done more.

If nothing else, Clint Malarchuk's story has allowed him to speak to people all over this land about his experiences, and hopefully his urging to those people to get help if they feel they are losing control might have saved lives. There is some rather strong language and situations that I'd consider not appropriate for younger readers, so I recommend this book to all adults and elder teens. However, because of the intense story and the strong message carried on the pages, The Crazy Game certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Find The Crazy Game at your local bookstore or library and get ready for an emotional, intense read. If Malarchuk's story doesn't give you a new perspective on mental illness and the importance for those suffering from mental illness to seek help, I'm not sure anything will provide that perspective.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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