Wednesday, 8 November 2017

TBC: 99: My Life In Pictures

I have been lucky enough to have a few people drop older books off for me to review as they know I enjoy hockey history and looking at the past. I have to admit that this blog doesn't speak much about the greatest player to have ever laced up the skates. Today's entry in Teebz's Book Club may change those numbers a little as the book reviewed today is all about The Great One. Teebz's Book Club is proud to review 99: My Life in Pictures, written by Wayne Gretzky and John Davidson, and published by Dan Diamond and Associates, Incorporated. While this book contains mostly pictures of Wayne Gretzky at various points in his illustrious career, there are some great write-ups about the photos and John Davidson does an outstanding piece on "The Meaning of Wayne".

99: My Life in Pictures is a coffee table book by definition as it seemingly contains more pictures than words, but that's where things really take off. There are a ton of unseen - at least I hadn't seen them - photos of Wayne Gretzky throughout his career contained within the covers, and it's pretty amazing to see all the jerseys that Gretzky wore through his career for various teams and charity events. His four NHL teams get the majority of the coverage when it comes to the pictures, but there are images of Wayne in the LA Kings' "Burger King" jersey, the Ninety-Nine All-Stars jersey, and various Team Canada jerseys that were worn throughout his twenty-year career.

The written pieces that accompany each picture in 99: My Life in Pictures are a good reminder that Wayne is still human. He talks of bring influenced by Bobby Orr reto igarding removing the laces from his gloves, how he actually loved baseball more than hockey as a kid, how he began wearing a Jofa helmet once he arrived in Edmonton, who he faced off against in his first NHL face-off, how he was ok with Wilf Paiement wearing #99 in Toronto, and much more. You get a good sense of what turn-of-the-millennium Wayne Gretzky was like through his comments that accompany each photo.

I spent time really soaking up what John Davidson wrote about Wayne Gretzky in his "The Meaning of Wayne" piece. Davidson literally breaks down specific parts of Gretzky's game to illustrate why he was such a special player. From the way he used lacrosse tactics to roll off checks to his setting up in his office behind the net, Davidson really does a great job in examining how Gretzky found space and became such a lethal scorer despite not being an imposing physical presence. In one passage, Davidson describes a tactic that Gretzky used in his arsenal to force defences to change their traditional tactics when defending him and the Oilers.
If setting up behind the net was revolutionary, so was Wayne's play once he crossed the blue line. Coaches had forever instructed their forwards to go to the net when they entered the zone, and defenders knew what to expect. But Wayne realized he could be more creative if he added a few twists once he reached the zone. The first was the curl, in which he'd the line and then curl towards the boards, holding the puck and waiting for a teammate to get open for a pass when he completed his curl. That was how the concept of the "late man" entering the play developed, because the defenders and backcheckers had picked up the first offensive players in the zone but someone could follow the play and be open for a pass.
The fact that Gretzky innovated a number of offensive tactics on his own to create space and really open up scoring shows just how good he was in thinking the game. Davidson's contribution to 99: My Life in Pictures shouldn't be overlooked as just Gretzky fodder because he really does an outstanding job in breaking down how good Wayne Gretzky was as a player and teammate.

I used to just marvel over his statistics, but Wayne Gretzky honestly did change hockey. From the way he thought the game on the ice in finding new ways to score and set up teammates to helping the NHL gain popularity in southern California to his numerous international appearances in helping grow the game, Wayne Gretzky did a ton of good things for hockey and a lot of that is documented in 99: My Life in Pictures. The pictures alone are an impressive display of how far Wayne Gretzky's reach in hockey was, but John Davidson's examination of Gretzky's career is an incredible addition to the fantastic photos. Because of this, 99: My Life in Pictures absolutely deserves Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

It might be tough to find 99: My Life in Pictures at your local library or bookstore, but it appears that there are copies available on the linked Amazon page for fairly reasonable prices. If your hockey fan wants to read about the NHL's greatest scorer and how he changed the game in both word and pictures, I highly suggest you pick up this book!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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