Saturday, 10 August 2019

TBC: Calling The Shots

With rain cancelling my outdoor plans for today, I needed to fill the time with something constructive. After doing some cleaning, the rain was still falling so I decided to tackle something that I've slowly been absorbing over the last couple of weeks. Teebz's Book Club makes a triumphant return today as I am proud to review Calling The Shots, written by Kelly Hrudey and Kirstie McLellan Day and published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Kelly Hrudey was a pretty good goaltender in his time, and he played with some exceptional players and on some incredible teams. In Calling The Shots, we get to read about all the most memorable experiences that Kelly saw, heard, and went through with those teams (and others) as he navigated his way through the NHL and beyond!

From the HarperCollins webpage, "Kelly Hrudey was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. The former Medicine Hat Tiger and Indianapolis Checker played for fifteen seasons in the NHL with the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. Hrudey is now a well-respected hockey colour analyst for the Calgary Flames and a broadcaster for Hockey Night in Canada. He and his wife, Donna, and their daughters, Jessica, Megan and Kaitlin, all live in Calgary." I should also point out that Kelly Hrudey is a major advocate and speaks out for mental health research and initiatives, receiving an honourary degree in 2017 from Mount Royal University for his efforts in promoting mental health discussions.

Also from the HarperCollins webpage, "Kirstie McLellan Day ranks among the top hockey writers in the world thanks to six national bestsellers (including three instant #1 bestsellers): Theo Fleury's Playing with Fire, Bob Probert's Tough Guy, Ron MacLean's Cornered and Hockey Towns, Wayne Gretzky's 99: Stories of the Game, and Kelly Hrudey's Calling the Shots. Kirstie is a mother of five and is married to Pyramid Productions Inc. president and television producer Larry Day. They live in Calgary." She also co-authored Cujo, Curtis Joseph's autobiography, in 2018, and is currently sitting as the book being read on my nightstand. As of today, Kirstie McLellan Day is the second bestselling Canadian author, trailing only children's author Robert Munsch on that list.

Kelly Hrudey's career wasn't defined by personal accolades or Stanley Cup championships, but it was highlighted by consistent goaltending while spanning two decades of play. Over those two decades, Kelly had to adapt his goaltending style from stand-up to butterfly in order to keep up with times, so it wasn't like he was able just to make saves and carry on as goaltenders prior to him did. His adapting to new NHL shooters was a constant in his career as he moved from the Islanders to the Kings and, finally, to the Sharks before he retired from the game.

There aren't many people who can claim Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, and Ed Belfour as teammates in their careers, but Kelly Hrudey can. He speaks of growing up early in the book and getting recruited by the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers where he meets his future, which becomes his current, wife, Donna. After being drafted by the Islanders, Hrudey found himself playing for the Indianapolis Checkers where he backstopped the CHL franchise to back-to-back Adams Cups in 1982 and 1983! Hrudey was slotted in behind Billy Smith and Rollie Melanson on the depth chart for the Islanders which meant that roster spots were hard to come by during the dynasty era. However, following a November 19 trade that saw Melanson dealt to the North Stars, Hrudey joined the NHL club and wouldn't play in the minors again for the next 15 seasons.

Along the way, Kelly speaks of teammates, coaches, and owners who had an impact on his career, and some of these names include the likes of Gretzky, Melrose, McNall, Lombardi, Conacher, Granato, Vernon, Belfour, Marleau, Smith, Potvin, and Arbour. Perhaps more than any of the others, Hrudey holds Al Arbour in high regard not only for what he accomplished, but for how he treated players and the respect he gave his players. At times, it was like reading a son's ode to his father, and Hrudey describes Arbour as a father figure on several occasions. Throughout Calling The Shots, Kelly pays respect to the guys who made the locker room fun, the hard times palatable, the good times even better, and seems to have really enjoyed the brotherhood of the NHL fraternity as players were moved in and out of the various dressing rooms he called home.

One of the things I found interesting in Calling The Shots is Kelly's view of the goaltending position itself. He describes changes to the position when it came to styles as the years moved from the original stand-up netminders through to the Patrick Roy-era where the butterfly style took over. He talks about reading players regarding shooting tendencies and some of the players against whom he found hardest to play. The one quotation I really found interesting since I'm not a goaltender was his comments on stick tape and whether it hides the puck. Kelly writes,
"Oftentimes I'm asked if it matters whether a guy uses black or white tape on the blade of the stick. It's doesn't. A professional goalie sees the puck in a three-dimensional way. We are able to discern the puck from the tape no matter what colour it is. So guys who use black tape to fool an NHL goalie are wasting their time."
I had a teammate who swore that black tape was the only tape to use when coming down on a goalie for breakaways so it hid the puck better, but Kelly Hrudey blows that theory out of the water. Maybe it helps when playing minor hockey against some goalies, but anyone who is playing elite-level hockey should know that goalies can see the puck on one's stick. These nuggets of goaltending information make Calling The Shots even more enjoyable!

Towards the end of Calling The Shots, Kelly undergoeds a bit of an internal conflict where he struggles with thoughts of being unable to stop pucks and no longer being good enough to take the net. I'm not sure if this still affects him, but I have to believe that these thoughts and his struggles late in his career combined with some of the mental health issues his daughter dealt with have led him to being an advocate of mental health initiatives and research. If it didn't lead him there, that's ok too. The fact that he worked through his struggles to have a few extra years of high-level play is a testament to his efforts in overcoming his own doubts.

Overall, Calling The Shots is an enjoyable read from a very personable guy. Kelly Hrudey doesn't have a room full of trophies and accolades, but his efforts to raise awareness for mental health initiatives makes him a champion. His jovial nature seems to have led him to being a life-long teammate of a number of players, coaches, and management types in hockey. His care for his friends and teammates have led to friendships forged in steel. His respect for people he encountered who didn't show the same level of respect shows he is compassionate and understanding. All of these traits come through in Kelly Hrudey's writing, and, because of the warm writing, great stories, and funny tales, Calling The Shots absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Calling The Shots can be found at most libraries and bookstores. There are some instances of adult language in Kelly's telling of stories, so I would recommend this book for teens and older. If you were a fan of the Islanders, Kings, or Sharks while Hrudey played, you'll likely enjoy Calling The Shots and the stories contained within the 310-page book!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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