Wednesday, 29 June 2011

TBC: Hockey Dad

The first book in the HBIC summer project is a book that I've been wanting to read for quite some time. Bob McKenzie is a celebrity in Canada because of his work as "The Hockey Insider" on TSN, but Mr. McKenzie has been involved with the world of hockey for a long time. Teebz's Book Club is proud to present Mr. McKenzie's book as the first summer project book in the review of Hockey Dad: True Confessions of a (Crazy?) Hockey Parent, written by Bob McKenzie and published by John Wiley & Sons Canada, Limited. Mr. McKenzie's book is a fabulous written work in that he is open and honest about his experiences as a "hockey dad" of his two sons, Mike and Shawn, and he really takes you inside the psyche of what it's like being a little bit of a crazy hockey dad.

Bob McKenzie, as stated above, is very well-known from his work on TSN. Mr. McKenzie has been involved in covering hockey for more than 30 years, and his journalism is unparalleled when it comes to getting the inside story. He has annually been selected as one of hockey's 100 most powerful and influential people, and consistently provides updates and information on as well as his Twitter feed. Mr. McKenzie joined TSN in 1987 as an analyst for the NHL on TSN after having served as Editor-in-Chief for The Hockey News for nine years and as a hockey columnist with the Toronto Star for six years.

While Mr. McKenzie has been following the highest levels of hockey for a long time in his profession, Hockey Dad was all about being a father to two sons who did something a lot of Canadian boys do: play hockey. Because of his sons' involvement in the game, Mr. McKenzie found himself involved in the game as well. Throughout his sons' hockey experiences, Mr. McKenzie wore many hats: he coached, he was a psychologist, he was a fan. Most of all, though, he was always there for his two boys and always at their games cheering him on. I'd say he was a pretty good hockey dad, and Bob's wife, Cindy, was every bit as supportive of their sons as dad was despite Bob sometimes driving her crazy.

The story of Michael McKenzie, Bob's first-born son, started on April 29, 1986, and it was seemingly in the cards that Mike would be hockey-mad like his father is from the start of Hockey Dad. From this point, the story becomes an autobiography of Mr. McKenzie's life and experiences following Michael through his hockey and lacrosse careers. Mike was a driven player who enjoyed racking up points but took losses extremely hard. Bob examines his own feelings towards minor hockey and how it should be played as he works through the chapters of Mike's development into a budding star.

The family expanded in July 1989 when Shawn McKenzie joined the McKenzie clan. Shawn was a far different child than Mike when it came to hockey - he was seemingly carefree and non-committal to the game whereas Mike would eat, breathe, and sleep hockey. Shawn got into the game, and Bob was supportive of his younger son's endeavours despite not having that same driven passion that Mike possessed. In fact, it would seem that Bob almost thought that Shawn had a brighter future than Mike in a couple of stories, but the story of Shawn's hockey career ends prematurely thanks to a series of concussions.

With both kids, Bob McKenzie relates all sorts of tales and anecdotes of things he did, things he saw, and things he heard around the rink and from his kids as they progressed through the ranks of minor hockey in Whitby, Ontario. Mike works his way up through the minor hockey ranks in Ontario to eventually be drafted by the OHL's Saginaw Spirit as well as being offered an NCAA scholarship to St. Lawrence University to play hockey. As you can imagine, Bob McKenzie's stories surrounding Mike's ascension to collegiate-level hockey involve a lot of laughs, a few tears, and some moments of insanity.

I did, however, find the chapters regarding the end of Shawn's hockey career to be very relevant to what is happening in hockey today. The stories aren't that far removed from the present day, so the battles that Shawn had with concussions really resonated with me in that Mr. McKenzie's telling of how he felt about Shawn were very real and very poignant. In one passage, Mr. McKenzie wrote,

The beastly part of brain trauma is how the after-effects can pile up on you, layer on top of layer on top of layer. Think about it. Shawn had a constant headache, every minute of every day. That, and that alone, is more than enough to wear on anyone. But he also wasn't permitted to do any physical activity so he rapidly lost his fitness level. On doctor's orders, he spent an inordinate amount of time lying on the couch. He didn't have a lot to look forward to. No hockey practices or games. He couldn't even read a book or play a video game because he wasn't supposed to stimulate his brain.

The sense of loss was huge. Shawn was a kid who had played hockey in the winter and lacrosse in the summer, and being part of those teams was his social life and peer group. Really, Shawn lost his identity.
Shawn's experiences with his concussions sound a lot like the problems that Eric Lindros spoke about in his Maclean's Magazine article. It is this honesty and openness that Mr. McKenzie uses that makes Hockey Dad such a treat to read. I'm quite certain that a lot of people who pick up this book will read a passage and say, "I've seen that" or "I've done that". I know I did, and I found myself laughing at a lot of Mr. McKenzie's stories, especially the one chapter that deals with The Hockey Parents From Hell (THPFH).

There are a lot of lessons that all parents of budding athletes can learn from this book, and I've taken a number of these lessons to heart after reading about what Mr. McKenzie went through in his experiences. I especially liked Mr. McKenzie's four-point philosophy about minor hockey, and I really think that more minor hockey programs should adopt his four rules as being gospel. It would go a long way in helping to diffuse some of the situations about which Mr. McKenzie wrote.

Overall, Hockey Dad: True Confessions of a (Crazy?) Hockey Parent is a fabulous book. The chapters are short and each present an unstated moral that one can learn from Mr. McKenzie's stories. The 276-page book is short enough that one can easily tackle it in a week, but it is certainly meant for an adult crowd. There are spots of PG-rated language in the book, but adults will certainly relate to Mr. McKenzie's stories. Because of his excellent writing style and the myriad of stories and moral lessons presents, Hockey Dad: True Confessions of a (Crazy?) Hockey Parent certainly deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval. I highly recommend Hockey Dad: True Confessions of a (Crazy?) Hockey Parent to anyone who is a hockey parent, a parent of an athlete, or has ever been to a minor hockey game. I guarantee you'll find yourself relating to Mr. McKenzie's experiences and chuckling about them!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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