Wednesday, 27 July 2011

TBC: Open Net

While this book wasn't on the list of books that I wanted to cover this summer, I jumped at the opportunity to take in this story. It seems that the CBC, the Bruins, and Don Cherry are getting a lot of coverage through Teebz's Book Club this summer, and the trend will continue today with regards to the latter two topics. I spent the last week reading through Open Net, written by George Plimpton and published by Lyons Press. Open Net looks at Mr. Plimpton's attempt to work through Boston Bruins training camp in 1977 as a goaltender followed by a look at the Edmonton Oilers in 1985. Mr. Plimpton's examination of the world is hockey is fascinating, funny, and very real when it comes to his experiences and how he relates them to the reader. Most of all, you get an inside look at why hockey is such an interesting sport from inside the locker room during one of the most pressure-packed times in a player's life: training camp as a rookie.

Mr. Plimpton lived an amazing life. He was primarily known as a journalist, author, and editor, but he was also a television and movie star in his own right. Born March 18, 1927 in New York City, Mr. Plimpton grew up under some impressive people. His grandfather, George Arthur Plimpton, founded the Ginn Publishing Company, and his father, Francis Taylor Pearsons Plimpton, was a successful lawyer and the US deputy ambassador to the United Nations from 1961 to 1965. George Plimpton was a Harvard graduate with a major in English, and befriended Robert F. Kennedy while attending school. In fact, Mr. Plimpton was one of the men credited with tackling Sirhan Sirhan, the man who assassinated Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, after he had shot for the late Democratic Senator (thanks, Captain Canuck!).

Mr. Plimpton's literary works featured his experiences in a number of sports. Out of My League spoke of his time pitching against the National League in a MLB All-Star Game. Paper Lion was written following his experience in preseason training camp as a quarterback with the Detroit Lions. He has written books on the NFL, the PGA, boxing, and story of MLB's Sidd Finch. He appeared in such movies as Reds, Volunteers, Just Cause, Good Will Hunting, EdTV, and Factory Girl, and had a recurring role on TV's ER as Dr. John Carter's grandfather. Unfortunately, Mr. Plimpton succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 76 on September 25, 2003. Rest in eternal peace, Mr. Plimpton.

Open Net starts with a phone call where Sports Illustrated's editor Mark Mulvoy calls Mr. Plimpton to inform him that he would joining the Bruins for training camp... as a goaltender! Mr. Plimpton already had reservations about his skating skills, and now he would be joining his beloved Bruins as a goaltender, a position about which Vladislav Tretiak once said "that there is no position in sport as noble as goaltending."

Noble is one thing, as Mr. Plimpton found out, but goaltending is a whole different world. He arrived in Fitchburg, Massachusetts where he roomed with another goaltender, Jim "Seaweed" Pettie. Seaweed got Mr. Plimpton up to speed on the game of hockey and the art of goaltending through their chats. Seaweed talked about everything: fighting, goons, protecting the crease, the players, who was good, who caused problems in the crease - everything was discussed by Seaweed and Mr. Plimpton. Along with Pettie and Plimpton, there were four other goalies in camp: Gerry Cheevers, Ron Grahame, Gilles Gilbert, and Dave Parro. Making the team would be tough for both men, especially when considering the careers of veterans Cheevers and Grahame.

Through his journalism work in training camp, you get to see how some of the players really were: Terry O'Reilly, Bobby Schmautz, Gerry Cheevers, and Don Cherry were regular interviewees of Mr. Plimpton. Through these interviews, you get to see that the on-ice personas of these men are vastly different than how they acted in the dressing. Terry O'Reilly, for example, was often remorseful about the fights he was in despite being one of the "big bad Bruins".

One of the chapters that I really liked talked about the goalies and how they got their starts, what they go through before each and every game, and what has been thrown at them as a stationary target on the ice. There were stories about a lot of the legendary goalkeepers of the past: Cesare Maniago, Wilf Cude, Gerry Cheevers, Vladislav Tretiak, Gump Worsley, Ken Dryden, Glenn Hall, and Chico Resch to name a few. There is nearly two pages on information on how the octopus tradition started in Detroit - something that a lot of hockey fans know, but know little about how and when it was started.

There's also an excellent chapter on fighting in hockey, albeit from a 1985 perspective through Mr. Plimpton's eyes. From as much as he could gather about the men who dropped the mitts, they were reserved and calm off the ice - almost an entirely different person compared to the aggressive figure on the ice. John Wensink, a Bruin that most people feared, built dollhouses as his favorite hobby off the ice. Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, Philadelphia's toughest hombre, would build and drive radio-controlled ships as his hobby, and they always had extensive detailing and craftsmanship.

"I remembered what I had heard 'The Hammer' Schultz's off-season hobby was - building radio-controlled ship models, painstakingly putting them together, lacquered and polished, and then he would put a crowd of miniature lead people aboard and launch them out into the lake from the shore, sitting in his beach chair with the radio set in his lap. It seemed such a benevolent hobby for someone who was a hockey fighter, but then his favorite trick was to sneak one of the ship models up on an unsuspecting swimmer lolling on his back out near the swimming float, who would become slowly aware of the presence of something close by, and turn to discover Schultz's PT boat or the Queen Elizabeth, or whatever, just inches away, with a crowd of people staring at him from the water level."
I simply cannot say enough good things about Open Net. It was a highly enjoyable read, the stories and information contained within the covers are excellent, and Mr. Plimpton does an excellent job in conveying the joy and anguish felt by a goaltender, especially in his five minutes of exhibition play against the Philadelphia Flyers. His reviews of the Oilers n the latter stages of Open Net were interesting as Mr. Plimpton participated in a practice. It seems the only thing he wanted to do while wearing the goaltender equipment was to identify Wayne Gretzky!

Overall, Open Net is a fantastic book, and is recommended for all readers. Mr. Plimpton does show off his English degree a few times in his vernacular, but the book is an absolute pleasure to read, and you'll actually learn a lot of stuff about the players that you never knew before you picked Open Net up. For that very reason, Open Net deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval! This book is truly one of the best hockey tomes I have had the pleasure of reading, and it deserves a look from all hockey fans!

And just for the record, #00 George Plimpton gave up one goal in his five minutes of work against the Flyers, and stopped a Reggie Leach penalty shot. That's not bad at all for an amateur goaltender in an NHL game!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Captain Canuck said...

ummm... Robert Kennedy was not ever President of the United States. That was his brother, John.

Robert was a Senator.