Friday, 3 August 2012

TBC: Fire On Ice

There are about a bazillion things that go into getting to stand on stage beside an NHL general manager, but the opportunity to stand beside a general manager as the top pick in an NHL Entry Draft narrows the field considerably. Great players who go on to have outstanding careers as the top picks are not long forgotten, but neither are those players who do dramatic things. The 1991 NHL Entry Draft saw the Quebec Nordiques hold that opportunity, and the best player as per scouts and critics was that of Eric Lindros of the OHL's Oshawa Generals. How Eric Lindros became that consensus first-overall pick was documented in his own words in Fire On Ice, written by Eric Lindros with Randy Starkman and published by HarperCollins Publishing Limited.

While Eric Lindros is quite well-known to the public, Randy Starkman may not be as famous. As per his biography in the book, "Currently a reporter with The Toronto Star, his work has appeared in Canada's major magazines and newspapers, including MacLean's, The Ottawa Citizen, The Gazette in Montreal, The Globe & Mail, and the Vancouver Sun." Starkman was the man who exposed Ben Johnson's second positive test for steroids in 1993, and had reported from 12 Olympic Games in his career. He was an advocate for amateur athletics, turning down gigs to cover Toronto's mainstream sports repeatedly. After returning from Montreal this past spring where he was covering the Canadian Olympic swimming trials, Starkman became ill. He passed away on April 16, 2012 after battling with pneumonia. He twice won National Newspaper Awards in 1993 and 1994, the second after a scathing report on concussions in hockey, and also received the 2012 Sports Journalist award from the Toronto Sports Council. Starkman is survived by his wife, Mary Hynes, herself a renowned amateur sports reporter, and their teenaged daughter, Ella.

Fire On Ice was written before Eric Lindros had even played in the NHL. The book details his life as well as his life in hockey, and there are several key people who also make large impacts in the book as well as Eric's life. Both Carl and Bonnie Lindros speak about Eric's upbringing and the challenges that the Lindros family faced along the way to seeing Eric being drafted. His agent, Rick Curran, has a few insightful additions to what was happening around the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. And Eric's friends and former teammates talk about Eric Lindros in terms of what he was like on and off the ice.

When I first started reading Fire On Ice, I found the book to be very pedestrian. There is the usual Eric-as-a-child chapters in the book in order to give some background as to the type of person that Eric was, but I'm not sure that those relate to today's reader. The book was published in 1991, so there may have been some curiosity as to how Eric became who he was at that time, but today's readers who are familiar with Eric Lindros' career would probably skip over the stories of Eric's youth.

As Eric hit adolescence, the stories become more relevant to hockey fans, especially hockey parents. The stories of abuse from other players and parents is all too familiar, and I have to say that Carl and Bonnie were very good at keeping everything in perspective for Eric. While there have been stories in the media of Eric's parents being very involved in his career aspirations, especially early on in his career, I can say that they admittedly explain in this book that they are always concerned for what is best for their children.

There are a few chapters in Fire On Ice on the saga with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and how Eric Lindros refused to play for them due to their education situation. Honestly, I had only heard that Lindros refused to play for a team so far from his Toronto home, but the reality is that the Lindroses wanted Eric to have a chance to finish high school and start university courses before he left major junior hockey. Sault Ste. Marie doesn't have a university and the Greyhounds' education counselor was less than optimistic about Eric's education goals, so the Lindroses told Sault Ste. Marie that he wouldn't report. Because of this problem, the OHL actually changed their rules whereby teams can now trade their first-round draft picks in the OHL Amateur Draft!

It's funny, but as I was reading Fire On Ice, the image of Scott Stevens laying out Eric Lindros continuously popped into my head. I remember Lindros being a dominant force in the 1991 World Junior Championships in Saskatoon, but there was one paragraph in the book that jumped out at me. Eric Lindros always played the game like there was nothing to fear, and this next passage explains why Lindros played the way he did.
"The tone of a game can be changed with a devastating hit. If I try to crunch someone and I get knocked out, that's a big lift for the other team, so I've got to make sure the other guy goes down. And if I go down with him, that's fine, I've just got to make sure that I get up quicker than he does. That's what it's all about. Deck or be decked. There's a moment when you see someone charging up the ice, and he sees you. You make eye-contact with him and you both know that neither one of you is going to move out of the way. I'm thinking 'All right, you're in for a ride, you're going down. I might get hurt, but you're going to be hurt worse than I am.' You've got to think you're invincible."
I have to say that my interest in Fire On Ice waned in the early going, but there were some pearls of information later in the book. For example, did you know that Eric Lindros wore the same patch that NHL officials wore while as a member of the Oshawa Generals after John McCauley passed away? Or that Lindros was invited to take batting practice with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1990? The deeper that I got into Fire On Ice, the better the reading became as Lindros' battles in and outside of hockey were the reason I picked up this book.

The last chapter on the 1991 NHL Entry Draft alone actually makes this book worth checking out. Agent Rick Curran's explanation on why Lindros didn't want to go to Quebec actually makes a lot of sense, and it may sway a few people to consider that Lindros wasn't just taking swipes at Quebec. The chapters regarding the World Junior Championships, his fight with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and his eventual landing in Oshawa are excellent reads as well. Overall, the start of the book is a little dull, but Fire On Ice makes up for it in the end. Fire On Ice won't blow you away, but it's an interesting read and deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Because the book is out of publication, you'll probably want to head down to your local library to see if you can find Fire On Ice. Otherwise, see if you can pick it up through the link provided!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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