Tuesday, 27 March 2018

TBC: Chasing The Dream

As life settles down after all that national championship business, I have begun to settle into my normal weekly routines once more. One thing that I am going to incorporate into that schedule, though, is more time for reading. Teebz's Book Club has been awfully quiet over the last number of months, and that will begin to change today. I have a stack of books I want to get through this summer, so reading will be given a priority whenever possible starting today. And what better way to start than with a review! Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Chasing the Dream: Life in the American Hockey League, written by Ted Starkey and published by ECW Press! If you want an honest look at the AHL, life in the AHL from a variety of staff and players, and a good examination of some of the teams, Chasing the Dream might be the book you've been needing to read!

Ted Starkey is a veteran sportswriter who has written a couple of books about the Washington Capitals in Red Rising: The Washington Capitals Story and Transition Game: The Story of the 2010–11 Washington Capitals. His work has appeared in the Washington Times, the Tampa Tribune, Newsday, and has contributed articles to USA Hockey, SBNation, AOL Sports, FanHouse, and the Buffalo Bills websites. He has covered a number of Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, and both the 2002 and 2010 Olympic Games. Mr. Starkey is currently the Internet News Manager for Newsday. He can be followed on Twitter via @TedStarkey.

Chasing the Dream may have a whimsical-sounding title, but the stories on the pages between the covers are anything but whimsical. Mr. Starkey goes inside the rink with seven AHL teams as he gets the skinny on how the businesses of these teams are run from both executives and players. There are stories of long bus rides, turbulence on airplanes, and three games in three nights from a number of AHL players, coaches, and broadcasters. It certainly isn't glamorous, but these men and women who told the stories to Mr. Starkey have passion for the game in spades!

What makes Chasing the Dream interesting is that Mr. Starkey does some in-depth reporting on seven of the AHL's most successful franchises in the Syracuse Crunch, the Hershey Bears, the Chicago Wolves, the Toronto Marlies, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and the Rochester Americans. Of those seven teams, I found the chapters on the Crunch and the Wolves very interesting as they find themselves competing with two famous sports institutions in the NCAA's Syracuse Orange and the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks, respectively. The reporting done on these sections not only involves speaking with players as to their reflections on the tams and cities, but there are discussions on the challenges and the success these franchises have had in their respective cities when it comes to financial success. Needless to say, the business of the AHL is one that I found out is very different for each team based on its location, its affiliation, and the goals of its owners.

The other chapters look at specific features that the AHL can boast such as the veteran players who have spent most of their careers at the AHL level, life on the road for Eastern teams versus Western teams, how every game is an audition for a potential NHL job or a future AHL job, the decline of fighting in the AHL as part of the overall trend in hockey, and the importance and significance of the Calder Cup to the players and the teams. The chapter in the future of the AHL and what it may hold is an outstanding piece of journalism, and I have to say that I enjoyed reading the opinions and reflections that a number of NHL players have on the AHL.

The chapter in fighting numbers declining in the AHL produced an interesting dichotomy as most were in favour of the numbers going down with respect to potential head injuries, but there are still some who see value in hockey fights. Mr. Starkey spoke to Bridgeport broadcaster Phil Giubileo about the declining number of fights in the AHL.
"For some of the league's announcers, fighting's fade isn't what they like to see. Giubileo, for instance, said he wasn't happy with the decrease. 'The fighting thing, it's disappointing to me, becasue it's something I really enjoy. If you ever go and watch some of my calls on YouTube, you'll notice that I really do enjoy calling hockey fights and a lot of that goes back to my time with the [UHL's] Danbury Trashers, when you spend more time calling hockey fights than hockey games. To me, fans get into it... the minor league fans like to cling to that, liking the rough, physical hockey that result sin punches thrown and altercations. I would see a fair amount of it in my first three or four years in the league. You don't see as much of [it] now.'"
The Danbury Trashers were a bit of an aberration when it came to fighting as the owners literally hired goons only to fight, so Giubileo may have been exposed to something that is not quite the norm in hockey. That Slap Shot mentality, as Mr. Starkey points out early in Chasing the Dream, is something that the AHL has evolved from when, the past, there were certainly the heavyweights that patrolled the rinks in the AHL. Today, the game is faster and better as teams have placed more value on skill and scoring than the pugilistic side of the game.

Overall, Chasing the Dream is an outstanding look at life in the AHL from all sorts of perspectives. From players to management to ownership to broadcasters, Mr. Starkey speaks to everyone who has made and is making the AHL a destination for players to develop and continue careers, a league whose reputation is growing as the best league not named "NHL", and a great place to see high-level hockey on a nightly basis for fans. While I would have liked to have heard about some of the challenges that the Pacific Division teams face, Mr. Starkey does an excellent job in examining what life is like in the AHL for a number of eastern-based teams. I thoroughly enjoyed Chasing the Dream, and the book absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

You can find Chasing the Dream at most bookstores across North America, and it's a great read for all ages who have an interest in the AHL!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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