Being a latecomer to the sport of hockey (not surprising as I’ve only been on ice skates once in my life), I occasionally try to learn more about the sport through a primary obsession — reading. Not surprisingly, hockey books don’t really rise to the level of great literature. Still, they’re often worth the time investment. Here’s shortie reviews on three I’ve read since the first of the year.
In the Bin, Lloyd Freeberg — So named because it is the author, not the players, who are in the penalty box (a/k/a “the sin bin”), this is a collection of basically anecdotal stories. Freeberg is an off-ice official for the Anaheim Ducks and his stories stem from that experience. Many deal with his time as the “attendant” of the visitors penalty box, others as a goal judge, including during Stanley Cup playoff games (the NHL requires goal judges in playoff games be from teams not playing in the game). But it is little more than a collection of anecdotes, several of which consume more space telling us about the background of the player(s) involved then the actual incidents or events.
The Code, Ross Bernstein — Fighting in hockey is one of those things for which there is no shortage of strongly held opinions. Bernstein, a Minnesotan, attempts to take the reader inside the unwritten rules that govern fisticuffs at the professional level. He deserves credit for a balanced approach to the subject that also explores the background of some of the more notorious incidents that have occurred over the past couple decades (Todd Bertuzzi is the most recent example) and putting them in greater perspective. Subtitled The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL, the book creates a greater understanding of “the code” for outsiders. However, it suffers somewhat from repetitiveness. After all, there really are only so many ways to tell the reader that the “enforcers” follow an unwritten code and why their roles are intended to protect skill players and to police play on the ice. Since Bernstein wrote the book following the recent rule changes that have reduced the number of fights in the NHL as well as caused many NHL teams to question the need for a pure enforcer on the roster, it is quite relevant to the continuing debate over fighting in the sport.
Tropic of Hockey, Dave Bidini — This book is part hockey travelogue and part homage to the sport wrapped in a Canadian’s effort to rediscover his passion for the game. Bidini takes the reader to Hong Kong, China, Dubai and Transylvania and examines the game in those locations from a rec player’s perspective. Although there are times Bidini’s writing seems to be a throwback to mid-game discussions, it is a fairly well written book both from the perspective of hockey and insight into foreign countries. For example, Bidini does not just focus on the game itself, but goes beyond to look at the people playing it in places msot people would never suspect. In taking us from rinks on the eighth floor of shopping malls to an almost palace-like hockey facility in the desert. Bidini sheds insight on the worldwide appeal of the game and the true love of the game he found in his travels.
It’s funny how the thought of being punched in the face repeatedly can change someone’s thought process.
Ross Bernstein, The Code