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This fall has seen an avalanche of hockey books from mainstream publishers, and the non-fiction bestseller list in Canada reflects that, with the life stories of Doug Gilmour, Sean Avery and Kelly Hrudey all up there, along with Ken Dryden's book on Steve Montador, Dr. Murray Howe's eulogy-like tribute to growing up with Gordie Howe as a dad, and Karl Subban's story of how he got three kids drafted into the NHL all holding down high spots.
But there are plenty of other hockey books out there this fall, including three self-published books that I wanted to draw your attention to – and drawing attention to hockey books was the goal of this column all along!
GUYLE FIELDER: I JUST WANTED TO PLAY HOCKEY
James Vantour's book, The Super League : The Life, Death and Legacy of Western Canada's First Great Junior Hockey League, came out in 2010. Out of the blue, he got an email requesting a copy of it from Guyle Fielder. He knew almost immediately that his next project had arrived.
Who is Guyle Fielder you ask?
“The guy is a legend,” explained Vantour. “He is without question the greatest minor leaguer ever.”
Or, as Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall says, “When people asked me who Gretzky reminded me of I always said Guyle Fielder.”
When he retired in 1973, Fielder was hockey's leading scorer in professional hockey, with more points than Gordie Howe (until Howe returned to action in 1973). Yet he only played a handful of games in the NHL.
Immediately after Fielder reached out, Vantour reached back. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to call him,” said Vantour. “Since then we kept in touch through emails and phone calls. Our conversations covered his career, his teammates, opponents and what the game was like in his day. Eventually I told him I would like to write an article about him, so there were more and more telephone conversations and the proposed article became a book.”
Vantour grew up in western Canada and had the pleasure of watching him play, both as a junior and a pro. “I saw what an incredibly talented hockey player he was. He was just magic with the puck. His playmaking was extraordinary; his sole aim was to set up his wingers, and he did it like no one else could,” marvelled Vantour. “As well, my midget coach had been a teammate of Guyle’s with the Lethbridge Native Sons so I heard all the off-ice stories. He was a kid from a small Saskatchewan town, self-conscious about his lack of education and a loner with a mind of his own. He did indeed march to his own drummer.”
There were plenty of stops along the way for Fielder—“Teams will pay me to play. I didn’t give a damn where,” he once said. In the end, Fielder settled in Arizona, so Vantour, who calls Ottawa home, and his subject talked a lot on the phone until Fielder insisted he come visit.
“Eventually, he said, 'You got to come down here. I’ve got a garage full of scrapbooks, photos and memorabilia,'” recalled Vantour. “I spent a week as his guest and we spent the entire time going through all the boxes. Each article, each photo prompted a story. Every day at 10:00 a.m. we would sit on his patio while he had his daily cigar. That’s when he was most reflective and open about his career. In addition, of course, I did my archival research. As my writing progressed I sent copies to him. He often said, 'You know more about me than I do.'”
Vantour came away surprised by Fielder's humility and love of hockey. “He is unquestionably proud of his accomplishments but generous in his praise of his teammates and respectful of his opponents. There’s a reason why we called the book, I Just Wanted to Play Hockey. To him, hockey was a game; he was having fun,” said Vantour. “His complete openness was refreshing. His career was not without controversy but he insisted on honesty in the story, even if it wasn’t always flattering for him.”
It was a big help that Fielder still has a remarkable memory. “I was absolutely amazed at his recollection of teammates and opponents, of events, even of certain plays,” said Vantour.
I Just Wanted to Play Hockey goes a long way towards keeping Fielder in the conversation among other game-changers, like Jacques Plante and his mask and Ted Lindsay leading the charge on player rights.
Vantour shared some examples. “In his junior days he refused to play the system the coach insisted on. 'Dump and chase' didn’t make sense to him: 'I already had the puck. Why would I give it up?' So he left the team. With one year of junior remaining the Black Hawks, with whom he had signed a C form, wanted to turn him pro. He refused to comply and was suspended. He came to the pro ranks with a 'bad boy' reputation, 'I didn’t pay attention to all the petty rules.' He just did his own thing, spending most of his spare time in pool halls. ('I’d stay at the pool hall until 6:00 p,m., then grab a hot dog and a taxi and head for the arena. I cut it pretty close a few times.').”
To Vantour, it's a hockey book with Guyle Fielder at the centre, where there is much insight into the way the game of hockey was in the 1950s and 1960s, especially the Western Hockey League. A self-published product, Vantour is out and about pushing it, and welcomes inquiries at his email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
After all, you never know when your next project might arrived in your Inbox.
I Just Wanted to Play Hockey is $25 Cdn (tax included) plus shipping. Here's the Facebook page:
THE PEPPER KID
There's a real personal connection for Shayne Randall to the subject of his just-released epic, The Pepper Kid: The Life and Times of Ken Randall, Hockey's Bad Hombre, about Ken Randall, who played in the early years of the NHL with the Toronto Arenas/St. Pats, Hamilton Tigers/New York Americans.
Shayne is the oldest grandchild of Ken Randall, who died in June 1947 (and had 13 other grandkids).
“My Dad, Fen, was Ken's oldest child, lived to 94 years of age and told me plenty,” explained Shayne Randall, who initially began the project years ago with his cousin Ken MacAulay. He had access to plenty of family records, photos, as well as the stories passed down through the years.
“Five years ago I started searching records in earnest and before long I realized I had more than enough material for a book,” said Randall. “I also discovered there was a plethora of hockey books but very few presented a good history of the pro game. I decided Ken Randall would be the traveller whom the reader would follow through pro hockey's genesis.”
We follow Ken Randall from his Kingston, Ontario, upbringing into the early days of organized, professional hockey, including the NHA, and the Montreal Wanderers and Toronto Blueshirts, as well as the Sydney Millionaires challenging for the Stanley Cup.
Randall learned plenty about his grandfather, and hopes the book plays a part in finding a greater appreciation for his skills.
“I came away convinced that his place in hockey history was underrated. He deserves to be with his peers in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” said Randall.
At 428 pages, including more than 150 photos, it's a monster of a book. Randall went down the road with ECW Press, but elected in the end that he wanted the book out to mark the 100th anniversary of both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the National Hockey League. (ECW Press Executive Editor Michael Holmes provides a blurb: “I’ve read it and it’s wonderful. I’d love to see The Pepper Kid in stores, or as a documentary. I find it fascinating and the research first rate.”)
Writing is nothing new to Shayne Randall, beginning as a 14-year-old interviewing the likes of boxer George Chuvalo, pitcher Lynn Covenguth, and CFLer Sam,“The Rifle” Etchevery for his school newspaper. As an adult, real life took him into the businessworld, until in the 1980s, when he started writing about sports again in Peterborough, Ontario, where he still resides.
Down the road, Randall is working on a personal book, Bagdragger, Memoirs of a Looper, about life as a professional caddy looping for Jack Nicklaus, Bob Hope, and meeting other characters through the serene 1950s and the exciting and evolving 1960s in Toronto. His other dream is to write a biography of New York City promoter Tex Rickard.
You will be able to order The Pepper Kid for $32.99 softcover, $44.99 in hardcover, and $6.99 as an e-bookat http://www.thepepperkid.com.
FROM TRIUMPH TO TRAGEDY IN THE NHL
Brad Lombardo is a teacher—Spanish and English to be exact—in the York Region District School Board, just outside Toronto. Creating his book, From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL, was actually a return to a brief stint 20 years ago where he wrote sports articles for newspapers in Windsor and Montreal, interviewing the likes of Steve Yzerman, Rocket Richard and Jean Beliveau along the way.
“It was truly a project from the heart, since I wrote the book neither to promote a writing career nor make serious money,” said Lombardo.
From Triumph To Tragedy In The NHL, published through CreateSpace back in 2015, profiles the lives, careers and untimely deaths of six NHLers: Bill Masterton (1938-1968); Terry Sawchuk (1928-1970); Tim Horton (1930-1974); Pelle Lindbergh (1959-1985); John Kordic (1965-1992); and Steve Chiasson (1967-1999).
Lombardo sets a good example for other self-published authors, as it takes hustle to get the book seen by the right hands. You'll find him at hockey luncheons, public library book fairs, and bookstores. And it's been written about in The Hockey News, the Toronto Sun, the Windsor Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, on Puckjunk.com, and in the Society of International Hockey Research's newsletter. He knows that there are copies at the International Ice Hockey Federation in Switzerland as well.
He also has a dedicated book website, www.fromtriumphtotragedy.com, which features details about the book and author.
“There is also a monthly newsletter which profiles other hockey players who died tragically and while they were still pursuing their big league careers,” said Lombardo.
He's got more to say, too.
“More than half of the original manuscript was left on the table, as the book originally had 13, not six, chapters,” said Lombardo. “I have the other chapters and shaped them into a second manuscript - From Triumph To Tragedy In The Early NHL. The six players profiled in this second manuscript are: Georges Vezina, Joe Hall, Charlie Gardiner, Howie Morenz, Babe Siebert, and Bill Barilko.”
Lombardo is just not all that sure where the second book will be available. “Although Create Space has served my first book very well, I am still interested in pursuing other publishing options for the second manuscript.”
NOTES FROM MONTREAL
The fall Society of International Hockey Research meeting is now done, November 24-26, 2017, in Montreal, and it was a lot of fun for me on a personal level. It's fun to talk hockey for a weekend, but professionally, I get to talk about books and writing too. Thanks to J-P Martel for organizing everything, and to the hard work put in by the likes of SIHR President Wayne Geen and secretary Aubrey Ferguson.
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