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Self-publishing can mean a lot of things. It can mean control of the product itself. It can be targeted at a niche market that would not be served by a major publisher. It can mean reacting immediately to an unexpected Stanley Cup for a team that you have followed since Day One. This was the case for Mark Sophir and his 300-1: (My 52-year Journey with St. Louis Hockey and a Championship for the Ages) is the end result.
Sophir was there at the first Blues game in 1967, and was at the parade for the 2019 Stanley Cup championship.
“I've lived with them since the inception, at the very first game,” said Sophir. “For all the years for them to win, it's a shock on so many levels. It drove me to write the book, because it was so flabbergasting how it all came about. Very exciting for those of us who waited five decades.”
And make no mistake, 300:1, which he pushed to get it out before Christmas, is an “us” and “we” book. He cannot be impartial, even if he is a lawyer and teacher away from the rink.
“I caught myself several times writing about 'they' and I changed it. I wanted it to be a 'we book,' from the unique fans' perspective of how this feels,” he said. “You feel every check, you feel every goal, you feel every bad penalty or whatever it may be, so you suffer and experience joy as if you were on the ice with them.”
300:1 details how the Blues franchise came about, and how Sophir and his father happened to meet one of the new Blues, Bill McCreary, before the season and were invited to come out. Their season tickets behind the penalty box were a great vantage point for decades of ups and downs. It's a bit of a sprint through the seasons, highlights and failures, stars and also-rans, with asides into divisional rivalries and other important parts of the St. Louis story.
“I try and bring that personal touch to the games, but I try not to have it colour how I see what happens. Obviously, we all have biases,” he said. “I'm astute enough as a lawyer to know I'm not trying to be a total homer.” That means he details mistakes from ownership, management, and the player gaffes.
Sophir has practiced law for more than 30 years since graduating from law school at the University of Texas in Austin, and also teaches at Washington University and Webster University in St. Louis.
The title of the book is personal too, referring to a successful $20 bet, at 300:1, he made at a small casino in Mississippi where he visited with his father. “I wish I had the foresight to bet more, but I actually bet on it—not because I thought it would happen—but in hockey anything is possible, and they did have all the ingredients to be a several successful team, they just had a lot of hurdles to jump through just to even make the playoffs, much less win them.”
But the Blues did win, and colleagues who knew about both Sophir's love of the team and his previous experience as a writer (two fictional thrillers, Belladonna and Searching for the Dragonfly, a kids book, Bailey Is a Lot Like You with his dog in a Blues jersey on the cover, and his initial book, from 2007, A Common Sense Enema, which he calls a “commentary on a lot of silly subjects”) encouraged him to put fingers to keyboard.
The book now out and published—with a version that has colour photos coming out in 2020—Sophir hopes it finds a market.
“It's a book for people that are hockey nuts, but who appreciate a good story, and a last-to-first story, and for people that just love sports,” he said. “If people enjoy it, that's what I get out of it; if somebody writes to me and say they really enjoyed it and they had a great time with it, and learned a lot, then that's all I'm striving for.”
A DEVIL OF A TIME
While fans of the other Original Six teams might disagree, the fact is that the greatest rivals of the New York Rangers are the teams in closest proximity to them—the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders (whether playing in Brooklyn or on Long Island).
Matthew Blittner knows this, and is aiming for a trilogy of books capturing the memories of those watching the games, not playing them.
In 2018, he self-published Unforgettable Rangers: Games And Moments From The Press Box, and in the fall of 2019, he put out Unforgettable NJ Devils: Games & Moments from the Press Box, Ice & Front Office. You only get one guess what the next book in the series will be.
In its 166 pages, Blittner talks to Devils beat reporters, TV play-by-play and colour analysts, and so many more, getting their take on some of the greatest games and moments from New Jersey hockey history. Some of the better known names include Ken Daneyko, Mike “Doc” Emrick, Stan Fischler, and Glenn “Chico” Resch.
Compared to his Rangers book, Blittner expanded his reach. “One thing I did differently was to include front office people (Larry Brooks) and former players who became broadcasters (Chico Resch, Ken Daneyko, Bryce Salvador),” he said in an email.
How does the Devils fan base differ from the Rangers? “The Devils fan base is just as passionate as the Rangers fan base (no surprise) but they are a lot more regional which helps create a closer bond amongst the fans,” he added.
As for that Islanders book—you guessed that, right?—he is just starting the interview process.
KEEPING THE TRENT VALLEY HOCKEY LEAGUE STORY ALIVE
Hands up if you have heard about the Trent Valley Hockey League. Not many, I see. With their new self-published book, Ice and Thunder - A History of the Trent Valley Hockey League, Dave Barry and Stewart Richardson hope that number will change.
The book details the independent league in a central part of Ontario that operated from 1900 to 1955, with breaks for both the First and Second World Wars; there was another league, associated with the Ontario Hockey Association, with the same name from 1956 to 1983. It's a coffee-table book, full of great photos and fascinating stories.
Ten different NHA/NHL players came out of the league, and two of them, Dit Clapper and Bobby Hull, ended up in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hull wrote the foreword for the book, and Richardson's previous book, penned with Richard LeBlanc, was Dit: Dit Clapper and The Rise Of The Boston Bruins.
“We are both from the Village of Hastings and grew up hearing about how great the old TVL was and its impact on the smaller communities in the Trent Valley Region,” wrote Richardson in an email.
The project took longer than expected, he said. “It went from one to three years. We just kept unearthing more great photos, testimonials and information.” Richardson added that they were surprised by “just how competitive the league was and how the local rivalries led to various community Newspaper jumping onboard to lambaste the opposing towns.” In a pre-television era, the games of the Trent Valley teams would have been THE major entertainment in towns like Fenlon Falls, Picton, Tweed and Campbellford during the winter, and all the 30 or so teams that were in the league at one point or another shared a common closeness to the railroad.
They knew self-publishing was the right direction, and the initial print run is only 300 copies. “We self published right from the get-go as we both recognized that ... our market would be regional,” said Richardson.
To promote the book, Richardson and Barry are doing it themselves, and the goal is “to try to sell these so we can hopefully break even.” They are taking the story to local historical societies. “This has always been about preserving our communities' history,” concluded Richardson.
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