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Ty Dilello and Ab McDonald
THE BEST OF MANITOBA (AND KENORA!)
When Ty Dilello isn't throwing rocks on the World Curling Tour, he's deep into the world of hockey history. His recently-released book, Golden Boys: The Top 50 Manitoba Hockey Players Of All Time, is a love affair of sorts for his home of Winnipeg and the province.
Published by Great Plains Publications, it's exactly what it sets out to be in the subhead—a series of great biographies and interviews with the top players ever from Manitoba. While some of the names are obvious, like Jonathan Toews, Bobby Clarke, Terry Sawchuk, and Andy Bathgate, it's the lesser-known names that you will come away with a newfound knowledge and appreciation of all their accomplishments.
Just before heading off to another curling bonspiel, this one in Brandon, Manitoba, where he planned to drop in on former Canadian national team player and NHLer (and fellow SIHR member) Morris Mott, Dilello offered up a name that made his list unexpectedly: Defenceman Gord Lane (#49 on the list), who played in the NHL from 1975-1985, first with the Washington Capitals, but was then a part of the championship New York Islanders teams.
“Gord Lane is one that wasn't on my radar at first, but later got recommended to the list,” explained Dilello. “It's a perfect example of this book trying to include all sorts of players, because Gord obviously wasn't a scorer and wasn't all that great of a skater either some would say, but he was a role player on a dynasty team. He brought a physical presence every night to the Islanders and he hasn't been forgotten by his peers.”
While Lane is someone who ended up on the list somewhat unplanned, Frank Fredrickson was a player who jumped up the list. “He was initially slotted around #15, but ended up shooting up to #5,” said Dilello. Fredrickson is in the Hockey Hall of Fame (Class of 1958) for a reason, winning both Olympic gold and a Stanley Cup, as well as serving his country during the First World War; Fredrickson played in the NHL, including on that first Detroit Cougars squad, and later acted as player-coach in Pittsburgh.
“I was aware of the Winnipeg Falcons and their exploits of course before writing the book, but as I dug deeper into Frank himself, I learned so much about his accomplishments after he turned pro, which made it a no-brainer to bump him up.”
It isn't easy to compare the exploits of Fredrickson to Toews, though. “This was, of course, perhaps the biggest challenge with the book was trying to compare players from different eras. I did the best I could, but it is extremely tough trying to rank different accomplishments these players had. Comparing Jonathan Toews who has World Juniors and Olympic golds under his belt with Bobby Clarke who played in an era when NHL players didn't play the Olympics was tough. Clarke got the edge, but I understand that arguments can be made either way and I guess that's part of the fun with the book.”
By the time he's done his hockey career, Toews (#3) may be up the list a little further, passing Clarke (#2) and Terry Sawchuk (#1). Dilello considered other current Manitoba-born players in the NHL who might one day make the list. “Travis Zajac has had a pretty good career so he'd likely make the cut after he retires. We'll see about Nolan Patrick.... but my for sure pick would be Mark Stone to make a future Manitoba Top 50 list. He's going to be a consistent scorer for a long time in today's NHL.”
To compile the list, the 24-year-old Dilello set out to get many different opinions, even if he might have some of his own. “I tried not to show any bias when making this list,” he said. “That's why I consulted with so many people (writers, historians, players, teammates, etc) to try to make the list as accurate as possible.”
Dropping names is hard. “One of the things I felt bad about with my Golden Boys book is that I left a lot of really good hockey players off the list. There were just so many to choose from. In all honesty there were probably 20 players or so that could have been ranked anywhere from 41-50 on the list so some tough decisions had to be made.”
Dilello got to interview just about everyone he needed to who's still around, and dreams of going back in time to talk to some of the legends of the past. “Terry Sawchuk and Chuck Gardiner are my two biggest sports heroes so I would have loved the chance to talk to each of them,” he said.
Golden Boys got some media attention when it launched in November 2017, and at the book launch, Ab McDonald (#29 on the list) was there to make a speech and sign copies.
It was a different experience for Dilello, who wrote three other self-published books (two editions of Hockey Hotbeds and Mr. Zero: The Frank Brimsek Story), and has a few freelance writing gigs. “This is my fourth book, but the first with an actual publisher so things were run a little differently but I'm happy with the work Great Plains has done in making Golden Boys a success,” he said.
When the curling schedule allows, what's next for Dilello?
“I'm doing a project right now that involves writing biographies on every player from Manitoba that played a game in the NHL,” he revealed. “We will see if this turns out to become a book, maybe something like a complete Manitoba hockey history, some 1000+ page almanac full of photos and what not. Vince Leah did something like this in 1975 so it would be nice to do an updated version of it.”
LATVIA'S OVERLOOKED, RICH EARLY HOCKEY HISTORY
Andris Zelenkovs saw a void to be filled in the world of hockey history and dove in to a project that created a mountain where there once a hole.
Introducing Latvijas Hokeja Izlase. Sakums. 1932–1940, or in English, The Latvian National Hockey Team. The Beginning. 1932–1940.
Written in Latvian, it details the early days of hockey in the country that rests in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, so doesn't include the few Latvian names familiar to recent hockey fans, such as goaltender Artus Irbe and defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh.
Zelenkovs outlines the book on the website (http://hokeja-vesture.simplesite.com/437525835) where the book is for sale: “A detailed story about the beginning of the Latvian hockey on its course from the first games in 1932 till the occupation of Latvia in 1940; about Latvian hockey pioneers and masters; about fate of players, coaches and managers during the WWII and later.”
In an email from Latvia, the SIHR member shared how the project came about. “The period of Latvian ice hockey history until the Second World War has been very little studied. The lack of information about the Latvian national ice hockey team in the 1930s was the main reason for launching this study,” said Zelenkovs.
It's self-published under Zelenkovs' own company, 27 media, and comes in at a whopping 814 pages, including 337 black and white images.
Latvijas Hokeja Izlase. Sakums took three years. “During these years the material grew and became more colorful. Many interesting documents and unique photos were found in archives, museums and private collections,” recalled Zelenkovs. “They made the narrative more detailed and richly illustrated. This made it possible to move completely to the 1930s and to see the games of that time with almost their own eyes.”
The 41-year-old Zelenkovs came out in awe of all that he learned. “It was surprising how rich the ice hockey life was before the World War II. Anyway it was not a hockey stone age, but rather a dynamic development and improvement. At that time, strong foundations were put in place to make hockey in Latvia one of the leading sports. Thanks to Latvian hockey players the 1930s, this sport has taken roots in our country, and there have been several generations of great hockey players.”
To build his beast of a book, Zelenkovs talked to many people, including the children and grandchildren of players from that era, as well as referees and management in different parts of the world – Australia, Canada, USA, Latvia, New Zealand, Germany, and more.
In short, it was a real team effort. “All of them responded to many questions of mine, sent photos. Also, hockey history researchers in various countries willingly shared information and photo collections. I am very grateful for this. Even after the book was issued, I received positive feedback. This, of course, gives the greatest satisfaction.”
Zelenkovs, who is a public relations consultant by day with 27 media, is considering what's next.
“It would be interesting to see what happened with hockey in Latvia during the Second World War or to get to know what the ice hockey players were doing during the war,” he mused. “I found that it is also very interesting time in the 1920s, when the bandy transformed to a hockey game. There are many white spots in hockey's and sport's history of Latvia what would have to be discovered.”
For more on Latvijas Hokeja Izlase. Sakums. 1932–1940, including how to order the book outside of Latvia, see the website, and Zelenkovs also has a cute book promo up on YouTube:
Back in December 2017, I interviewed Eric Zweig about his Original Six books aimed at grade-school students. Well, the grade-school student in my house, Quinn, did up a video review of the books. Enjoy the “Other Oliver.”
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