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Paul Logothetis acknowledges that it is a strange time to be promoting a book. He is the author of Toe Blake: Winning Is Everything, just released by ECW Press. Like much of the world, he is confined to home to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“It's bittersweet not being able to go out and see your book on the shelf.,” Logothetis said over the phone from his Montreal home, which has two kids under five keeping life active. “There's the positive, in the sense that people have time ... but at the same time, there's all the negative side of things going on, uncertainty.”
Compounding it for Logothetis is his day job, working in internal communications at a hospital. He's fortunate to be able to work remotely, though it means plenty of conference calls. “It's interesting to be on the inside, but it's pretty hectic.”
A few years back, Logothetis read a discussion about Toe Blake's #6 jersey still not having been retired by the Montreal Canadiens, despite his Hall of Fame career there as both a player and a coach, with 10 Stanley Cup rings. It got him thinking about a biography. Fortunately, he had a personal connection.
When he was younger, the Logothetis family had a country home north of Montreal near Bruce Blake, the youngest of Toe Blake's three children. “I went to the family and just asked them if they'd be interested in me doing it,” he said. Bruce Blake was onboard. “We started sitting down and having interview sessions, and then it took off from there. He provided me with not only stories but a great amount of photos and also other contacts from the family.”
That's the key to Toe Blake: Winning Is Everything. If it had just been about his hockey exploits, as great as they are, it would not have broken much new ground. Instead, we get a deep dive into the life and times of Hector “Toe” Blake.
“It could have been possible but I wouldn't have had the insight that I managed to get without [the family],” said Logothetis. “That for sure was instrumental in helping me understand who Toe was away from the ice, and how much it impacted what he did in his job with the Canadiens.”
In 2017, to mark its centennial, Blake was named one of the greatest 100 players of all time by the NHL. Logothetis wanted to deliver more than just stats and game stories in the book. “That hockey stuff is out there. You go easily go onto newspaper archives and find some of these stories. I was really looking to collate all the more personal stories, to really get a sense of his personality. We know the outside personality, exterior of Toe, we know from what we've read and seen, but we didn't know too much about him, the man, in all honesty from what's out there—there really isn't too much. I really wanted to dig into who he was as a person off the ice.”
There are plenty of ups and downs away from the rink, heartache and problems, death and misery. “That's not all due to Toe, but a lot of it was. He was an absent father, in the sense that he was a full-time coach and he had a tavern and he was a busy man, and just wasn't around much.”
The work ethic that drove Blake was instilled early. Born in 1912 in Victoria Mines, Ontario (now a part of Sudbury), Blake “was a product of the Great Depression” and worked in the mines as a teenager. “I guess it was pretty common back then, he was from the Nickel belt area, but still it was surprising,” said Logothetis.
Blake was equally committed to hockey. “He loved hockey, starting at a really young age, and it permeated his life from that young age until his death, really. Hockey was truly his life,” Logothetis said. “I was surprised at how obsessed he was with hockey, in a sense, and that's what fueled all that success too. That was his end-all, know-all reason for being.”
Toe Blake: Winning Is Everything is Logothetis' first book. The 42-year-old writer spent more than a decade in Europe covering various sports, from F1 racing to soccer to field hockey, for the Associated Press and other publications. “I really banked on my experience as a sportswriter, knowing how to tell a story,” he said, appreciative of the lack of a daily deadline and the ability to “really let it breathe” rather than the basics required for agency writing.
Blake's successful years in Montreal were not the challenge, and the Habs alumni were helpful setting up interviews with those still around; instead Logothetis worked hard finding info on Blake's early years playing in Sudbury, and then Hamilton.
But, in the end, Blake is a Montreal legend. “To me, it's a chance to give hockey fans a piece of hockey history and let them know about that piece of Canadiens franchise that's just so important. Toe is an essential part of the Canadiens legacy and their pedigree.”
Nick Kypreos is working with Perry Lefko on his autobiography, Undrafted: Hockey, Family, and What It Takes To Be a Pro, coming in October 2020 from Simon & Schuster. From the promotional material: “Revealing, fun, and brutally honest, Undrafted shows the challenges of being a pro player. It’s a story of the resilience it takes to prove yourself every night, and how the right attitude can lead to the greatest success, not only in the arena, but in life.”
This is my first column back in two months. No excuses, beyond a few interviews not coming together. I was lazy, and then the world imploded. Best wishes to everyone out there dealing with the changes in our daily lives because of the COVID-19 virus. Books and reading can be a much-needed distraction for our worried minds. Stay safe.
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