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Being a good hockey guy and all, Bob McKenzie was happy to come through with an assist. Following the success of the first edition of Everyday Hockey Heroes, published by Simon & Schuster in 2018, he got a call from celebrated broadcaster Peter Mansbridge, who had been asked to do a similar project by S&S, Extraordinary Canadians.
“When Simon & Schuster went to him with the idea, he called me and we chatted,” said McKenzie over the phone from his Toronto home. “I told him that my experience with Simon & Schuster was terrific, and that the whole process was fantastic.” With Extraordinary Canadians (co-written with Mark Bulgutch) sitting atop the bestseller lists in Canada, McKenzie's pep talk obviously helped.
His own sequel, Everyday Hockey Heroes, Volume II: More Inspiring Stories About Our Great Game, written with Jim Lang, is doing pretty darn good too, consistently in the Top 10.
It's all about teamwork, said McKenzie.
The key to it all is editor/editorial director Sarah St. Pierre (which Lang also stressed when we talked about the first edition). She has been behind most of the similar books from Simon & Schuster, starting with the military-themed Everyday Heroes, though it's veteran Jody Mitic's name on the cover.
“She's unbelievable, she does a great job. I view her as the soul and the conscience of the book because the same principles that they use on that Everyday Heroes book on the wartime stories is being applied here against the backdrop of hockey,” said McKenzie. “She really gets that, and as a result, she knows what stories resonate and how the whole thing should be rolled out.”
St. Pierre, Lang, and McKenzie essentially knew there would be a sequel after the first one did so well in the fall of 2018. So they all started gathering ideas for this go-round, and sat down in a board room in August 2019 to discuss possibilities. “You start investigating and see who's interested who's not or whatever. And away you go,” McKenzie said.
Lang is the primary interviewer, and is tasked with writing each piece in the first-person perspective—“the individual's voice” is what McKenzie calls it.
McKenzie is one of those individuals, and he shares his own story of growing up in Scarborough, which is Toronto's east end, revisiting two hockey teammates who stood out, as they were black in a very white sport. He skillfully interweaves the interesting life stories of Terry Mercury and Lindbergh Gonsalves with his own. While it was fascinating learning how both stayed involved with sport and hockey, my own personal takeaway was that McKenzie's mother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis as my own mother did.
“The real payoff is that people pull something out of a chapter—like you did—so something where you and I had a shared experience, you saw that, and it immediately struck you,” he said. “I think everybody in life, especially when you read a book like this, that's kind of what you're looking for. So maybe there's a transgender person out there that's feeling scared and alone, and out in the margins, and read Jessica Platt's story, and it's like, 'Wow, that's really inspiring. And she came out on the right side of things, maybe I'll come out on the right side of things.'
“Or maybe it'll be a young black player who's playing the game as a person of color ... who feels there is racial injustice and discrimination, and they'll read Terry Mercury's, or Lindbergh Gonsalves' story, and say, 'Oh, okay, I'm not the only one going through this.'”
Readers of Everyday Hockey Heroes, Volume II will find many differing subjects. “There's something in there for everybody. We tried to make sure there was a wide cross section of people and demographics,” said McKenzie. “You can't tick off every box in terms of the various aspects of culture, society, but you want as many and varied as possible, so there is maybe inspiration in the pages.”
The social unrest of the past year, the sports world pausing, first with COVID-19, and then to mark Black Lives Matter, resonated with McKenzie. He's come to recognize that his spot atop the hockey world, as probably the leading insider in the game, is a gift.
“I've been up to my eyeballs in hockey culture from the time I was born. And for me, it was already a really positive experience, and obviously so. I'm white, male. I've gotten nothing but every ounce you can possibly get in terms of the career that I've had. I've had no real hardship, so I understand the privilege that I've had,” he began.
Though he hears people say, “Everything's great in hockey culture,” that isn't true.
“I know everything's not great in hockey culture, but it was great for me. That doesn't mean it's great. What I'm hoping too is that there's going to be a whole bunch of people who haven't really given the time to think about what it's like to be black in a white sport or LGBTQ or have a physical disability or whatever the case may be.”
And therefore, he knows there will be chapters that will make some people uncomfortable.
“The book won't be everybody's cup of tea, because there are some people that lead a pretty narrow life, and they don't want to hear about people that are different. And I understand that, but I'd like to change that,” he said. “Sometimes people are just blissfully ignorant, and maybe just a little bit unaware.”
The hope is that reading about Emilie Castonguay's role as an agent, or Joey Gale's promoting of Pride Tape, might open some minds—“If some older white male can read some of these chapters and say, ?Oh, life's been easy for me in the hockey world, it hasn't been so easy for everybody else. Maybe I should help to try and make it easier for anybody who isn't just like me.'”
Don't worry, though, for all the trailblazers and those breaking barriers—I particularly enjoyed the piece on Alexandra Mandrycky, an analytics star recently hired by the Seattle Kraken—there are also what McKenzie calls stories of “old-fashioned hockey values.” Those things that we have “put on a pedestal to for years—hard work, sacrifice, determination, commitment, playing through injuries, being a consummate professional and showing up to work every day” still matter too.
As McKenzie prepares for TSN's coverage of the World Junior tournament in Edmonton, in a bubble, without fans, he is asked to consider a third edition of Everyday Hockey Heroes.
“I don't know if we're going to do a volume three, I suspect we may,” he said. “So with that in mind, I've already started to jot down some names and some ideas for volume three.”
RIP BILL FITSELL
There will be plenty of words written about Bill Fitsell, who was one of the founders of the Society for International Hockey Research, after his passing at age 97 on December 3, 2020. The word that springs to my mind when I consider our interactions through the years is “class.” I know I am not the only one to think that. Your bookshelf should include his four hockey books: Hockey's Captains, Colonels and Kings (1987, with Noel Hudson); Hockey's Hub: Three Centuries of Hockey in Kingston (2003, with Mark Potter); How Hockey Happened (2007); and Captain James T. Sutherland: The Grand Old Man of Hockey & The Battle for the Original Hockey Hall of Fame (2012). He also teamed with Michael Dawber on 1994's Fitsell's Guide to the Old Ontario Strand: A Cultural and Historical Companion. Anyone who writes about hockey is indebted to you, Bill. Be sure to read Stephen Smith's piece on Bill on the SIHR website.
RIP MIKE SHALIN
Though he's more associated with baseball, the hockey world needs to take note of the passing of Mike Shalin, who was the Boston Red Sox’ official scorer, who died at age 66. (Here is the Boston Globe obituary.) Shalin did a biography on Don Mattingly and worked with Oil Can Boyd his his autobiography, and some kids baseball books, plus 2002's look at Out by a Step: The 100 Best Players Not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. With Red Sox photographer Steve Babineau—who also shot tons of Bruins games— Shalin worked on The Hometown Team: Four Decades of Boston Red Sox Photography. On the ice, there's Gilles Villemure's Tales from the Ranger Locker Room (two versions, one from 2002 and one from 2016), and Ray Bourque: Bruins Legend.
CATCH VAIVE & MORRISON
Next week, I will have my interview with Rick Vaive and Scott Morrison. However, if you act fast, there is a virtual Indigo event on Tuesday, December 8, 2020, at 7 p.m. with the two, who collaborated on Catch 22: My Battles, in Hockey and Life. Here is the link to register.
KUDOS TO ROBSON
The Ontario Historical Society gave the 2019 Donald Grant Creighton Award to Dan Robson for his book, Bower: A Legendary Life, published by HarperCollins Canada, about the late, great Johnny Bower. The award honours the best book of biography or autobiography highlighting life in Ontario, past or present, published in the past three years. Here's my chat with Robson about the book back in November 2018, and the video of Robson accepting the award:
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