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Rick Vaive is back in the spotlight with the publication of his autobiography, Catch 22: My Battles, in Hockey and Life, doing the media rounds, talking hockey.
However, in his chat with Two Minutes for Reading so Good, the talk switched a bit to his relationship with Scott Morrison, his co-author on the book from Penguin Random House Canada.
A hockey beat writer and later the editor of the Toronto Sun sports section, Morrison and Vaive go way back.
“Scotty covered us when I played in Toronto, and I knew him back then,” said Vaive. “I trust Scotty, I always have. I've always said that he'd be the only guy that I've ever write a book with, if I do write one day. Then I got to the point where things are great. I'm living down in Niagara Falls now and my boys are doing great. We just had our first grandchild, grandson, almost 16 months ago. And, you know, things are really, really good right now. So I thought, 'Let's do it.' And that was back in October  when we got started.”
Morrison weighed in too.
Post-retirement, Morrison and Vaive would see each other at hockey alumni events, golf tournaments, charity shows. There was talk here and there about a book, but Morrison, who also worked at Hockey Night in Canada and Sportsnet, knew it was all Vaive's hands.
“I left it with him to figure out when the time was right—and to think about it, because as you know, you're kind of baring your soul, and he was quite aware of that, and he wanted it to be honest and not sugarcoat himself or anything else in his world, and tell his story,” said Morrison.
In 2017, Morrison saw the publication of his book, 100 Years, 100 Moments: A Centennial of NHL Hockey, and the publisher was open to other ideas.
Vaive said he was ready and Morrison pitched it. “We met with the editor and publisher and their sales and marketing people and sat in a boardroom for a couple hours one day, just sitting around the table having a conversation about him and hockey,” recalled Morrison. “[Rick] shared a number of the stories that appeared in the book, and they were very enthused that he had a story to tell and a story that people would be interested in reading.”
Catch 22 details Vaive's upbringing in Prince Edward Island, his junior hockey days, his brief stint in Vancouver with the Canucks before being traded to Toronto, where he eventually became captain of the Maple Leafs—until being stripped of it. Later, he played in Chicago and Buffalo, and in the AHL, before trying his hand at coaching.
The hockey talk is all well and good, but's likely that Vaive's honesty when it comes to deeply personal matters, like battles with alcohol, or his fear of flying, that will stick with the reader.
“I didn't want a fluffy thing about everything's great, and life is fantastic and I'm sitting in a castle now because I'm rich. No, because none of that's true,” said Vaive. “I think a lot of people get the idea that guys that play at the highest level, that everything is smooth sailing from the time they're born until you leave the Earth. No, that's not true. We're just like everybody else, we go through problems, we have hurdles to overcome, and I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that that was the case, not just with me, but it's a case with a lot of other players as well. Also, the fact that I overcame those hurdles, hopefully can be an inspiration with someone that if they're in that situation can do the same thing.”
Morrison was a newspaper beat guy, and spent a lot of time around the Leafs, and he learned a lot about Vaive.
“You knew the players liked to go out and have their beers, and you knew they did it after practice, because there's a few places down around the Gardens that, sometimes reporters would go out for lunch afterwards, and see the guys in the corner, or you knew the places that they went to, and then after games for their meals,” said Morrison, noting the 1980s were a far different time than today. “But I never thought that he had a huge problem, though. I know there were times when he got in trouble for probably having one too many getting on a charter and things like that. The nervous flying didn't help him in that regard.”
At a few points in the narrative, Morrison had little choice but to allow Vaive to reference him, like Morrison breaking news of Vaive's trade to Chicago. “I tried to stay away from that, but there's a couple points where it just seemed semi-pertinent, I guess,” mused Morrison. “He alluded to me a couple times, he remembered stuff. It was kind of a little bit odd, but not over the top by any stretch.” (Vaive noted that his wife was key in remembering details of their life, and that his sister helped with information about their upbringing.)
Catch 22 doesn't get bogged down in the goals and assists details of some autobiographies, and moves along at a quick pace. Vaive said he could only recall reading one other hockey autobiography—Clint Malarchuk's book, who he played with in Buffalo. “I was there for a horrific time when he had his throat cut. And then once I started reading it, I didn't realize what he went through at a young age. An alcoholic father and I couldn't put it down. I think I read it in about a day and a half,” recalled Vaive.
From Malarchuk's book, Vaive's takeaway is similar to what the reader will get from Catch 22. “When I read his book, it was kind of like, 'Wow, I guess I'm not the only one.' And that's when I started getting it in my head that, you know, people don't understand the things that we go through. They think life's perfect, because we're NHL players or NBA players or whatever the case might be. That couldn't be furthest thing from the truth,” said Vaive. “At some point, there's always going to be a hurdle in your way at some point in your life, whether it be your career or just your regular life.”
“I really give Rick a lot of credit in this,” concluded Morrison. “It took a lot of guts to say some of the stuff he says in that book. And not just about other people—that's sometimes easy. But it's talking about himself, and admitting his failings.”
Morrison is one that can attest that Vaive has been like that throughout his career. “When he lost the captaincy, he didn't hide, and he didn't sugarcoat it, and he admitted he made a mistake. I mean, deep down—as we wrote in the book—he probably felt that management came down a little too hard, that it could have been handled differently. But, having said that, he faced the music, he faced his teammates, and he faced the media because I was on that road trip when that happened. He didn't go into hiding whatsoever.
“And then in all of his stories, all the way through. He was very candid, and very honest about everything. So I applaud him for doing that. That's not an easy thing to do when you think about your own life, and things that have happened and how willing are you to go public with your story. Good and bad, the good's easy.”
JUNIORS IN PAPER
With the World Junior hockey tournament (fingers crossed) happening in Edmonton in a couple of weeks, Simon & Schuster has released a paperback edition of Mark Spector's Road to Gold: The Untold Story of Canada at the World Juniors. According to the press release, “this edition features a new chapter reliving the amazing final game against Russia in January 2020 that brought the gold medal back to Canada.” I spoke with Mark back when the hardcover came out.
MENTAL ILLNESS AND KEN REID
It's funny how, through the years, you get to know someone a bit in the author world. Sportsnet's Ken Reid and I have shared table space at an event, had shared book launches with ECW Press, and talked a few times for this column. But there he was on the cover of the sports section in the Toronto Star on December 12, 2020, and it was about something we had never talked about—his battles with depression and a general talk about mental illness. I sent him a note, kudos, for going public with his on-going fight. Here is the story by freelancer Peter Mendelsohn, and if you or anyone you know is suffering from depression, there is help out there.
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