CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 8 . . . . December 15, 2000
Though he was a dynamic player and a natural-born leader, there were many who thought Bobby Clarke would never be able to play in the NHL. Bobby had been diagnosed with diabetes at 15 years old and needed daily insulin injections.Although the title, Tough Guys of Hockey, suggests that the book's contents might focus on the game's "enforcers," the "physical" players who engage in fights to protect their teams' star players or to motivate their teams to play better, Romanuk, a well-known TV sportscaster, has, in fact, profiled 16 individuals who had to overcome some type of obstacle in order to become and/or remain part of the National Hockey League. And despite the title, one of the "guys" is a "gal," goalie Manon Rheume. Organized alphabetically from Bob Baun to Peter Stasny, with Theoren Fleury as the cover player, the book's 15 pairs of glossy facing pages offer one page of text and a second in the form of a full-colour action photograph of the profiled person. The readable text offers the reason(s) why the person was included and includes direct quotes from the individual, teammates and/or coaches. Basic biographical/playing data is captured in a small box.
"Tough" finds various definitions in the book. In some cases, the people were NHL "firsts" who often had to overcome various forms of prejudice: Ted Nolan (first aboriginal coach); Willie O'Ree (first Black); Jacques Plante (first goalie to wear a mask); Manon Rheume (first female); Borje Salming (first European). Other players had to triumph over physical injuries or illnesses in order to make or stay in the NHL: Dino Ciccarelli (badly broken leg); Bobby Clarke (diabetes); John Cullen, Mario Lemieux, and Grant Marshall (cancer). In other instances, players needed to have mental toughness to overcome the odds of their ever playing in the NHL: Theoren Fleury (small stature) and Brian Skrudland (not drafted while in junior hockey). In three cases, toughness was time limited: Bobby Baun's playing the last two games of the 1964 Stanley Cup finals with a broken leg; Paul Henderson's scoring the winning goals in the final three games of the 1972 Russia-Canada series; and Peter Stasny's escaping communist Czechoslovakia to play in the NHL.
The only player whose presence in the book seems questionable is Paul Kariya, Captain of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and one of the game's current stars. While Romanuk tries to make the argument that "Paul Kariya is on the small side," at 1.80 m (5'11") tall and weighing 82 kg (180 lbs), he is a giant in comparison to other players such as Fleury, for example. Perhaps Kariya's true "toughness" is found in Romanuk's assessment: "Throughout his dazzling career, Paul has remained down to earth." In the world of professional sports where superstars command multi million dollar annual contracts, perhaps you have to be tough not to have an inflated ego.
As very few of the book's subjects are still active NHLers, Tough Guys of Hockey may appeal more to die-hard hockey fans though its slim format and illustrated, non-demanding text should attract reluctant or poor readers.
A hockey fan, Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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