Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Review: Dropping the Gloves (2012)
This should have been the starting question when "Dropping the Gloves" was written: Why is Barry Melrose famous in the world of hockey?
There are two big reasons. He was coach of the Los Angeles Kings when they went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993. And, he's been an ESPN hockey commentator for most of the past 17 years.
Surprisingly enough, those portions of Melrose's life are comparatively overlooked. That's a big reason why "Dropping the Gloves" is less than compelling for the most part.
Melrose has a rather typical Canadian hockey success story to tell. He grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, and played hockey when he wasn't helping out. Melrose was one of the lucky ones who got to follow his dream. He went through junior hockey, was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the National Hockey League draft, and bounced around the World Hockey Association and National Hockey League as well as the minors for several years. I covered the NHL during his time there, and I can't say I remember him making any sort of impression as a player.
Melrose followed a similar path when he retired from playing and moved into coaching - junior hockey, American Hockey League, and National Hockey League. The time at ESPN was briefly interrupted by a coaching job in Tampa Bay that didn't work out, but Melrose seems to be in a good spot in broadcasting. He's a bright guy with some insight and personality - I interviewed him once for a story I wrote, and he was friendly and helpful.
The problem here is that the stories for the most part have been told before by others, in a sense. What the authors probably needed to do was to personalize the storyline with anecdotes along the way. You can talk all you want about chemistry in the locker room being a necessary ingredient to success, but a few more vivid examples would have been helpful.
There are a few stories like that. Melrose does go into some detail about coaching Wayne Gretzky. The coach first admits that he was a bit scared of coaching a superstar like Gretzky, but that the two quickly had a meeting of the minds about how the game should be played, and there were no problems from there. Too bad there weren't more anecdotes like that.
Melrose also spends less than a chapter about his time at ESPN. It's been a part of his life for quite a while, so that's surprising. Surely he could have spun a few tales about the personalities there, the way ESPN uses him since the games aren't shown there, etc.
"Dropping the Gloves" isn't a terrible book by any means. Melrose does have some good analysis about the sport, and he shares some thoughts on such subjects as fighting and coaching techniques here. A little tilt in the emphasis of certain areas, though, might have made this more interesting to more people.
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