Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: Team Canada 1972 (2012)

As told by the players with Andrew Podnieks

It's easy to think that Americans aren't exactly the target audience for this book.

"Team Canada 1972" takes a look back at the Summit Series, the now-legendary hockey matchup between Canada and the Soviet Union. Spoiler alert; Canada wins in the final moments of Game Eight.

It's easy to guess that much of Northern Ontario is missing some forests because of the paper needed to print all of the books that have been written about the series over the past 40 years. This is another one, obviously, published for the anniversary.

It's difficult to know the business side of the book from this side of the border. It's called "the official 40th anniversary celebration of the Summit Series,"  and has a special logo designed for the occasion. There's no obvious benefactor, though.

The format for the coffee-table book is rather simple. Andrew Podnieks, who has a long list of books to his credit, talked to everyone involved with Team Canada that he could. (Sadly, there have been a few deaths over the years.) That includes coach Harry Sinden and the young players who came along to be the hockey equivalent of tackling dummies in practices (for example, John Van Boxmeer, fresh out of junior). The missing people do get short biographies, sometimes based on old interviews.

OK, so how is the book? It's good looking for starters. The photos are used to good effect, with each player getting a full-color portrait from the time. Each player gets a couple of pages to tell his story, and there are brief descriptions of each of the games as well as other background information. There also are five appendixes, which might be a record, with statistics.

You'd expect all of that, and it's there. Still, the idea has to rise or fall with the players' comments, and after a while the stories become similar or redundant. Every potential player received a relatively late phone call with an invitation to join the team, thus interrupting his time at a hockey school. The memories of the games don't offer many surprises -- the team was surprised by the Soviets, it took a while to get in shape and come together as a team, Moscow was awful, etc. This might be a sign of reading too many books on the series, but I would guess Canadian hockey fans might have a similar reaction.

There were a few exceptions here. The comments by some of the lesser players, including those who went home early because of a lack of playing time, come off as fresh. Not unexpectedly, the most insight comes from Ken Dryden. His take on the reason for Canada's comeback is that Canadian hockey players played games, and plenty of them, and thus had much to draw on during difficult situations. The Soviets, meanwhile, practiced more than they played, and while that produced skilled players, it wasn't as helpful in such a pressure-packed series.

(By the way, I know this is designed for a Canadian audience. But it would have been fun to have all of the Soviet players give their stories as well somehow.)

At $45, this is a rather expensive volume. "Team Canada 1972" probably isn't the one book to read if you have to pick only one of the many to find out what happened in that memorable series, but it does add a bit to the overall story and looks good while doing it. Those who still tear up at Paul Henderson's goal ought to like it.

Three stars

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