Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: The Goaltenders' Union (2014)

By Greg Oliver & Richard Kamchen

Goaltenders used to be a different species. It takes a certain type of person to be able to stand in front of 18,000 people with the job of not making a mistake. And then, when a mistake is made, those same 18,000 people either cheer with enthusiasm (a goalie's road games) or become emotionally crushed (home games).

Goalies have come up with all sorts of ways to handle that pressure, and some of the methods have been, um, unusual. They developed a reputation for odd behavior along the way. When one of those quirks comes up, hockey people have a funny way of mentioning it. They simply shrug their shoulders and say, "He's a union member."

That has nothing to do with the Players Association. It has everything to do with "The Goaltenders' Union," an informal way of referring to goalies as a strange group.

Greg Oliver and Richard Kamchen wrote a book on hockey goons a while back - that's another interesting subset of the hockey business - and they have returned with "The Goaltenders' Union."

This follows a rather simple formula. There's an introductory chapter on the subject of goaltending that covers a rather wide range of areas, including coaching. The idea of assistant coaches who concentrate on goaltending is relatively new, by the way. Then the book slides mostly into a series of biographies of goaltenders over the years.

Here's where the story turns a little odd. There's not much of a unifying theme about what goaltenders are selected for inclusions here. So, this isn't a book about an arbitrary list of the greatest goalies of all time, or 300-game winners, or whatever. It's just biographies of goalies, one after another, linked mostly by era. I believe there's a reference in the book that the authors talked to about 60 goalies along the way, and that sounds about right.

But what 60? Any goalie that played a decent amount of time might come up, and they do. So there's plenty of information here about players who don't have much historical significance, or who might not have had fascinating experiences along the way. So we hear from, say, Les Binkley and Bob Essensa, and not Curtis Joseph and Mike Vernon.

The authors add a few quotes from other sources, mostly newspapers and books, but those quotes don't provide too much perspective in some cases. The only criticism of the goalies usually comes from the goalie himself, which tends to turn the biographies rather vanilla.

I also noticed a couple of factual errors along the way. I received an early proof of this book, so typos about Jim Lorentz and Joel Quenneville may have been fixed in the printed copy. But saying Dominik Hasek was traded because of a salary crunch with the Sabres is simply wrong; he asked to be traded and tried to pick out a landing spot - finding one in Detroit. That makes it a little easy to worry about the accuracy of other, less familiar portions of the book, although each goalie does receive a quite adequate recap of his career.

Those looking for an overview of the people that have played the position certainly will find it with "The Goaltenders' Union." There are even some good stories about the characters who have filled the job at times. But the lack of some sort of unifying theme and perspective drag this down a couple of notches.

Two stars

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