Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review: Save by Roy (2014)

By Terry Frei and Adrian Dater

Luck plays a role in the business of books. Example One in this case comes from Denver newspaper columnist Terry Frei and reporter Adrian Dater.

The two men saw that a sleepy Colorado Avalanche franchise had taken a dramatic turn with the hiring of a new coach, legendary goaltender Patrick Roy. The Avalanche also had Joe Sakic, another hockey Hall of Famer, in the front office, and had some good if unproven young players on the roster.

It figured to be an interesting season. Therefore, they decided to make a book out of it. "Save by Roy" is that book.

The luck comes with what happened, particularly at the start. The Avalanche got off to the best start in team history, which was rather unexpected considered it had missed the playoffs the season before. What's more, the team stayed good throughout the season. If you follow hockey, you probably know that the team had one of the great turnarounds in recent history.

Roy turned out to be an inspired choice to be coach. The number of former NHL goalies who have been NHL coaches over the years is a small one. There's Emile Francis, Gerry Cheevers, Eddie Johnston, Glen Hanlon, Ron Low ... there must be someone else around. It's almost like baseball pitchers, who mostly become pitching coaches and rarely move up to become managers. Yet goalies have a good view of the ice at all times, and have to think about offense and defense constantly.

Roy is considered one of the greatest goalies in history, and paid some dues by coaching in junior hockey. Still, he hadn't been an NHL head coach or assistant, so it was a risky choice. Yet it paid off nicely with a great first season.

The majority of the book covers the season, game by game. It doesn't get too bogged down in the play-by-play, sticking to larger trends for the most part and quotes from those involved. Every player on the roster, important or not, receives a short biography. Yet Roy is the star of the show, as he unquestionably has the spotlight much of the time. After an emotional start to the season (understatement), the new coach generally calmed downed and was quite calculating in his public "performances." The authors believe he turned in one of the great coaching performances in memory in this particular season.

The best part of the book comes when Frei and Dater go off on tangents by themselves. There are some good anecdotes about issues that came up during the season, as well as journalism matters in which there often is no easy answer. That's our business, all right. Oh - you'll shake your head when you read about how tough it is to get to your car after covering a Super Bowl. I did say tangents, right?

The obvious question here is whether the book works well enough to appeal to an audience outside of the state of Colorado and certain parts of Quebec (the Roy connection, as he spent part of his playing career in Montreal). That's tough to say. The games do tend to blend together a bit here without much analysis at times, which is only natural in an 82-game season. And the story ends with a playoff whimper, as fans no doubt remember - there's that luck issue again.

Therefore, it's a little difficult for me to give "Save by Roy" more than a three-star rating from this distance. However, at 1,500 miles away, I'm not in the target audience. Colorado hockey fans probably would enjoy reading about the surprising Avalanche, and they would bring some personal knowledge of memorable games to the table. In other words, they will like this book better than the typical after-the-fact, quickly published book on championship seasons that are often produced. Those people will give this another star and are sure to enjoy it.

Three stars

Learn more about this book.

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