Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Review: Hockey Confidential (2014)

By Bob McKenzie

About the biggest complaint anyone could have with Bob McKenzie's new book is the title.

It sounds like it should be a Canadian pulp magazine from the 1930s, full of slightly scandalous stories and material a little south of the truth. In fact, a friend saw the book cover and asked, "Is it full of raw material about the players?"

Well, no. McKenzie tackles the issue of the title right at the start of "Hockey Confidential." He says he didn't have anything better than "A Bunch of Stories Bob Would Like to Tell." That wouldn't sell too many copies.

Come to think of it, maybe it might. McKenzie, who had a long newspaper career before becoming a reporter for Canada's TSN, is actually the most respectable of journalists. He's had to be talked into the social media responsibilities of the business with the odd kick and screams. McKenzie prefers a more leisurely approach at telling stories than revealing facts 140 characters at a time.

Therefore, he feels right at home with the book-sized format. Most of the accounts here have not been covered at great length before, especially in this way, so they feel new and fresh. But the tales take a leisurely, thoughtful approach.

A good example of this comes in the early going. Take it from someone who covers lacrosse for a living, McKenzie is right on target with a profile of John Tavares. If you thought I was talking about the New York Islanders' young star, you'd be right. And if you thought I was talking about the indoor lacrosse legend of the Buffalo Bandits, you'd be right. The lacrosse player is "Uncle John" to the hockey player, and the connection has been well publicized in the lacrosse community. After bios of both, McKenzie sits down with both of them and has them compare notes, if you will. It's a good enough conversation to have been video taped and shown on television somewhere.

Other chapters cover a variety of hockey-related talk. Former NHL player and executive Colin Campbell tells about how he almost drowned when he drove his tractor on to a frozen lake when the machine sank through the ice. Some of those in the information revolution in hockey get their chance at explaining what's going on - to someone who was lucky to get out of high school math. McKenzie watches a youth hockey game with Don Cherry and his son. Connor McDavid, the Next Big Thing in hockey, gets a long look, particularly concerning the pressures that come with that sort of title.

Some of the story subjects branch off the mainstream a bit. There are chapters on a massage therapist, a skating coach, and the lead singer of Canada's top band who is a huge fan of the Boston Bruins. Then there's the Subban family, a most unlikely group that has produced three NHL draft choices - including one of the league's best defensemen.

The chapters were designed to be about the same size at first, but some expanded when necessary. Two - the McDavid saga as well as the story of Sheldon Keefe, a junior hockey coach - both get 45 pages or so each, and they are the longest of the bunch.

Does it help to be Canadian to read this? Maybe a little. For example, the Mike Danton/David Frost story, in which Keefe plays a small role, probably was a much bigger story in Canada than the U.S. But Americans who like hockey, or who merely like a good story, well-told, will find this worthwhile.

I'd like to think that there's still room fora collection of stories like this, and McKenzie is a good choice to come up with them. "Hockey Confidential" is a good way to spend time on a cold winter night waiting for the next hockey game to begin.

Four stars

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