Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review: The Best Seat in the House (2012)

By Jamie McLennan and Ian Mendes

Consider yourself a good-size hockey fan if you remember Jamie McLennan.

He was a classic backup goalie in the 1990s and 2000s. McLennan never was a full-time starter in the NHL, although he had some decent years in spot duty and had a lifetime goals-against average of 2.68. That job description implies some time in the minor leagues, and sure enough, he did that too.

Guys like McLennan usually don't get to write books. Yet here we have "The Best Seat in the House," a breezy and easy look back at his life in hockey.

McLennan was drafted by the Islanders, and bounced to the Blues, Wild, Flames, Rangers, Panthers and Flames again during his NHL days. Maybe the publisher figured that McLennan made enough friends in those NHL cities to make the finances work. More likely, McLennan was a good-natured fun loving guy who had some stories to tell, and he gets to go through them here. Ian Mendes, a television and print journalist, helped out with the details.

McLennan goes through his junior days in the opening chapter, and then sails through the rest of his career by covering a few different obvious categories. You can probably guess them - teammates, coaches, locker-room tales, on-ice events. There are even a couple of celebrity encounters involved.

This being hockey, with a certain "boys will be boys" philosophy that comes up every so often, the stories can turn silly. Like the time that McLennan convinced a Montreal cab driver to let him drive for a few minutes. McLennan decided he wouldn't mind trying to drive on the sidewalk for a little while, no matter how dangerous it seems in hindsights. There are stories about Rhett Warrener slashing down a dinner table in his underwear, and about Billy Smith wanted McLennan to protect the crease from everyone, including the mascot. It turns out McLennan wasn't above sneaking a little food in his little uniform when he didn't think he would be playing.

But there are a couple of serious stories along the way too. McLennan came down with meningitis once summer, and potentially came within an hour of dying but was saved by some good work from a hospital doctor. He still is disappointed in himself that he was thrown out of the last game of his NHL career. And the book is dedicated to his best friend, who died at the age of 36. The proceeds of the book are going to Dale Masson's family, which is a very nice gesture and probably got the whole idea of a book started.

The story goes by pretty quickly, a couple of days' worth of reading, and a few of McLennan's teams hardly get mentioned. It's also curious that, according to hockey-reference.com, McLennan played in the United Kingdom and Japan once his NHL days were over, but they don't come up in the book. However, what is labeled as a six-week stint for a KHL team in Russia gets a few pages, although the same reference source doesn't have him playing a single game over there.

But let's not get too critical here. No one expects "The Best Seat in the House" to be deep literature. Hockey fans will find some entertainment value as they laugh along with someone who kept his sense of humor in a career that demanded one. And that's fine.

Three stars

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