With hockey on hiatus, three books to help pass the time
Well-done histories of high school, Olympic and professional hockey are available for fans stuck with too much time on their hands and no arenas to visit these days.
For hockey fans, the end all came so quickly. One day there were plans being made for playoff games and neutral site tournaments in huge arenas and the Frozen Four in Detroit. And seemingly just minutes later it was all gone.
In an unprecedented era where store shelves can be bare, restaurant and bar owners fight for their business survival and medical professionals brace for a storm that they all know is coming, the loss of a sport is truly minor. But the passion these games create and the distraction they provide for so many is real. And it is all gone, so suddenly.
If you are among the countless masses missing hockey, but blessed with time to kill, there is some rare good news. Three new hockey books have been released in the past few months, offering some enjoyable history and a welcome way to pass some time until skates are tearing up freshly-resurfaced ice sheets once again.
Originally from Eagan, Minn., Dan Myers has followed the Minnesota Wild at home and on the road for the past four seasons as the on-the-scene reporter for Wild.com, and was perfectly positioned to write 100 Things Wild Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, which was published by Triumph Books in late 2019.
The tone is set immediately, with former Wild player and coach Andrew Brunette’s foreword about his years of playing in non-traditional hockey markets in the South, and the passion for the game that prompted him to come to Minnesota and stay for many years. Myers’ book is, as the title implies, made up of 100 easy-to-read chapters covering the basics for fans of this expansion franchise which was announced four years after the Minnesota North Stars left for Dallas, and which started playing in 2000.
In addition to take-outs on several of the key players — on and off the ice — in Wild history, there are behind-the-scenes looks at moments like the original expansion draft, and how the Wild got their first big win not on the ice, but with the fortunate flip of a coin. Also included are chapters about places to see beyond the team’s downtown St. Paul home rink, including college arenas in the region, and advice on what to do and where to go if you follow the Wild on a road trip to places like Winnipeg and Chicago. The paperback book is 228 pages, and retails for $16.95.
In the weeks before the 2020 Minnesota State Hockey Tournament faced off in St. Paul, Twin Cities newspaper writers David La Vaque and L.R. Nelson released the definitive history of the first 75 years of the event known nationwide simply as “the tourney.” Their 288-page paperback book Tourney Time: Stories from the Minnesota Boys’ State Hockey Tournament, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, features a compelling story from each of the first 75 tournaments, starting in 1945 at the old St. Paul Auditorium up to the 2019 tournament at Xcel Energy Center.
If you are a Minnesota high school hockey fan, this coffee table book is a place where one can escape for hours, with in-depth looks at the stories, both the legendary and the untold, from dynasties like Eveleth, St. Paul Johnson, Bloomington Jefferson and Edina and from well-known characters who burst onto the scene and cemented their names in tourney lore.
The 75 years of stories are bracketed by a foreword penned by legendary Roseau brothers Neal, Aaron and Paul Broten, and concludes with several pages of top 10 lists, featuring categories like “best nicknames,” “biggest upsets,” and “best teams that didn’t make the tournament.” With more than seven decades to cover, La Vaque and Nelson have sought out the best stories, not every story. Sorry, a team that went 0-2 in the 1974 tournament did not get a mention. But you will learn, for example, about Burnsville’s Tom Oseicki coaching the program to its first state title in 1985, just a few years after a petition circulated through the community to have him ousted.
Post-1991, when the tournament went to two classes, the book’s stories focus more often on the Class AA side, but there are a few outstanding small-school tales told, like the hard-hitting 2005 Class A title game battle between Warroad and Totino-Grace. The book retails for $29.95.
For Neal Broten and a handful of other Minnesota kids, the state tournament was the first taste of in-the-spotlight hockey that may have prepared them in some small way for the heroics of February 1980. With all of the books, movies and documentaries already produced about the gold medal won by Team USA that year, it is fair to wonder what nugget is left uncovered about coach Herb Brooks and his 20 college boys that shocked the sports world.
Enter long-time Minnesota hockey writer John Gilbert and his book, Miracle in Lake Placid: The Greatest Hockey Story Ever Told, from Skyhorse Publishing. Gilbert was on the scene in Lake Placid in 1980, with never-before-published stories based on reams of his hand-written notes. But the writer did not just arrive in Upstate New York assigned to cover Olympic hockey, as so many others had done. In 1979 and earlier, he had been the beat writer for the University of Minnesota teams that Brooks coached to a trio of NCAA titles, and had developed a level of friendship and trust with the coach that was likely unprecedented.
The well-told stories of games in Lake Placid, up to and past the “Miracle on Ice” win over the mighty professionals from the Soviet Union, are excellent. But Gilbert’s lead-up to the games, including the detail of Brooks’ methods and tactics in picking the team at an intense summer training camp in Colorado are the stories that make this book a worthy inclusion alongside the movies and documentaries that have covered so many angles.
The book features an interesting “where are they now” update on the players and other characters at the end. The hardcover is 155 pages and retails for $24.95.