While most hockey books tend to be either player biographies, or serious historical reviews of the NHL , or indeed those which examine the current state of the game, once in a while a book will be published which will look at the lighter side of professional hockey. Published when the NHL was celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the Stanley Cup, Slapshots is an off-beat, hilarious look at some of hockey's best and worst during that time frame.
Reading this book, not much bigger than the circumference of a hockey puck, one almost gets the feeling that the author compiled these lists whilst sitting in his favourite sports bar, talking hockey with his buddies, given it's irreverent flavour at times. Some of the "best of" categories are of the type one would expect in such a compilation: best offensive player of the 90s (Pavel Bure); best all-time teams (with the 1976-79 Montreal Canadiens nudging out such notables as the '84-'90 Edmonton Oilers, the '56-'60 Canadiens, and the '49-'55 Detroit Red Wings); greatest player (Gordie Howe) and the best international hockey moment (Paul Henderson's series-winning goal in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series).
However, it's not necessarily a good thing to be listed under the "best of" category in this book! There are those dubious honours as "Best Kidnapping", where Bobby Orr and several of his Bruins teammates spririted an injured Phil Esposito out of a Boston hospital where Espo was recovering from knee surgery to a local Boston pub for the season-ending party. Then there is "Best Whiner" (Esposito again), "Best Lover" (Guy Lafleur's awkward attempts to woo his future wife); "Best Spy" (Frank Mahovlich's paranoid search of his Moscow hotel room for listening devices during the 1972 Summit series); and "Best Con Men" (former NHL president John Ziegler and former NHLPA president Alan Eagleson).
Ironically, the best part of the book is the "worst of" categories, some of which show just how human hockey players are. "Worst in Mirrors" goes to old time Canadiens forward Claude Provost, who was dubbed "Ol' Ling-Cod face". "Worst Swingers in the 90s" goes to the fabulous Bure Brothers, whom the author compares to the Czech Brothers of Saturday Night Live fame ("two wild and crazy guys!"). "Worst Complaint" goes to Bruins forward Wayne Cashman, who dealt with the 1975 news his buddy and teammate Phil Esposito was traded to the Rangers by trashing his hotel room, throwing his TV set out the window into the parking lot, then stiffing Bruins management with both the repair bill and a room service bill for 100 sandwiches, which was the coup de grace of spite. And "Worst Air Freshener" goes to the time honoured Detroit playoff tradition of firing octopi onto the ice.
Believe it or not, the book also has it's serious moments in the "Worst of" categories. 'Worst Landlord" describes the sad state of the Toronto Maple Leafs during Harold Ballard's tenure as owner. "Worst Cut" describes the night an opponent's skate blade carved Leafs blueliner Borje Salming for 250 (!) stitches. "Worst Disappointment" best describes the Boston Bruins of the early 1970s, whom Cole believes could've been a dynasty in it's own right if the players had spent less time partying and more time focussing on winning the Cup. "Worst Nick" describes the night Buffalo goaltender Clint Malarchuk nearly died when his jugular vein was nicked by a skate-blade. "Worst Negotiator" takes the great Gordie Howe to task for his naive approach to contract negotiations with then-GM Jack Adams (he only asked for raises of $1000.00 per year, believing he was the best-paid player in the game, which he wasn't). "Worst Revolutionary" notes Alan Eagleson's rise to head the NHLPA, and the consequences it would have for years on the players.
All in all, Cole's book is informative, entertaining and, more often than not, great for a laugh. Given all the seriousness of the issues currently plaguing the NHL, it's refreshing to pick up a book like Slapshots to lighten the mood and put things into perspective.