If there's one thing that I've learned in my limited time as a hockey blogger, a historian, and a writer, it's that people love anecdotal history. For those unfamiliar with the term, an anecdote is a whimsical or amusing story about someone or something that is, to borrow the Hollywood byline, "based on a true story." Something short, to the point, and funny is bound to catch the eyes of the general public, and rightfully so. Any time people can hear a story about a celebrity or a professional athlete, the closer they feel to the sport and the more human their idols become. It's part of the reason why Twitter has been outstanding for reminding us that our heroes are just like us.
Getting back to hockey books, I find the best ones are often bits of anecdotal history. Obviously Ken Dryden's "The Game" remains an absolute must read for hockey fans. It is untouchable in its legacy and its incredibly intelligent language. For now, we'll put Dryden back on the shelf and talk about something more digestible to a more casual crowd.
Several months ago, I was meandering through a used book store looking for one of those thick hardcover books that give a year-by-year breakdown of the NHL. I used to borrow these large volumes from the elementary school library and at 10 had almost memorized every Cup winning team since the NHL's inception in 1917. In my quest to find one of these hockey bibles, even to find a whisper of the publishing company, I stumbled across an unusual paperback book titled "Brian McFarlane's Original Six: The Red Wings." Attracted by the beautiful winged wheel that graced the cover, I picked it up to inspect. My background as a Master of Arts in History was definitely tickled at the idea of a book about the history of my favorite sports team so I spent the generous price of six dollars to bring the book home. Little did I know that what I would find inside would reignite my passion for writing and my thirst for history.
McFarlane collected a series of one or two page anecdotes about the Red Wings, beginning with their creation in the 1930s, the glory of the first twenty years of the team, and even the dreadful 42 year drought where Hockeytown's finest were laughed at by the rest of the league and dubbed the "Dead Things" or the "Dread Wings" for their pitiful performance on ice. I suffered silently through the punishment of forty years of defeat to the Yzerman and Bowman years. Once again I was reminded of the safety center Steve Yzerman and coach Scotty Bowman brought to the team. Finally, Detroit was not only respectable but dangerous among the league's constantly increasing ranks. The glory of 1997 came in the final chapter.
Unfortunately, it was not without more pain. I was reminded, as I was recently by a YouTube clip of his rehabilitation, of the tragic story of Vladimir Konstantinov. As most Detroit Red Wings fans know, on June 13th 1997 Konstantinov, Slava Fetisov, and team masseuse Sergei Mnatsakanov were involved in a brutal traffic collision that left Vladimir seriously injured and Sergei in a coma. Konstantinov's career was over in an instant, with an entire fan nation grieving. McFarlane has a couple of heartwarming stories about Vlad in his book. Here is The brief follow up clip of Konstantinov:
To my delight I discovered the Red Wings were just one of six books included in this series by McFarlane. I have yet to find the other five in the used book store so my search may have to begin on Amazon's website. Still, if you have any interest at all in some of the rich history of the Original Six teams, McFarlane's work is excellent. I wish I could share more about the contents of the book itself but there are a plethora of stories that are best left undiscovered until you get to read them yourself. And don't worry, there's plenty of amazing stories about Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe.