Stephen Brunt is one of my all-time favorite sportswriters, and has been for years. I always loved his columns in the Globe & Mail, enjoyed Searching for Bobby Orr very much. He’s a very skilled writer and very smart, able to weave in wider social and cultural context to writing about sports.
This book is no different. He discusses the events leading up to the Gretzky trade. At this point, there aren’t really any revelations — I think anyone who has paid attention to hockey since 1988 knows that Gretzky was sold to LA because Peter Pocklington was having money problems. The PR line at the time, that Gretzky asked to be traded to the Kings so his new wife could continue her acting career, was discredited soon afterwards. But Brunt’s perspective on the trade is still welcome and fresh, because he does provide a lot of background information on what went on from people involved, like Bruce McNall, or Peter Pocklington’s PR man.
And he goes beyond just a retelling of the trade itself into looking at what it meant in terms of the direction the NHL took post-1988, what it meant in terms of how Canadians viewed hockey and the NHL, and so on. There’s some really insightful writing in here about the meaning of sports in contemporary culture. He also explores the unraveling of the fortunes of both Bruce McNall and Peter Pocklington in more depth than I’d personally read before.
Brunt’s pretty cynical about the post-Gretzky NHL and American expansion in general. I suppose that leaves a bit of a sour note for me, just given that he implicitly at least would deny my favorite team the right to exist. Although his wider point about the illusory nature of NHL expansion in the U.S. is taken.
The chapters at the end about Gretzky’s role in Phoenix do seem a bit rushed and not as artful as the rest of the book. But I’d highly recommend this to any sports fan as an essential work in understanding the contemporary NHL and how it came to be as it is circa 2009-10.
Unlike many hockey books originating in Canada, this one seems to be pretty widely available in the U.S. I picked up my copy at the Borders on Kenny Rd.
Another hockey book I’ve been wanting to read turned up today the the Barnes & Noble/OSU Bookstore, where I was ostensibly shopping for a gift for our holiday exchange at work, but instead came home with Bob McKenzie’s Hockey Dad for myself. This one is of course of above-average interest for me, since Bob’s son Mike plays for St. Lawrence. As I believe I’ve noted here before, I’ve seen the senior McKenzie in the stands at some Saints games, and, memorably, in the corridor at the University Inn first thing in the morning, the last time I was up in Canton. Looking forward to reading this one.