The NHL playoffs start this week, and will continue throughout the spring and into early summer. With hockey on TV every night between now and June, why not pair the nights’ games with some good hockey reads? We’ve matched each round of the postseason with one of the best books on the sport, creating an easy reading list to last you until the Cup is awarded in June.
Quarterfinals: The Game of Our Lives by Peter Gzowski
In 1981, CBC broadcaster and journalist Peter Gzowski followed the Edmonton Oilers for parts of the NHL season, getting an up close look at one of the NHL’s most iconic teams. Gzowski ties the Oilers, who were right on the cusp of success, to the legacy of our national pastime. The Game of Our Lives is a rare peek at Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier before they became international superstars, not to mention an interesting look at what hockey means to Canadians.
Semifinals: The Rebel League by Ed Willies
Between 1972 and 1979, the WHA gave the NHL its first real competition in decades, poaching stars like Bobby Hull and Gerry Cheevers, and placing teams in overlooked markets: Edmonton, Quebec City, and Hartford. The WHA didn’t last long, but it gave us the singular talent of Wayne Gretzky, million-dollar paydays for players, and a wild cast of characters who’d never have fit into the stodgy NHL. By the time the rival leagues merged in 1979, the WHA had pushed hockey into the modern age.
Conference Finals: Searching for Bobby Orr by Stephen Brunt
Opinions on the best player of all time vary, but few make for a better candidate than Bobby Orr. In just 12 injury-plagued seasons, Orr redefined hockey: he was the first defenceman to accumulate 100 points in a season, could out-skate entire teams of opposing players, and scored the most remembered goal in NHL history. Brunt’s book strips away the glory, showing Orr as a tragic figure who suffered catastrophic knee injuries, was ripped off by his agent, and whose career was all but over by age 27.
Stanley Cup Finals: The Game by Ken Dryden
Long considered the best hockey book ever written, and for good reason, Ken Dryden’s memoir of the NHL is the rarest of sports reads: a smart, literate autobiography by someone who wasn’t just there, but able to clearly express the pressures and successes of being an athlete. It helped that Dryden played on the legendary Montreal Canadiens teams of the 1970s, winning six Stanley Cups in nine seasons alongside greats like Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, and coach Scotty Bowman. A must, even if you’re a Leafs fan.
Game Seven, overtime: An Innocent at Rinkside by William Faulkner Got a few minutes as the game goes into overtime? In 1955, the newly-launched Sports Illustrated got Faulkner to cover a regular season game between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers. It’s safe to say he remains the only Nobel prize-winning novelist to cover the NHL.
Update: Some TRB readers have weighed in with their own favourite hockey reads. Send us your picks on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!