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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hockey history is deeper than our love affair with the Jets

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The Winnipeg Jets are "fuelled by passion" but they can't get off the tarmac without nostalgia.

The year 2011 has spawned a torrent of fond memories that would require the province to open up the floodway if hockey fans didn't have actual games to grind about.

For every good play by today's Jets there is one even better in the history books to overshadow it; every lacklustre loss inevitably leads to far more woeful tales of dismal teams past.

But Winnipeg's adoration of hockey didn't begin with Bobby Hull or Dale Hawerchuk or Teemu Selanne or even Ondrej Pavelec.

Instead, go way back to the 19th century, and Kenora-based author Richard Brignall transports fans there in Forgotten Heroes: Winnipeg's Hockey Heritage, a loving look back at hockey teams and players long forgotten.

While the Winnipeg Falcons, the 1920 Olympic gold medallists, have received some recent fame due to Canada's success at the Winter Games, Brignall also focuses on the Winnipeg Victorias, who back in 1896 noticed some new silverware in the Montreal Victorias' trophy cabinet and laid down the challenge.

The Winnipeg Victorias' story is symbolic of many Winnipeg battles over the years. The powers of the day, usually from out east, give little regard to these pretenders from such a faraway outpost. The Winnipeggers finally get their shot at glory after the requisite period of snubbing and belittling to show what they've got.

Brignall introduces us to legendary Winnipeggers such as Dan Bain, who would lead the Vics to three Stanley Cups, become one of those who shaped the city during the 20th century and would be an original inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Another hall of famer who shaped society almost as much as he did hockey is the subject of The Lives of Conn Smythe, by Toronto journalist Kelly McParland.

Long before the Toronto Maple Leafs were fattening the bottom line of a pension fund, Smythe ruled the franchise with an iron fist. He turned meddling into an art form and becomes the face of Old Toronto -- Protestant, patriot, loyalist, entrepreneur and hockey titan.

Say what you will about Smythe, but he got results. While McParland's portrait is hardly sympathetic, he doesn't brush aside Smythe's courageous military service.

He flew dogfights and was a prisoner of war during the First World War. In the Second World War he was badly wounded at Normandy at an age when he had no business being near a battlefield.

Smythe is the type of man whom Don Cherry would admire. Hockey Stories Part 2 will satisfy those who love Coach's Corner and infuriate those who are tired of his bombast. And there's bombast aplenty here, whether he's ranting about the number of pardons Canada hands out or the Americanization of the game he loves.

Cherry got in hot water, again, at the beginning of the season when he railed at former NHL enforcers who warned about the psychological troubles of the job.

One of those enforcers, Georges Laraque, is making waves of his own with his own memoir. Jets fans may not care for former Oilers, but Laraque has a story to tell, whether it's about the racism he faced on and off the ice, the fear and anxiety he felt prior to fights or the reaction to his activism, which eventually led to his retirement from hockey.

His much-publicized attempt at becoming a whistleblower on drug use misses the mark, however. He lobs accusations and makes headlines, but when he fails to name names, Laraque's literary haymakers swing wide.

The Lost Dream, by Toronto columnist Steve Simmons, is another hockey book that delves into the seamy side of the sport. He exposes the story of Mike Danton and his agent, David Frost, and it's a frightening account riddled with abuse and exploitation that led to Danton ordering a hit on Frost during the NHL playoffs.

Athletes often will say they'll sacrifice everything to reach their goal, but the Danton story proves such single-mindedness can sometimes lead to terrible consequences.

On a lighter note, Sid vs. Ovie compares the game's two biggest stars, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Toronto author Andrew Podnieks has a great idea, but his book is two years behind the game. Sid and Ovie were 50-goal men a couple of seasons ago and on top of the hockey world. It's been a quick slide down the hill since, thanks to Crosby's concussions and Ovechkin playoff disappointments.

 

Alan Small is an assistant city editor for the Winnipeg Free Press.

 

Book review

Forgotten Heroes: Winnipeg's Hockey Heritage

  • By Richard Brignall
  • J. Gordon Shillingford, 232 pages, $25

 

The Lives of Conn Smythe: From the Battlefield to Maple Leaf Gardens: A Hockey Icon's Story

  • By Kelly McParland
  • Fenn/McClelland & Stewart, 370 pages, $33

 

Georges Laraque: The Story of the NHL's Unlikeliest Tough Guy

  • By Georges Laraque, with Pierre Thibeault
  • Viking Canada, 346 pages, $32

 

Don Cherry Hockey Stories Part 2

  • By Don Cherry, as told to Al Strachan
  • Anchor Canada, 337 pages, $20

 

The Lost Dream: The Story of Mike Danton, David Frost, and a Broken Canadian Family

  • By Steve Simmons
  • Viking Canada, 260 pages, $32

 

Sid vs. Ovie: Natural Born Rivals

  • By Andrew Podnieks
  • McClelland & Stewart, 309 pages, $22

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2011 J10

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