Thursday, February 19, 2009

BOOKS: Review- McCown's Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments

I have finished my most recent 'Reading Room' book, McCown's Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments by Bob McCown and Dave Naylor, and I have an arguement to make. I don't think I got 100 individual arguements, even counting the extras in the revised paperback edition.

That's the problem with setting out to do some mystical number of anything. There are occasions where you just have to stop and say, The 87 Greatest Hockey Arguements. Afterall, there's nothing wrong with having a whole bunch of well-thought out arguements and deciding which side is best. Re-phrasing and re-stating arguements dealing with fighting and violence in hockey at least a half-dozen ways takes away a bit. But, since I'm in agreement with McCown on the fighting issue, it's more like singing to the choir than it's like being told untruths time and time again. He rails on Gary Bettman a bit too much. And some of his lists really peter out before they get to the fifth entry.

That said, this book makes for fine dipping and reading. Perfect for the reading room. And McCown and Naylor make very compelling debate for a vast majority of their arguements to some of the most contentious issues pertaining to the sport of hockey. I disagree with McCown on some. For example, the shootout. On the other, we agree somewhat on Eric Lindros. I'm not a fan of Eric Lindros the person (more his family, but you are known by the company you keep). But I do think he's a Hall of Famer and was THE most valuable player for a lot longer than most people remember. What Lindros did with his hulking presence, was make surrounding teammates braver and better. He combined that with his own bulldozer-level playing abilities to become, I believe, the most terrifying force in the league for five, maybe six years. Sure, Scott Stevens ended that reign of terror. Until that hit, I would have taken Lindros first in any expansion draft he might have been made available for.

On the other hand, I come completely down on McCown's side on who the greatest hockey player was during our lifetime (I'm in my early 50's). The answer is Bobby Orr. I saw Orr starting when he was a junior when he was 17 and watched his whole career unfold. I didn't see ALL of his games, but I saw what was available. As good as Orr's stats and highlight reels were, due to injury, selflessness or just plain boredom on occasion, Orr didn't rack up the numbers he COULD have. Don't judge Orr by the numbers, try to watch full games on any of the classic channels that show NHL games. Try to watch Orr and see if he does anything wrong. Other than getting caught, famously, with his head down a couple of times, you won't find anything. He was technically perfect as well as achieving a level of artistry that only one player can match.

That man, of course, is Wayne Gretzky. I first saw Gretzky play as a nine-year old. Of that, I am sure. I might have caught him as an eight-year old at the Brampton Lions Atom Hockey Tournament, a yearly spring staple here in my home town. Gretzky first played in the event, I believe, as a six year old with the Brantford Steelers. I then watched Gretzky periodically through the rest of his minor days until he started playing Junior B with the Toronto Nats. Then, I saw plenty of him, as he personally sidelined the Bramalea Blues' all-Ontario championship hopes two years running. I distinctly remember a game that first year, when the stated goal by a half-dozen Blues was to "knock that little $#(*$)(* out of the game." Three goals and five points later, we grudgingly admitted the little stick-thin kid was tougher than he looked and REALLY, REALLY hard to hit. Waaaay good too. A LOT of players over the years came to the same conclusion. Gretzky was a dominant offensive force, every bit the artist Orr was from the blue-line in. He wasn't a horrible defensive player, mainly because HE had the puck most of the time. But it is in the defensive zone that the decision is made to support Orr's nomination as the greatest ever.

Any book that can start an internal debate, as this one does, has to be a recommended read. Just don't get too upset by the misleading title.

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