Monday, July 19, 2010

BOOKS: By the Numbers by Scott Morrison

If ever there was a more perfect bathroom reader for the hockey fan, I can't imagine it's any book other than Scott Morrison's By the Numbers: From 00 to 99. One of the key numbers is 2007, as in the year it was copyrighted, although I didn't get it until last Christmas.

Why is 2007 important? Well, it has to do with number eight, the number worn by my favourite all-time player, Dick Duff. It was most interesting to open the book, skip past the number 4 worn by Bobby Orr and Jean Beliveau and ignore the end of the book where Wayne Gretzky sat triumphant as the greatest 99 of all time. I wanted to get right to what was most important.

Where on the list of 8-wearers was Duff?

And Duff was the eighth-best 8-wearer of all time. Assuming all-time stopped right there and then in 2007. Cuz, if you slid your finger down a couple of spots, Morrison and his panel of mostly CBC hockey guys listed one Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals tenth. One would think that the first updating of the book might very well move Ovechkin all the way to first amongst the wearers of my favourite number (hey, it was as close to Dick Duff as I was going to get), ahead of Cam Neely of the Boston Bruins.

And I'm all right with that.

The contributor list for this first edition included (in alphabetical order): Cassie Campbell, Don Cherry, Bob Cole, Eric Duhatschek, Elliotte Friedman, Garry Galley, Kelly Hrudey, Jim Hughson, Dick Irvin, Pierre LeBrun, Ron MacLean, Greg Millen, Harry Neale, Scott Oake and Drew Remenda. That's a not-too-shabby list.

The book, itself, is fascinating for its abilities to invoke the names of the long-forgotten. I mean, does anybody other than a die hard Montreal Canadiens' fan (GUILTY!, GUILTY!) know that Guillaume Latendresse is the only 84-wearer in NHL history? Or that ex-Habs Pierre Turgeon and Donald Brashear also once wore 87 (for other teams), otherwise, the exclusive property of the one-time Habs' fan, Sydney Crosby? Yes, Crosby was ranked as the top player of that number of all time. I think THAT's pretty safe.

On the other hand, there are undoubtedly going to be lingering arguments about other numbers for years ... and that's not even including young pups coming along to throw their sticks and gloves into the rink to get ranked. Would YOU rank Nikolai Khabibulin ahead of Zdeno Chara for 53, more or less because The Bhulin Wall took Tampa Bay to an improbable Stanley Cup while Chara has merely been the most fearsome defenceman for most of this past decade? Pssst, they ranked Derek Morris ahead of Chara too. REALLY!!!

The number 31, traditionally a goalie's number, has Grant Fuhr ranked ahead of Billy Smith, Curtis Joseph and Eddie Giacomin. Interesting. Back one number to 30 and we see Martin Brodeur ahead of Terry Sawchuk and Bernie Parent. Hmmmm. As for the ultimate goalie number, number 1, Sawchuck gets top billing over Jacques Plante, Georges Vezina, Glenn Hall, Johnny Bower, Parent, Gump Worsley, Goerge Hainsworth, Turk Broda and Giacomin. Surely there has to be a bar fight in those names somewhere.

I could go on and on. And I did, a couple of pages at time. Took awhile, but I finally got through to 99 where Gretzky was a no-brainer over Wilf Paiement and Rick Dudley. There were three others who wore the number, Leo Bourgault, Desse Roche and Joe Lamb. But you'd have to be a Montreal Canadiens fan of some standing to know those names these days.

Did I mention I'm a Habs' fan?

IF you are any sort of hockey fan, even one who follows the lowly Leafs of Toronto, this is a great gift to give or get.

NOTE: And just to be above-board, Scott and I got waaaaaay back to our beginnings as sports reporters, he with the Sun, me with Guardian, both of us covering high school sports. He is a good guy and I couldn't be happier this book did so well.

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