10 Images from My Hockey Life

It’s one of those things I usually ignore. Facebook “challenges” to copy something, or list this, that or the other. But, this one intrigued me. The challenge was to post an image a day for 10 days — I always used more than one image! — that were memorable or meaningful to my hockey life, with zero explanations. Frankly, as a writer, the explanation is the best part. Based on how few likes and comments these images actually got on Facebook, this may be a waste of time … but, I figured, why not tell the stories? So, here we go.

Many of the images I might have chosen are in family albums at my mother’s condo in Toronto, so I didn’t have access to them here in Owen Sound. Also, my own pictures and albums are among the last things I have yet to get around to unpacking since my move, so I really only had access to images on my phone and computer, or that are accessible online. Still, these tell a pretty good story of my hockey life.

I was only eight years old in September of 1972. I honestly didn’t even know they played hockey in Russia before this series was announced. Of course I bought the hype we’d win the series in eight straight! Given the family I grew up in, I have no doubt I would have become a huge sports fan anyway, but after Paul Henderson’s goal in game eight, there was no doubt! And I must have flipped through Twenty-Seven Days in September a thousand times!

I was a sports fan, and already working as at least a psuedo-sportswriter when I got the idea to write Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada in the summer of 1990. I was unhappy in a job I used to love, and knowing myself and that I would NEVER write a book in my spare time, I quit my job to write this. I was only 26 years old. My father had recently quit dentistry – which he’d always hated – and when I said I wanted to take a year and move up to the cottage and write a book he said, “You won’t have too many more chances to do something like this.” Both my parents were very supportive. It’s no exaggeration to say my whole life changed because of this book. (I included the picture of Frank Patrick because he’s one of the real-life hockey characters in the book … and I love this cartoon!)

The Leafs book (which came out in 1977 when the team was still counting its age from the name change to Maple Leafs in 1927) was my first real introduction to the history of the team. That, and the old pictures that used to line the walls at Maple Leaf Gardens. The newspaper clipping is from after Toronto beat Montreal 9-2 on December 26, 1973. I was there with my brother David. (I think it was the second NHL game for both of us.) We went down together on the subway. I was 10 and he’d just turned 8 the day before. Imagine anyone letting their kids do that today?!?

It was hard to get tickets to see the Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens when I was a kid. So, we went to a lot of Marlies games instead. And when the Toros moved from Varsity to the Gardens, my father got season’s tickets. (I definitely saw the Toros play at Varsity too, but I don’t think we got the tickets until the move.) I saw some amazing things at Toros games… Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield in the stands when they were being wooed for the Toronto Northmen (who became the Memphis Southmen) of the World Football League; Gordie Howe playing with Mark and Marty (I’d seen them all at Marlies games too when Gordie was only watching his kids instead of playing with them); Bobby Hull with the Winnipeg Jets; Jacques Plante with the Edmonton Oilers; and Evel Knievel taking shots at Les Binkley between periods for a segment on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

Brian McFarlane has become a friend over the years I’ve worked in hockey. It’s an honour. This book of his — and his creation of Peter Puck! — is what really introduced me to hockey history. Buffalo Sabres goalie Roger Crozier ran a summer hockey school in Barrie, Ontario, near where our family has a cottage. David, Jonathan and I (along with our cousin Bob) all attended. For David and me in particularly, our first summer there (it was only for a week or two, actually) turned us from beginners with one year’s experience and little idea of what we were doing on the ice into pretty good hockey players. Well, I was pretty good. David was great!

When we went to Marlies games as kids, we usually bought tickets in the greens for $1. In February of 1978, our dad took all three of us to see Wayne Gretzky of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. I remember Gretzky scoring a nice goal … but what I remember most of all was that our father bought us four seats in the golds! It cost $16. That seemed like a fortune! David and I followed Wayne Gretzky very closely after that. I saw him play his first two games against the Leafs at the Gardens in November of 1979 and March of 1980. Gretzky had two goals and four assists in the March game (the Oilers beat the Leafs 8-5) to close in on Marcel Dionne for the NHL scoring lead. It was amazing!

I worked with Dan Diamond & Associates on the NHL Guide & Record Book and many other publications from 1996 to 2018. If I have a “name” at all in hockey, it’s because of my time there. I was brought in during the summer of 1996 because Dan had more projects on the go than they’d ever had before. Writing sidebars for the Hockey Hall of Fame Book was the first work I ever did for Dan. We also did the media guide for the first World Cup of Hockey that summer. I should probably have posted the covers of Total Hockey, which kind of made us all, but these were my first.

Steve Yzerman starred for the Peterborough Petes in his last year of Junior hockey when I was in my first year at Trent University. I never actually saw him play, but I heard his name on the radio all the time and followed him for his whole career because of that. But these images don’t actually have much to do with Yzerman or the Red Wings. My father died in May of 1997. A month later, my brothers and my mother were all at our house with me and Barbara to watch the Red Wings (we have cousins from Detroit) finish off their sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers and win their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

Though I’ve written a couple of novels and a few books for “grown ups” (saying adult books always sounds pornographic or something!), I guess I’ve made much of whatever my reputation is as a children’s author. I can’t complain. (Although I sometimes do!) It’s been a good gig.

It took me 10 years to do the work involving in writing my biography of Art Ross, which came out in 2015. Believe me, it did NOT pay off financially, but the friends that Barbara and I made in the Ross family are worth more than money. It was a book I really wanted to write … and the launch party was a lot of fun. It wasn’t very long ago, but so much has changed since then.

22 thoughts on “10 Images from My Hockey Life

  1. Thanks Eric,

    Great photos and stories. Interesting to read on how supportive your mom and dad were when you took time off to write a book – my dad was a dentist too. Know that you miss Barbara as she was so special. Good luck with your new projects.

    Bill

  2. >Eric,
    Great photo-journalism. Enjoyed the tour.
    So now I know how you got the Wanderers sweater.
    I totally missed your “Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada”.
    Had just been in the beginnings of SIHR and my scope starting to widen.
    Best,
    Glen

  3. Love that you explained the path of your writing legacy, Eric. As much as we think we know a friend, we never know the full story. Most enjoyable.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this, Eric. I loved your comment about you and David travelling to Maple Leaf Gardens by subway, on your own!! Today, your parents would have been charged with child neglect!!! Since I grew up in the downtown area, and we had no car, (no subway), only street cars, I traveled alone a lot, and walked to the old Eaton’s, and Simpson’s department stores on a regular basis by the time I was nine or ten. Your love of hockey started at a young age and I would imagine the tickets were not outrageously expensive as they are today. Keep up the writing!!! Loved the photos. Oh, yes, I remember the Russian/Canada game. I was teaching in Scarborough. We had three TV’s in the school, so two were on the second floor and one on the main floor. The entire schools sat in the halls to watch THE game, and on the winning goal, the place went crazy: from Grade One to Grade Six, the entire school staff, and volunteering parents! What a fun day! And a great one for Canada!

    1. Parental ideas have definitely changed over the years! And I know that everyone old enough to remember the 1972 series has similar stories. I was in grade 4 and watching on a TV in our classroom.

  5. Just a great story … I was going to OCA and had no geldt so to see hockey, I sold programs for the Ottawa Nationals aka Toronto Toros and like you had a chance to see many great players before and after the games as well. Remember the Gerry Odrowski Fan Club? I remember that all of Toronto stood still in that last 1972 Canada Russia game and how people were dancing in the street when we won. And a sister of a good art school buddy that I still touch base with was the person that answered all the Peter Puck mail. I have a lot of great hockey pix … it would be hard to distill them down to 10. This is a great idea for a new book though. If you decide to do it count me in. Always great to read your stuff!

  6. Happy to read that you enjoyed taking the challenge … and am in complete agreement that it’s difficult not sharing the stories behind the images … but I can see that you found a way around that …

  7. That was fun to read. I still remember pretty clearly riding the subway, just you and me, to that amazing 9-2 victory over the Habs in Salming’s rookie season. Thanks for calling me “great”, I guess for house league I was pretty good. I still thank Dale Rolfe for teaching me to skate backwards.

    1. And I still remember you leaping on me like that picture of Paul Henderson and Yvan Cournoyer when I scored my first goal … even if it was in a scrimmage at a summer hockey camp!

  8. Wonderful Eric & believe me because of that dedication, research in writing the biography of my grandfather I will always consider you more than a friend but my BroEric & part of our extended family. It took you to really open our eyes & learn about gramp’s accomplishments & legacy. I will be forever grateful.

  9. Very nicely done, Eric. Loads of poignant memories reawakened in me through yours and a few ‘blanks’ about you, personally, filled in.
    Thanks!

      1. Thanks for the nod, Eric! For me, ‘The Ice Age’ was truly the archetypal “…best of times, the worst of times”!

        CHEERS!

  10. My youngest son, now almost 51, was Steven, just like your dad. Your dad and I sat on the synagogue board of directors. The phone numbers of the board were printed in the Bulletin in case people had to call. Your dad served as historian/ archivist so people might call with an idea or a photo. Unfortunately, instead of your phone number beside your father’s name they printed ours. Many times a person would call ” can I speak to Steve?” We wondered why an adult voice wanted to speak to a kid, but would get our son. In a high, squeaky voice he would say ” hello” and confuse the party on the line. Once when he was off the phone Steven asked ” will the Leafs ever win that Cup, the man wanted to know, daddy?” ” Probably not in my lifetime, maybe in yours or your children’s”
    I am almost 83, Steven ( who has no interest in sports) is almost 51, his eldest ( a Habs fan) is almost 28, looks like I was right!
    Keep on writing.
    And “adult” has been ” hijacked” as a word to equate with ” smut”. As in Donald Trump speaks like an adult, about women.

  11. This was a nice surprise Eric. Thanks for the mention. Peter Puck is still hanging around and may yet make a comeback. Keep up the stellar work. Work?
    Brian

  12. Hi Eric,
    Nice time capsule of the path you have taken to arriving at your current love of the game! The arrival of Bobby Orr and of course, the 1972 Super Series were the two key events that shaped my love of the best game you can name.
    Have you found inspiration for the next hockey hero to follow Art Ross?
    Maybe it’s time to write the Ray Martyniuk story …… he was a goalie for the Flin Flon Bombers in the late 60’s (played with Bobby Clarke and Reg Leach) and was drafted in the first round by Scotty Bowman and the Canadiens …. but never panned out. I did hear a great story about him playing senior hockey, and stopping the bus on a trip through the mountains to allow him to toss his goalie pads into a river. (I know you can source this out 🙂
    Cheers,
    Rod

  13. What fabulous memories & photos Eric! I always wondered how you ended up being a sport writer! What wonderful parents you had to support you to write your first book!! And the rest is history as they say……
    Seeing the photos of you & Barb brought tears to my eyes. I still can’t quite grasp she is not with us. She loved you so much! And money can’t buy THAT kind of love!
    ((hugs)) Sherri-Ellen

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