Stan Fischler's "Behind the Net": Good, not incredible
Hockey writing legend Stan Fischler's newest book, <em>Behind the Net: 101 Incredible Hockey Stories</em>, has its moments, but doesn't offer much novelty.
Stan Fischler's Behind The Net: 101 Incredible Hockey Stories is one of those canned hockey "history" books that seem to be a dime a dozen. Fischler brings together a collection of quick-hit stories spanning his exceptionally long career (as well as a few that pre-date him) to fill out the book, but don't expect much you haven't heard: they're mostly well-known parts of hockey lore, and those that aren't probably shouldn't be considered "incredible" despite the book's title.
Don't get me wrong: There are likely a good deal of people to whom this book would appeal. It's well-written (although not as well-edited) and very approachable, and the short nature of the stories (none more than four pages, many less than one) makes it require next to nothing in terms of commitment. It could be a good gift for a casual fan or a non-reader, and might find a home in bathrooms across Canada. It's that kind of book.
What intrigued me most about it was when Fischler would write about modern-day stories with the same treatment of old-time ones. There's a certain treatment that writers of Fischler's era gave these stories, and seeing those translated to today's events (such as the chapter about last year's Leafs-Bruins series, which was a fun one, or the "Avery rule" that came about after 2008) was refreshing. That made is all the more disappointing, though, that very few of the incredible stories were in the modern era.
The majority of the 101 stories take place in the time before expansion, especially in the 40s and 50s. Although it's not too surprising in reality, as a Senators fan it was at least mildly disappointing to see just four stories about the Sens team--all of them, naturally, about the original franchise. (There's also a story about Bobby Ryan from his time with the Anaheim Ducks.) While that might be attractive to a hockey historian, it wasn't my style; I had a hard time really finding much of note in some of the stories.
I'm also left slightly disappointed in the editing or the book, and not just because of a few sloppy typos and grammatical errors. I'm sure Fischler has no shortage of incredible stories to choose from, so there's no excuse for two separate stories that claim different players (Marcel Pronovost and Eddie Shore) were each, arguably, the most stitched-up players in hockey history. It's not an incredible story to say that the first pro hockey team was in the USA rather than Canada; it's not incredible that one year a random nobody (Pentti Lund) once defended Maurice Richard so well that the Rocket could manage just one goal in five games.
But there were also truly incredible stories that I'd never heard before, like those of Charlie Gardiner and Sam LoPresti--I won't go into details of those stories for fear of ruining the surprise, but they're truly incredible.
There's no doubt in my mind that some people would really enjoy this book. It's not something that's going to change your life or the way you look at the game of hockey, but it's a light and light-hearted look at some of the largely ignored or forgotten events in hockey history--as well as some of the very well-known ones, for good measure. Fischler's classical structure and hockey diction will make you feel like you're reading a book from the 1970s, even if a couple of the stories are as recent as this past playoff. But when I read about hockey history, I usually value quality over quantity--if you're in that same boat, you might want to pass over Behind the Net.