Stacking the Pads

Just the tip of the goalie news iceberg

08 September 2006

The ultimate road trip

I just finished reading THN writer Laura Sullivan's book "Away Games". During the lockout, she traipsed across Europe, getting a feel for the European leagues and the impressions of the NHL players who either went "home" or tried out life in a new country and new culture for several months. The idea was fantastic. The execution left a little to be desired. While full of interesting information, eye-opening observations and unique player interviews, the writing was somewhat choppy and editorial errors abounded. (The most glaring of which was the paragraph about the Ivan "Hnilicka" Memorial. Those silly Czech names, they're all the same, right?)

Complaints aside, I completely devoured this book. As someone who already has an interest in European hockey, and wondered what the experiences of the NHLers who played there were like, this book was right up my alley. Sullivan's descriptions of the countries she visited supplemented the main purpose of the book well. I've now added Finland to the list of places I absolutely must visit before I die, with Slovakia coming in a close second. (Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic and Germany were all on the list already). And what the heck, while I'm globe-trotting I might as well take in a game in Latvia, if only to experience the fans more than the game itself.

The disrupted flow of the book probably has something to do with the fact that Sullivan seems to have made two sweeps through the continent- first to get a look at regular season games in most of the leagues, then back again to catch playoff games. The various mid-season tournaments (Euro Tour games), and post-season international play (World Championships) were covered as well. Sullivan visited the obvious countries (Russia, Sweden, Czeh Reoulic, etc.) where the bulk of the NHL players landed, but didn't skip the more unlikely hockey destinations such as England, Hungary and Norway.

One issue the book raised several times was that of the NHL players taking jobs away from local talent. This was something I had wondered about, and though it seemed to be an underlying issue, most of the players interviewed said they were welcomed and and quickly felt part of the team, regardless of language barriers. I think I personally might have been on the disgruntled side were I living over there. There is something a little unsettling about a star player leaving his country for greener pastures, only to come back to play when those pastures lie fallow for a year. On the other hand, there were benefits, especially for those countries whose home-grown talent returned to their roots. Across the board, the general feeling seemed to be that local hockey would benefit from having its stars come home; not just financially, but also in terms of enthusiasm and participation. So in the end it's hard to say whether it was a good thing or a bad thing that so many NHLers headed across the pond. I just wish some of it would have been televised over here in North America. I watched more Discovery Channel and Law & Order that year than I had in my entire life up until that point. If this ever (God forbid!!!) happens again, I'll take the opportunity to make sure I cross off at least a few of those places off my "must visit before I die" list.


  • At 9:36 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Its too bad the NHL players didn't try to play in a more barn-storming type league, or even try to get an "old timers" game going in some big hockey towns.

    As for Europe - I think it helped, especially in a year right before the Olympics. Perhaps that is why the level of play was perhaps even greater in this Olympics than any other - because more than a few NHLers had gone back to play in an "international" type league once more. Think about it.

    And that's... one to grow on.


  • At 9:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    You were entirely too kind to the author, but you already knew I thought that. ;)

    Perhaps my expectations were set too high, but this book was fraught with unrealized potential. It should have been so much better (and longer) than it was. The fact that it was written by a person who is used to writing by the column inch rather than writing a narrative story really shows. I was left feeling like the book was a second thought... merely an excuse for the trip, and I think her mentioning her lack of notes or poor notes for some of the events supports that.

    Who knows, maybe I was too blinded by what this book could have been to recognize the good qualities you found. But overall, it comes second only to the infamous "turnpike book" in terms of literary disappointments.



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