Look, I love hockey. I haven’t lived in Canada in 20 years, and being an ex-pat has probably made my fandom more acute, rather than less. So if I’m making fun of hockey people and their reading habits, please know it is done with a mix of love (for my people), and loathing (for my people).
It is no surprise that the bulk of this list over at The Athletic, compiled by Craig Custance—culled from players, coaches, and executives throughout the wider world of professional hockey—is comprised of business-inflected self-help, military history (because leadership), and actual books about hockey. So what, if any, are the surprises?
Very first on the list might seem quite unlikely, if you don’t know who Ken Dryden is:
Ken Dryden, Hall of Famer and author
“The Underground Railroad” and “The Nickel Boys,” by Colson Whitehead
Dryden: “They should be on every U.S. high school kid’s curriculum the way “To Kill a Mockingbird” has been for decades. There’s “awareness” about racism and the racial divide, and there’s “AWARENESS.”
This is a very good start, no? Yes. Dryden was the intensely nerdy star goalie for the 1970s Montreal Canadiens, and went on to a post-hockey career as “a notably smart hockey player.” (The image above is Dryden famously watching his teammates in a giant brawl, probably thinking about Frantz Fanon or something.) This is as good as it gets on the list.
Jack Drury, Harvard center and Carolina Hurricanes prospect
“Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius
Drury: “The ancient Roman Emperor gives timeless advice on mental tranquility and happiness. I think the ideas provided are extremely useful for hockey; really helping find that line between internal confidence/focus and external uncontrollable.”
Sure, at this point Aurelius has been reconstituted as ancient self-help for MBA types, but that doesn’t detract from the elegance of the text itself.
Erik Gudbranson, Anaheim Ducks
“Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer
Gudbranson: “It’s just a crazy story. It’s a crazy story. It’s one of the ones you can’t put down. I’m almost done with (another Krakauer book) ‘Into the Wild.’ I’ve got about a third of it left, I’ll be done with it by the end of the weekend.”
Hockey players—like most professional athletes—have large pockets of downtime, so why not fill it with Krakauer’s propulsive page-turning?
Cammi Granato, Hockey Hall of Famer and Seattle pro scout
“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
Granato: “I read this book 20 years ago when I was training for the 2002 Olympics and it’s still one of the most inspiring books I’ve read. The book is about following your dreams and listening to your heart.”
The Shawshank Redemption of literary fiction always has a place on these lists.
George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights president
“A Gentleman in Moscow” Amor Towles
McPhee: “The author has a phenomenal mind and writing style. He spun historical fiction together with a diverse cast of characters to produce a splendid novel. I liked it because it’s so different from the ‘find an edge’ books most of us sports guys consider required reading.”
George McPhee over here, calling it out his idiot colleagues.
Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins coach
“Beartown” by Fredrik Backman
Cassidy: “Small, hard working and prideful hockey town and how they deal with and react to a sexual assault. Author does a great job with character development and paints a very real picture of what would develop. Emotionally intense for anybody.”
I hate the Boston Bruins with every fiber of my being but I don’t hate this choice.
Katie Baker, staff writer at The Ringer
“The Mark and the Void” by Paul Murray
Baker: “It’s a satirical novel set in Ireland during the late-aughts financial crisis, which my Kindle tells me I downloaded in 2015 but which I finally got around to this year. Finger on the pulse. Between its eye-rolling at the powerful and its vivid cast of characters (a banker in a band called Gephardt and the Mergers; a failing, flailing writer in cahoots with a violent lug named Igor, etc.) this book had me straight-up giggling on the regular, when I wasn’t busy gulping over its hard truths. (As a bonus, rule-breaking recommendation: Murray also wrote ‘Skippy Dies,’ an all-time favorite. He’s so good.)”
It’s kind of cheating, insofar as Baker is, herself, a writer, but still.
Craig Button, former Flames GM and current TSN analyst
“She Said” by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
Button: “A significant social change took place because of the brave efforts of many who shared their experiences of prevalent workplace sexual harassment. It was unlawful but the actions of the perpetrators was also sinister in the way they intimidated their accusers, and often to great extents. Because of the courage of so many in telling their stories, not only was the act up, there would no longer be, acceptance for this type of behavior and one could expect not only legal repercussions for these types of actions but social ones as well.”
This might be the biggest surprise on the list. Button isn’t exactly a progressive thinker (when it comes to the old boys network of hockey, which is essentially a bunch of guys drinking Brador in a barn challenging each other to fights), so I really hope he passes this on to this buddies.
Michael Farber, Sports Illustrated special contributor and TSN essayist
“Patrimony” and “American Pastoral” by Philip Roth
Farber: “When Philip Roth died in May 2018, I experienced a pang of regret. I had read Roth, and adored him, but I hadn’t read enough Roth. You could have driven a Zamboni through the gaps of my familiarity with his work. So last fall I started with Patrimony, non-fiction, an artful, funny, sometimes chilling account of his father’s failing last year or two, a subject close to all of us who get 20 percent discounts at the pharmacy on Thursdays. I then – finally – took on American Pastoral, his muscular Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the breakdown of a country, troubled water beneath a placid surface.”
Again, kind of cheating to include anyone with “essayist” in their title.
Renee Hess, executive director of the Black Girl Hockey Club
“Barracoon: The Last Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
Hess: “(It) sat unpublished in the Alain Locke Collection at Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, since it was written in 1927, and was only released to the public in 2018. Barracoon is a first-person intimate narrative on slavery, racism and Antebellum (post-Civil War) America and how America’s past affects our present and our future. It’s a hard but necessary read that I highly recommend.
Hockey is played on a white surface by a lot of white people, so I’m glad Hess was included.
Jay Onrait, TSN anchor, personality and author
“Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of The Black Crowes” by Steve Gorman and Steven Hyden
Onrait: “Gorman was the drummer for the Black Crowes. Book is fascinating to me because this was a band that straddled the Hair Metal era of the late 80s and grunge or the early 90s … for a split second it looked like they would be a huge legacy band. America’s next great rock ‘n’ roll band. But the band self-sabotaged everything and eventually fell apart. As the drummer Gorman had a front row seat. It’s great writing for any rock fan even if you’re not a Crowes fan.”
What the hell dude.
Katie Strang, The Athletic senior enterprise and investigative reporter
“Catch and Kill” by Ronan Farrow
Strang: “An incisive, illuminating look at the reporting process that led to the fall of powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Farrow provided great insight on the many people and institutions that surrounded Weinstein and enabled his predatory behavior for decades, as well as the systemic barriers within Farrow’s own workplace that thwarted his attempts to bring this information into the public sphere. Made me think of a story I’ve been pursuing for a while now, and how difficult it can be for people to speak up about hard truths. Will be thinking about the last line for quite some time: ‘And stories – the big ones, the true ones – can be caught but never killed.’ A good reminder that sometimes all it takes is one courageous person to effect serious change.”
Wouldn’t it be great if Strang and Button started an NHL book club?