The dog days of August are a great time for hockey reading, since NHL training camps are still over a month away, and the bulk of Free Agency activity has already taken place. With that in mind, I thought I would offer up a few suggestions to help you occupy your hockey brain for the next few weeks.
My Toughest Faceoff
I'm sure you've heard plenty about this book already, but if you didn't pick up a copy when it first came out a few months ago, now is a great time to correct that mistake. You'll find yourself alternately entertained and inspired by Peterson's recollections of his career in hockey and his life with Parkinson's Disease.
It might seem odd to intersperse hockey anecdotes (such as a 63-year-old Gordie Howe breaking a guy's nose in a charity game) with the heavy drama of Peterson's medical history. The combination works really well, however, because it's the hockey stuff which gives us insight into what kind of man Peterson is, setting the context for how he ultimately faces his Parkinson's diagnosis. In classic hockey player fashion he takes a staggering blow, but responds to the challenge with determination to do the best he can for himself, his family, and others who are facing this dreadful opponent for the first time.
Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract
Rob Vollman is a persistent voice in the hockey analytics movement, trying to further a stats-driven discussion of the game by taking on age-old debates with a modern analyst's tool kit. In a style reminscent of Bill James' Baseball Abstract series, Vollman digs into a number of questions such as who is best the defensive player, goalie, or head coach in the NHL (and yes, the Predators are well-represented in those discussions), along with a number of other topics which engage team- and individual-level analysis.
This is an especially fine read for any fan who has grasped the basics of statistics like Corsi, and wants to see how they can be used to add a new dimension to classic barstool arguments. Sure, there are some examples where the analysis overreaches (the bit on pass counting seems like a huge stretch to me), but you don't break into new territory without crossing boundaries, so at the very least such analysis has value in pointing out fields that warrant further investigation. This book will help you see the game with new eyes, and set a foundation for understanding the major challenges facing the Preds as they try to rebound from a disappointing 2013 season (which Vollman argues was easy to predict).
King of Russia
Dave King has enjoyed a productive coaching career, which took a turn into the bizarre during the 2005-2006 season when he decided to head across the Atlantic for a head coaching job with Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Super League (the predecessor to the KHL). This memoir pulls together the highs and lows of everything Russian hockey has to offer, from the thrill of watching a 19-year-old Evgeni Malkin develop into that league's top player, to stories of teams suffering financial collapse during the season, forcing players to go months without pay. In particular, King's discussion of air travel (dubbed "Pterodactyl Air") eerily presages the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv plane crash of 2011 which rocked the hockey world.
King takes us along on a fascinating journey that turns your conventional assumptions of big-league hockey upside down. Russia comes alive as a place where players are developed with world-class hockey skills and a tireless work ethic, but the support structure at times hints of Third World status. A few teams are owned by some of the richest men in the world, spending millions on players if they offer a chance of success, but they also might have to munch on a bag of stone-cold McDonald's food after a game. While this book is a few years old I've found it to be the most enjoyable hockey read of my summer.
So how are you making it through this expansive hockey wasteland that we call August?
Note: The Amazon links above are through the Amazon Affiliates program, any purchases made after clicking through those links generates a small commission for me. - Dirk