Sunday, March 25, 2007


Skating on Thin Ice

By Greg

It's been a hell of a frustrating week, hockey-wise -- too busy at work to watch much of anything, and both the Thrashers' and Avalanche's hot streaks thudding to a halt. Making it more frustrating is the mental gymnastics, trying to figure out what outcomes are best for each team. For the Avalanche, it's easy -- Colorado win, Calgary lose (and thanks loads, Red Wings -- the one time in my life I root for you guys, you lie down and die). For the Thrashers, I've resorted to "Thrashers win, teams beneath them lose." That way I don't have to think too much.

So all that, combined with the obvious ramping-up of global warming (87 degrees in March? Even in Atlanta, that's a bit much), sent me scurrying back to the vaults this week, taking a little trip back in time, reading one of my favorite -- and forgotten -- hockey books:

"Thin Ice: A Season in Hell With the New York Rangers" by Larry Sloman

I don't have much patience for most hockey literature's wholesome sappiness -- reading worshipful crap about strong-willed, hard-working, milk-drinking young men makes me roll my eyes and do mouth farts. "Ratso" Sloman's "Thin Ice" is the perfect antidote -- he hung out with the 1979-80 New York Rangers, a team that seemed poised for greatness before the season, and collapsed and splintered by the end. But the action on the ice is secondary -- the real story is what happens when a bunch of small-town Canadian kids end up in the world's biggest party city, and the world's biggest media fishbowl. They don't end up drinking milk.

It's hard to imagine a book like this being possible today -- athletes are far too careful about their images. The day-to-day behavior makes L'Affaire Tranahan look pretty tame. Constant parties, one-night stands, Hunter S. Thompson-level drinking, and Sloman -- as a friend/hanger-on to the team -- was front-and-center for all of it.

It helped that the team had a colorful cast of characters -- coached by Fred Shero, and featuring guys like Phil Esposito, Pat Hickey, Don Murdoch, Ronnie Duguay, Ron Greschner, Barry Beck, Nick Fotiu -- good tales abound. If you've ever wanted insight into John Davidson's sex life, look no further. The supporting cast is just as crazy -- loony worshipful fans, groupies galore, and celebs like Andy Warhol, Kinky Friedman, Cheryl Tiegs, and Reggie Jackson make appearances. It's hockey on the floor at Studio 54.

Lots of little subplots -- Murdoch's partying problems, splits within the team -- and Sloman's blunt, sensationalistic style make this a pretty good read. As does the goofy/new age mindset of the late '70s -- witness Pat Hickey talking about working with alpha waves, or his quote here:

"What we do and how we affect people is very sensual, even sexual. We get girls in the crowd going the same way that rock stars do. Like I'm very spastic and spontaneous on the ice. I enjoy being flipped. When the defenseman goes down and I go up. It's jarring for someone to watch, but for me it's like art...."

Try to imagine anyone today -- even your Jeremy Roenicks -- saying something like that. Or Ulf Nilsson saying "I get a hard-on when I score a goal."

It's not a perfect book -- Sloman is a little too proud of his association with the Rangers -- but goddamn it's fun. If you like hockey and don't hold things sacred -- hunt the corridors of your local used bookstore (or one of the online places) and get this. It's not literary greatness, but it's one of my all-time favorites.

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I'll have to check it out. I'm always looking for more hockey reads. Did you read "The Game of Our Lives"? Much less scandalous than this one sounds, but seems like it's along those lines. The funny thing is that Murdoch is mentioned in that book too (in the following season with the Oilers).
Yeah, and "The Game of Our Lives" is one of the few other hockey books that I've enjoyed. I've been kind of tempted to dig that one out and give it a re-read, but this time 'round, the desire for scandal won out.
Same here- I've been eyeing it on the bookshelf for a few weeks, but just haven't gotten around to it. If I can find myself a copy of this book then maybe I'll read it instead. My only fear is that I'll never be able to look at hockey players the same way again, but I'm way too intrigued now to pass it up.
Wow, I'd forgotten all about that book! I remember finding it in the Victoria Public Libary back in '88 and finding it a rollicking good read, but then it got lost in the haze of memory until now. I'll definitely have to see if I can hunt this down online.
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